Longtime Hayden welding teacher opens shop, offers classes amid broad shortages
The American Welding Society projects the U.S. will be short 375,000 welders by next year
Seventeen-year-old Nolan McKee didn’t have much welding experience prior to taking a class this spring, but now his dad has potential projects all over their ranch to utilize McKee’s new skill.
“There’s been a few times where knowing welding would have come in handy,” McKee said. “I figured I might as well take a welding class and be more use around the ranch.”
McKee was part of the first class in the Colorado Welding Institute’s new shop in Hayden, which is stocked with 16 welding station among other new tools — much better than the old Lincoln welder laying around his family’s ranch in Savory, Wyoming.
Kevin Kleckler, longtime welding teacher in the Hayden School District and the founder of the institute, said the welding class, which starts up again next month, is one of the only options to get certificates in Northwest Colorado.
“From here all the way to Yellowstone, and all the way down to Durango, to Denver and all the way to Salt Lake City,” Kleckler said, explaining the lack of welding instructors in the region. “And I’m the only certified welding inspector.”
Including a grant from the town, Kleckler said he has invested about a half-million dollars into his new shop at 412 Commerce St. in Hayden and has enough room to accommodate 16 students at a time.
The shop is in a simple pole barn with welding stations on the outside and workbenches and plasma cutters in the center.
“I built the shop just how I wanted, so I can stand in the middle and I can watch everything that’s going on,” Kleckler said.
Students have come from all over to take his classes over the years, which he started teaching about 25 years ago with Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig and later taught out of the Babson-Carpenter Career Technical Education Center in Hayden.
There are about 170 technical certifications in welding, and Kleckler said he can teach them all, though most of his students are looking to learn the dozen most common ones. His classes offer student certifications with the American Welding Society and American Petroleum Institute.
The two main types of people that take his classes are those who want to learn welding for their careers and those who are looking to add the skill because of a particular hobby. For Max Stepan, who works on lifts for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., it’s both.
“I wanted to do it mainly so I could do some stuff at work, but also for my own reasons,” Stepan said. “I’m an artist as well… and I’ve got some projects that I needed a little bit stronger understanding of the welding process to make happen.”
Kleckler said learning the skill has become increasingly important as the American Welding Institute estimates the country will be facing a shortage of about 375,000 welders by next year.
Not only is welding a sector of skilled labor with a significant shortage, Kleckler said many of the welding job postings he sees are offering about $60,000 starting wage. McKee said if ranching were no longer a viable career path for him, welding would be a good second option in his mind.
“The workforce is aging, all the baby boomers are retiring,” Kleckler said. “The trades are coming back, they’re booming, and they’re getting big money.”
Mike Anson, owner of Anson Excavation in Craig, said welding is involved in several aspects of his business, though he often isn’t the one doing it anymore. He took Kleckler’s class with his son this spring to refresh the old skill for him, and give his son a new one.
“He’s had some welding (classes) at the high school in Moffat County, but you can’t get any type of certifications here,” Anson said. “He wants to continue doing something with the family business, him and his brother both, so it’s just another aspect of something he can bring to our business.”
Kleckler is offering two classes. One starts Sept. 13 and teaches TIG welding and the other starts Sept. 14 and will focus on MIG and stick welding techniques. Each is once a week for 10 weeks and costs $2,500. For more information, email Kleckler at email@example.com.
Eventually, Kleckler said he wants to offer a class that would teach certified welders to be welding inspectors, a job that he said can be “quite lucrative” and is in really short supply locally.
“Those skills, no matter where you go from Colorado to Maine, it’s the same,” Kleckler said. “You’re taking the skills that you have with you.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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