Santa Ana College Partners with Lincoln Electric to Deliver Technologically Advanced Weld Training, Unprecedented Job Placement and an Outstanding Dedication to its Students.
It’s common for students to drive more than 90 miles to take courses at Santa Ana College’s welding technology program. Why do they drive so far? Because at Santa Ana, students get more than just a welding certification – they reap the benefits of personalized attention and a course curriculum that’s 100 percent focused on meeting their personal and professional goals – including successful job placement in an industry hungry for quality, skilled workers.
Located in one of the largest cities in Orange County, Calif., Santa Ana College isn’t the only school in the area that offers a welding program, but it’s one of the few that can boast a nearly 100 percent retention rate for its welding students, not to mention a 100 percent job placement rate for the program’s graduates.
The school’s welding technology program serves a wide variety of students – everyone from beginning welders to seasoned professionals seeking additional training to retirees wanting to start a second career.
Quality Technical Education
What’s the secret to Santa Ana’s success? According to Bart Hoffman, Dean of the Human Services & Technology Division, in which the welding technology program is housed, the school’s success starts at the top. Santa Ana’s administration highly values career and technical education programs, providing the resources and support these departments need to succeed and attract students.
Plus, the administration doesn’t lose sight of why students come to college in the first place: to find a good job.
“We live in an area desperate for job training and skilled workers,” says Dr. Erlinda J. Martinez, president of Santa Ana College. “In this economy, welding offers students an entry point to the workplace in a relatively short period of time. In my opinion, the goal of our college is to give our students the skills they need to be able to find a good job and earn competitive wages, and that’s what we do through our technical education programs.”
And, both Hoffman and Martinez also emphasize the college’s dedication to hiring outstanding faculty, including head instructor for the welding technology program, Professor George Moreno.
“Professor Moreno has a tremendous compassion for his students and their success. His vision and goals have driven him to develop one of the best welding programs in the state,” Hoffman says.
Says Martinez, “George is certainly a skilled welder, and it’s really important to have top-rated professionals in your teaching ranks. But he also has a love of students, and that’s what it really takes to be a successful instructor.”
Moreno has been with the college since 2001 and has served as the program’s head instructor for almost five of those years. In addition to Moreno, the welding technology program is supported by three other part-time faculty members. Among the four, Santa Ana’s welding instructors have a combined 100 years of welding experience.
The school’s welding curriculum is designed to prepare students to perform the welding processes they’re most likely to need in the workforce. After finishing their coursework at Santa Ana, graduates will be comfortable with a range of welding and cutting processes and equipment, including oxyacetylene welding, stick welding (SMAW), MIG (GMAW), TIG (GTAW) and flame cutting.
Students completely new to welding begin their coursework with eight weeks of oxyacetylene welding, followed by an eight-week course focusing on arc welding and cutting.
At the start of their arc welding training, students spend time practicing on one of the college’s VRTEX® 360 Virtual Reality Arc Welding Trainers from The Lincoln Electric Company. The VRTEX® is a computer-based training system that allows students to practice their welding technique in a simulated environment – all while reducing the material waste, scrap and energy consumption associated with traditional welding training.
“The VRTEX® systems have been hugely beneficial to our program,” says Moreno. “Students can first practice their welding skills without any fear of the actual process, so, when it’s time to put their skills to the test with actual welding equipment, they have the confidence they need to do well, and they pick up skills much faster. Plus, we don’t have to waste consumables, plates or gas.”
“I think the VRTEX® system is a very important tool for students,” says welding student Anthony Sanares. “It helps you recognize your mistakes in technique before you use actual welding equipment.”
After the initial arc welding training, students take intermediate arc welding courses and finally head into a variety of advanced welding courses. At this point in the curriculum, students spend the majority of their time practicing for the tests they must pass to become American Welding Society (AWS) certified welders.
At Santa Ana College, students can receive training and testing for up to nine different certifications, including SMAW (Stick), FCAW (Flux-Cored), GTAW (TIG), and GMAW (MIG) welding. In general, it takes about two years for students to receive their certification.
Moreno places a high value on keeping his lab’s equipment up to date. The school’s welding lab is outfitted with the latest welding technology – from small MIG wire feeder welders to industrial multi-process welders. The majority of the program’s equipment is from Lincoln Electric, including a variety of Idealarc® stick welders for SMAW welding and several Invertec® stick / TIG welders for students to practice their TIG welding capabilities. Precision TIG® 225 and engine-driven Ranger® models are also used.
“If we want our students to do their best we have to train them with the latest technology and Lincoln Electric has been able to provide us with what we need.” Moreno says. “We don’t want our students’ skills to be out-of-date when they go out into the workforce. Plus, Lincoln Electric’s equipment is very user-friendly, which makes it easy for our students to learn.”
Santa Ana’s lab is also outfitted with a Lincoln Electric System 5 robotic welding system and the college is in the process of setting up a curriculum for a robotic welding course. Almost 90 percent of Moreno’s students have already expressed an interest in the new curriculum, which will enable them to acquire two more certifications: as an American Welding Society (AWS) Certified Robotic Arc Welding Operator or Technician.
In addition to the latest equipment, Moreno also focuses on making the school’s welding program more environmentally friendly. Right now, the lab is about 25 percent composed of green technology and Moreno says he hopes to increase that percentage to 80 percent by the end of 2012. Eventually, he hopes that the program will be 100 percent green.
However, despite the lab’s high-tech equipment and the wide variety of courses, at the end of the day, what really makes Santa Ana’s program unique is Moreno and his staff’s focus on individualized attention and their willingness to meet the needs of every student.
Says Sanares, “The biggest advantage I see here vs. other schools is the instructors. At other schools I’ve been to, the instructors seem like they’re trying to just get through the day. At Santa Ana, the instructors take a personal interest in each and every student, and they recognize that their success lies in the success of their students.”
Andrea Moreno, another welding student, says her instructors have inspired her to enter the same profession. “My welding instructors are so great. They’ve really encouraged me to do well, and motivated me to become a welding instructor myself some day.”
As a result, it’s no surprise that an estimated 80-90 percent of Moreno’s current students have been with him for four to five years and are at the school working on a second, or even third, certification.
Still, despite his compassion and dedication to his students, Moreno isn’t an easy grader – at Santa Ana, you have to be a strong welder to pass Moreno’s exams.
“If students are looking for an easy way out, they need to look somewhere else. Here, you need to work hard to get your certificate,” says Moreno.
Industry and Community Outreach
And that’s probably why Santa Ana students are in such high demand – when they graduate, employers know that they’re skilled. Moreno receives multiple calls per week from local companies requesting students to fill their open positions and his students have been placed everywhere from as close as California and Nevada to as far away as Brazil.
Thanks to the school’s reputation and the high demand for skilled labor, Santa Ana students often have their pick of work, finding jobs in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, construction and shipbuilding.
It’s not just his students’ skills that are in demand, Professor Moreno’s are, too. It’s common for local companies to ask Moreno to offer advanced classes for their current workforce, to help their employees refresh and expand their skill sets.
Though Santa Ana’s program already serves about 200 students, Moreno never stops looking for the next generation of welders, participating in a variety of recruiting efforts throughout the school year. One of the most notable is the college’s outreach to local high schools. Six to ten times a year, Moreno offers welding seminars at local high schools to teach teens about the advantages of a career in welding.
When he goes, Moreno often brings along the VRTEX® system, as well as a Lincoln Electric Robotic Welding Education Cell, so students can get a feel for welding right then and there. Some of the students Moreno meets opt to take courses at Santa Ana College along with their regular high school courses – one of Moreno’s youngest students is a 17-year-old welder who already has been fully certified by the American Welding Society.
Breaking Gender Stereotypes
While the majority of his welding students are male, Moreno doesn’t forget about the female half of the spectrum. He makes a point to recruit female students when he visits local high schools, encouraging them to participate and even assist him with the demonstrations.
There’s also a number of adults enrolling at Santa Ana College, as the economy has led many women (and men) to change careers.
Moreno, Hoffman and Martinez have noticed a definite increase in the number of female students enrolled at Santa Ana over the past few years and they all believe the male-skewed field is rapidly changing to include more female welders.
Whatever changes may come to the field, both the attitude of Santa Ana’s administration as well as the dedication of faculty members like Moreno are sure to continue to lead the welding program to success.
As the need for skilled labor grows and the technology of welding continues to advance, there will be more and more opportunities to students to learn and grow and the faculty and staff at Santa Ana College will be there to guide them along the way.