Welding contest highlights a red-hot career pathway

By Sarah Earle

A student from the Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter competes at a welding competition at Novel Iron Works in Greenland. Photo by Joe Biladeau, welding instructor at the Seacoast School of Technology.

Like many young people approaching high school, Addison Kady wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew what he didn’t want to do: sit at a desk all day. As he was choosing his high school classes, he came across an introductory welding class and decided to give it a try.

“I just really loved it, and I’ve stuck with it ever since,” said Kady, who graduated from Portsmouth High School last June with three years of welding instruction and three industry certifications under his belt. 

He also graduated with $3,000 in scholarship money for community college thanks to a welding competition organized last spring by industry professionals and community college leaders to help spark interest in welding as a career. 

“It will definitely give me the next big step to becoming a welder,” said Kady, who plans to put the money toward the two-year welding program at Manchester Community College and eventually wants to become a journeyman pipeline welder. “I’ll be able to get the better welding jobs easier, and there’s always going to be a job somewhere for welding.”

The demand for welders in the state and nationwide is strong and growing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As more and more lifelong tradespeople retire, the need is expected to increasingly outstrip the supply. 

A student from the Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter competes at a welding competition at Novel Iron Works in Greenland. Photo by Joe Biladeau, welding instructor at the Seacoast School of Technology.

“There’s a huge need for welders,” said Hollie Noveletsky, CEO of Novel Iron Works in Greenland. “It definitely impacts what we can do as a company.”

Noveletsky conceived of the competition as a way to address that need. She began brainstorming with the two other large steel fabrication companies in the state, the three community colleges that offer welding, and the many Career and Technical Education (CTE) Centers that have welding programs. The American Welding Society pitched in prize money, ArcSource welding supply company provided equipment and giveaway packages, and several other companies gave time, money, or equipment.

Students first attended regional competitions, where they completed a written test and competed in four welding categories. The top prize winners got $1,000 in community college scholarships and went onto the state competition at Manchester Community College in May, where they competed for $4,500 in scholarship money.

“It was definitely cool and fun to put my work to the test and see if I could really do it,” said Kady, who won first place in the Seacoast regional competition and third place in the state competition. “The trickiest part was probably reading the blueprints. It’s good that we were able to learn a little bit about blueprints in school.”

The experience also familiarized Kady and other students with the community college system. “I think it was a huge thing for him to meet the teachers and the people he’s going to work with,” said Bill Schefer, who teaches welding at the Portsmouth Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center.

In his 14 years at the center, Schefer has been part of a significant shift in perspective and pedagogy that emphasizes clear, personalized career pathways for students.

Read Reaching Higher’s research and storytelling on career pathways.

In his early years there, Schefer simply wanted to share a useful skill. Over the past five years, as he’s seen the need for welders grow and watched his former students find success in the industry, his thinking has evolved. 

“It’s become abundantly clear to me that there are some really good pathways to long and profitable careers,” said Schefer, who has been working as a welder himself for 50 years. “My classes are full all the time now because I think kids are getting it. … I’ve started pushing this as a good job that pays well. This is a career you can have for a lifetime.”

Today, Schefer’s welding program offers up to four industry certifications, as well as college credits through the state’s Running Start program. Additionally, students build portfolios that they can share with prospective employers. Schefer also offers a nine-week introductory welding class that any student can take to get a taste of welding before committing to the full two-year program. Kady, who took the class early, was able to start the two-year program as a sophomore and gain an extra year of specialized welding instruction and earn additional certifications his senior year.

The welding competition, which organizers hope to bring back on an annual basis, represents just one of many scholarships aspiring welders can take advantage of. Last year, one of Schefer’s students filled out applications for every scholarship he was eligible for and ended up with enough money to attend community college for free. 

“Not only are these students going to get good training and go into well-paying jobs,” Schefer said, “many of them are going to do it without debt.” 

Career and Technical Education has been a key focus for lawmakers and education leaders in recent years, as part of a push toward personalized career pathways. A bipartisan omnibus bill passed during the last session targets several key components of strong college and career pathways, including funding for career and technical education centers and changes to dual and concurrent enrollment programs.

Recognizing the importance of college and career pathways, Reaching Higher and the New Hampshire Alliance for College and Career Readiness have made them a key focus of our own work in recent months. 

Read Reaching Higher’s new research on pathways: Exploring Key Traits and Practices to Build Exemplary Career Pathway Systems

Learn about current legislation affecting pathways: TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE: The Career and Technical Education Omnibus Bill

About this series: This story is part of a series highlighting solutions, success stories, and best practices at schools around the state. If you have a story you’d like to share, contact Sarah Earle at s.earle@reachinghighernh.org. 

Read other stories in this series: