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The most recent expansion project in Texas State Technical College’s Welding Technology program involved adding 40 new welding stations and a new metal building for advanced fabrication.

The growth was needed to accommodate students in a field that is booming in the Rio Grande Valley as companies expand and other companies relocate to the region.

“I hear a lot of misconceptions about welding being an easy job,” said Manuel Ahumada, an instructor in TSTC’s Welding Technology program in Harlingen. “In fact, it is really hard. It takes a lot to be a welder. Once you are in the industry, there are long hours, depending on the processes you are working with. You can be on a ground floor or several stories high, doing different processes in different locations.”

Ahumada said some students who enter the program have taken agricultural classes at area high schools, while others have not touched a welding torch before.

“As soon as you graduate, you have companies looking for you, and you can pick and choose and see what processes they are running,” he said.

TSTC’s Welding Technology graduates have been hired at Trinity Industries in Longview, Keppel AmFELS Inc. in Brownsville and SpaceX at Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, according to TSTC’s Career Services office. Area school districts, such as Harlingen, Point Isabel and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, have hired TSTC graduates to teach welding classes.

Nathan Burkhart, director of marketing and small business development for the Brownsville Community Improvement Corp., said the need for welders continues to increase at SpaceX and the Port of Brownsville. Local efforts in metal recycling and offshore wind energy production also show promising signs for technically skilled workers.

“We see a lot of demand for welding, but also for metal cutting — anything that would involve the creation of a ship or a platform for a rocket,” he said.

Burkhart said the goal for companies is to hire locally as much as possible. He said the BCIC can work with companies to get workforce training set up for workers.

“The need is extremely high,” he said. “I don’t see it slowing down in the next couple of years.”

Keith Patridge, president and chief executive officer of the McAllen Economic Development Corp., said local companies dealing with automotive parts, heavy equipment, structural steel and petrochemicals employ welders. He said welders even live in the McAllen area and commute to the Eagle Ford Shale to work.

“Our numbers probably are not as large as in Brownsville because of the port and the ship building, but we do constantly have a need for welders,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers make a yearly median salary of more than $45,000 in Texas. There are more than 800 workers in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, according to the agency. Texas has been projected to need more than 61,000 workers by 2028, the highest number in the country.

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Welding Technology, along with Structural Welding and Structural and Pipe Welding certificates, at its Harlingen campus. The campus also offers a Basic Welding – Multiple Processes occupational skills award. All classes are taught in a hybrid format.

Welding Technology is part of TSTC’s Money-Back Guarantee initiative, which enables students who do not find a job in their profession within six months of graduation to have their tuition refunded.

Registration continues for the fall semester, and scholarships are available. For more information, go to tstc.edu.

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