Ferris State University’s welding program and Airgas Inc. are in the second year of a partnership they hope will be beneficial to both sides. Courtesy Ferris State University
A North American supplier is investing in the future of its industry by relieving some of the cost burden of students in the welding engineering program at Ferris State University.
Airgas Inc., a national supplier of welding and cutting automation equipment, specialty gases and safety products, donated nearly $50,000 worth of personal protective equipment to FSU’s program, building on a corporate partnership that began in 2015.
Representatives from both FSU and the Pennsylvania-based company gathered late last month to celebrate the donation. The equipment included welding jackets, hoods, helmets, gloves and safety glasses, which will meet the needs of welding students enrolled in the FSU program for an entire year.
Dan Sheets, director of advanced fabrication for the NorPac Region at Airgas, said FSU has a prestigious welding engineering program and the company wanted to know what they could do to help the students.
“Every year the students have to purchase $200 to $300 of personal protection equipment to go through the lab and the hands-on portion,” said Sheets. “The cost of education, frankly, keeps going up. So we donated the equipment to the program at (FSU) and they will disperse it to the students and it will relieve the financial burden for students coming into next year.”
Jeff Hardesty, FSU coordinator, said a key part of the program, which specializes in welding technology and welding engineering, is teaching students how to make welds manually.
“Having this equipment is something the incoming freshmen won’t have to go out and buy,” said Hardesty. “It helps reduce the students’ budget. This is stuff they are required to have to start the program as freshmen. It certainly supports our students; it means less debt for them as they go through school.”
Airgas’ partnership with FSU began in 2015 when company representatives met with university officials during an event in Chicago and ended up donating thousands of dollars’ worth of shielding gas for the school’s welding program, according to Sheets.
Hardesty said the company has underwritten the program’s industrial gas usage for a couple of years, which helps keep the overall costs manageable.
“We certainly appreciate the support of industry,” said Hardesty. “It helps us keep our program current and relevant. We use these manual welding skills as the foundation for training our technicians and engineers. It is not just something they use that first year; they do use it throughout their academic career.”
FSU’s welding engineering technology program was officially established in 1984, with roots tracing back to the 1970s for its associate’s degree. Its bachelor degree debuted in 1986, according to Hardesty.
The program is designed to produce graduates who are involved in the concept, design and engineering of weldments and welding process implementation. Hardesty said the university has had nearly 700 students graduate from the program in the approximately 30 years since it launched.
“Currently, we have just about 170 students that are in our curriculum — freshmen through seniors,” said Hardesty. “There are 30 who are on the waiting list who are getting ready to start their classes in the fall or in the future.”
Graduates of the program typically pursue careers in welding, manufacturing, application or sales in such sectors as automotive, agricultural, construction equipment, oil and gas industry suppliers, robotics and welding automation.
“Our partnership with Ferris State University demonstrates Airgas’ commitment to supporting the welding trade and reducing the current shortage of skilled welders in the United States,” said Sheets.
In 2010, Airgas surveyed metal fabrication executives across the country to hear feedback on current challenges in the industry. Sheets said the top issues were productivity and lowering the cost of business, training and finding skilled labor, and purchasing and maintaining advanced equipment.
“Airgas wants to do everything we can to help our customers compete, and that involves helping students and people who want to get into the industry,” said Sheets. “Airgas believes these students are the future.”
The American Welding Society estimates that by 2020, there will be a shortage of nearly 300,000 welding professionals. Sheets said the average age of a skilled labor worker in welding-related fields is about 56-years-old, and programs like FSU’s welding program are critical to keeping metal fabrication jobs in the U.S.
“This hands-on work welding, manufacturing and cutting — which is really the backbone of our economic structure in the United States — there are not a lot of people going into that,” said Sheets. “These jobs are paying really well.”