Maritime welding is arcing lives and sparking bright careers for grads

Story by Misty Bouse. Photos by Ric Getter.

Kai Blanchard with Todd Barnett.

Graduate Kai Blanchard with instructor Todd Barnett.

At the Portland Community College’s Swan Island Trades Center, the Maritime Welding Program recently hosted a completion ceremony celebrating 21 students who earned Maritime Welding and Shipfitting certificates. The Maritime Welding Class of 2024, along with their families, friends, and industry partners marked not only the end of their training, but the beginning of promising careers in a manufacturing industry in dire need of fresh workers.

Many thanked the college’s Career Pathways for its outreach and high-touch help. The welding students, especially those who have had life challenges such as non-native English speakers or those recently released from drug recovery, military service, incarceration or homelessness have been given support by the program, provided they qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This includes resume-writing, job coaching and placement, providing tools, personal protection equipment, and even a work boot voucher.

Welding graduate.

Spring Trades Career Fair

This event is from 12:30-3 p.m., Friday, April 26 at the Willow Creek Opportunity Center. Visit over 50 participating employers, most are hiring! Free and open to the public. Who should attend: Those interested in jobs or meeting with these trade occupations: welding, construction, manufacturing, machining, electrical, HVAC/facilities and more. Anyone wanting to learn about PCC’s workforce pipelines and connections to regional manufacturing.

Contact: Michelle Parr

According to PCC Business and Industry Liaison Michelle Parr, these students often are the first in their families to go to college and can train as highly sought-after maritime workers in less than a year. Graduates sought by local unions are offered four-year apprenticeships with starting hourly wages around $30. Eager to speak to these students and their families were PCC’s industry partners in attendance from Madden Industrial Craftsmen CEO Ken Madden; Vigor Director of Production and Ship Repair Walter Stokman; and Diversified Marine President and COO Frank Manning.

Madden shared that since many welders and shipfitters have retired, “PCC is building the future and the people.”

Stokman added, “Industrial America is in trouble and needs you.”  With a critical shortage of about 400,000 welders in the industry, he invited students to, “Come in at the ground level, be humble and eager to learn. Then, the world is your oyster.”

Manning  announced, “Diversified Marine would like to hire 15 PCC-trained students today.”

These partners consider PCC graduates to be serious, well-prepared and diverse. The Maritime Program provides short-term training in advanced fabrication and welding techniques from blueprint reading to fabrication techniques to cutting, gouging and arc welding. Graduates have tested for a range of highly prized, maritime-recognized certifications.

Lead Welding Instructor and Faculty Department Co-Chair Todd Barnett paid tribute to Rebecca White, a single mother, for her outstanding performance and success in earning both Maritime Welding and Shipfitting certificates. After many years incarcerated, the 49-year-old got clean, and was released into a halfway house. She heard about PCC’s program as she worked as a part-time waitress, eventually completing several specialty certifications in welding. She will likely be welding the new I-205 bridge in Oregon City soon. With her pending union job offer, she says she will earn about $31 an hour to start plus good benefits and raises every six months.

Rebecca White with Todd Barnett

Rebecca White with Barnett.

“The more welding skills I get, the more my pay will increase,” said White, who has enrolled for next term, and is contemplating learning to dive-weld. She also spoke of yoga and some light weightlifting as aids to keeping fit for the work and encouraged other women to join her.

“The torch is not that heavy,” said White, who once suffered a broken neck as a result of a car accident. “While I’m getting a late start, this is the biggest achievement of my life. If you really want it, get help and make it happen.”

Similarly, after serving as a U.S. Navy mechanic, Daniel Mobley found himself in rough waters seeking stable income to escape homelessness. Now, he has certificates in Maritime Welding and Shipfitting through the G.I. Bill and Career Pathways support. Mobley shared that he has confidence, certifications and can make solid welds.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “The people that work for the program are awesome, and I not only tell people about it, but I hand out Career Pathways/STEP cards all the time.”

Student A.J. Cole’s grandfather was a welder. So, in January, with three months sober, he enrolled. Now, he has earned his Maritime Welding Certificate and praised his instructors for their “willingness, knowledge, and caring.” Cole is planning to apprentice after completing the Maritime Shipfitter Certificate in June.

“After my time in the Washington County Jail and recovery, I learned about Maritime Welding,” Cole said. “I’m so glad for a long-term career that’ll pay well. My grandfather and family are ecstatic.”


Graduates were treated to food and beverage.