Free career training is the best way to stay ahead in a pandemic economy. The award-winning welding program at San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE) is preparing graduates for in-demand careers at General Dynamics NASSCO and with national union apprenticeships.
For lead singer, Brittany Wallace and former educator, Sarah McKee, the COVID-19 crisis was an opportunity to learn a trade.
Wallace, 33, frontwoman for local soul band, The Anodynes, came to SDCCE hoping to build a lucrative career. “There is no performing live right now, I had to think of other creative ways to make an income,” she said.
For no cost, students can specialize in one to five welding certificates: Shielding Metal Arc Welding, Gas Metal and Flux Cored Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, Pipe Welding and Metal Fabrication at SDCCE, the fourth college of the San Diego Community College District.
Following nearly a year of campus closures, SDCCE adopted hybrid options for hard-to-transition classes—skilled and technical trades. Smaller class sizes are meeting for hands-on learning at SDCCE’s outdoor welding yard located in Mountain View while others are learning remotely, studying blueprint reading, welding symbols, theory, and math.
In addition to playing San Diego venues, Wallace worked in the restaurant business for 15 years, an industry she believed would always be profitable.
Nearly 40% of all jobs lost during the pandemic in California have been in the hospitality industry, reported Business Insider.
“I worked in hospitality for as long as I could remember. I thought serving was essential,” she said. “It was a huge relief to find affordable job training and to learn that the welding industry is always looking for new talent. There is so much to do from robotics and aerospace, to the military and shipyards.”
Wallace is working toward earning all five welding certificates from SDCCE.
One of the greatest challenges facing the construction industry today is prolonged talent shortages, reported Nationwide. Despite the pressing need to recruit more workers, the construction industry has traditionally failed to recruit one key demographic in sizable numbers. Women make up only 9.3% of the construction industry's workforce.
To equalize access for minority populations joining the building and construction trades, SDCCE awards grants to students enrolled in a nontraditional area of study and provides opportunity to enter union apprenticeships.
SDCCE’s 2021 spring welding program enrolled nine female welders, a rising number compared to past records. The cohort includes McKee, 28, who left her teaching career to weld.
“I love education, but I didn’t want to do it anymore. I want to build things with my hands again,” she said.
Prior to working as a high school teacher, McKee majored in theatre arts and mathematics at California Lutheran University, where she worked in the theatre department as a carpenter and a tech director building props and lighting.
After months of online learning, McKee was overjoyed when SDCCE campuses safely reopened. “I was very excited to get in and physically weld,” she said. “Plus, it's amazing that the training is free, otherwise I wouldn't have the money or time to go back to graduate school.”
Following her studies at SDCCE, McKee plans to pursue a specialty in underwater welding.