Published in the May 29, 2014 Santa Maria Times.

Benjamin Franklin said, “He that hath a trade hath an estate.” And one of the oldest trades is welding.

The process of fusing metal together dates back to the Bronze Age and is even mentioned by Herodotus in the 5th century B.C.

While this venerable craft has never gone away, it is making a spirited comeback. With more than 200 students, one full-time instructor, seven part-time instructors and new facilities, the welding program at Hancock College is doing its part to train new welders who will be needed in the years to come.

The revival of manufacturing, combined with the gas/oil boom and an aging workforce—the average welder is 55—has created a shortage of welders that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

This is reflected in the welding program at Hancock College, which is adding classes and increasing space. Eric Mason, chair of the Industrial Technology Department, said, “Our welding department for years has done an excellent job preparing students to enter the welding industry by teaching them the skills necessary to succeed.”

Gabriel Marquez, the program’s full-time instructor, agrees: “We are moving into new facilities and looking forward to new and exciting things happening in the welding program, such as the development of new courses exploring advanced welding skills.”

As a former welder, with 11 years in the trade, I know welding is a challenging and rewarding occupation. But I also know there are hazards that need to be recognized.

The flame used in oxyacetylene welding is the hottest humans can produce, at over 6,000 degrees F. The arc created in electric arc welding is over 10,000 degrees F, so the danger of getting burned while welding is always present.

Even more daunting for the welder is the danger to the eyes posed by the intense light of the welding arc. To give you an idea of how bright this light is, even a split-second exposure to the welding arc with the unprotected eye can cause an excruciating, although temporary, burn to the cornea that doesn’t set in until 8-10 hours afterward. Anyone who has ever experienced this can attest to how unbearable the pain is.

Because of these dangers, safety is an important part of the Hancock welding curriculum.

“We drill safety in all our classes,” said Marquez. “Students cannot begin working in the lab until they pass a safety test.”

For someone willing to take the risks involved and learn how to be safe on the job, welding is an extremely useful skill to learn.

“What is required to become a good welder is patience, a willingness to work hard and dedication to become a welding professional,” said Marquez, who is a perfect example. Twenty-four years ago, he began learning to weld in the Hancock program.

“I was hooked,” he said.

Each semester, Hancock offers 16 welding classes. These include oxyacetylene welding, flame cutting, and electric arc welding. It also offers metal fabrication, pipe welding, metal yard sculpture and ornamental iron. Students can receive an associate degree in welding technology as well as a certificate. Hancock also sponsors an annual high school welding contest, wherein welders from local schools compete and show off their skills.

”We are changing people’s lives,” said Marquez, and there is no better example than himself. “I went from working in the fields to working on aircraft parts.”

Now a full-time instructor at Hancock College, welding has truly provided Marquez with an estate.

Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA