Sparking Up a Bright Future
Skilled welders in Alabama with short-term certifications or two-year degrees can earn as much as $50,000 annually, and there’s a growing need for them statewide! According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, for every five welders who retire, only two-and-a-half new welders enter the field. That means that by 2024, there will be around 400,000 vacant welding jobs! Alabama’s community colleges offer welding programs across the state.
Jalen Roberts attended J.F. Drake State Community College for welding, and she couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Before completing the program, Jalen was already working in her field and was able to pay her own mortgage at just 22 years old. Jalen is a part of the mere 2 percent of women who make up the welding workforce in the United States. However, due to the creation of programs for women who weld and a larger push for women to enter STEM fields, that number is on the rise.
What “sparked” your interest in welding?
During my sophomore year in high school, we were visited by the Huntsville Center for Technology. They offered programs like barbering, gardening, and machine tool tech, just to name a few. I chose the welding department because of this neat helicopter replica they had on their table that was made completely out of metal. I wanted to know how they made it, so I signed up for the program.
What was your favorite part of the welding program at Drake State? I would have to say shop time. I loved getting behind the hood with my instructors and learning tricks from other students who might have more experience. I liked being able to learn and see other peoples techniques to help mold my own. Drake had awesome instructors who cared and wanted to see you grow. They were involved since day one, and they helped steer me in the right direction.
What’s different about the college experience at a community college versus a university? I think the student-teacher relationships are better at a community college. Classes are smaller, which gives you more 1-on-1 time. If you need a little extra help, the teacher has more time to get to each person.
What’s it like to be a woman in an industry of mostly men? It’s very different. I do work harder. The guys I worked with always pushed me, whether it was friendly competition or just helping to guide me. They were very tough at times, but now I feel like no task is too big because of being around them.
Dual Enrollment: Every community college in Alabama offers great dual enrollment options that launch high school students ahead in both academics and workforce development. Jalen took advantage of the program while in high school, and it helped her snag a job in welding before she even graduated college! She shared, “I’m glad I did. I was ahead in my classes, and I didn’t have to retake the classes I took in high school.”
What Welders Do: Skilled welders are important in each step of the manufacturing process for anything from cars to bridges. Daily tasks include welding components in flat, vertical, or overhead positions; operating safety equipment and hands and power tools such as shielded metal arc equipment; securing parts and assemblies prior to assembly and examining workpieces for defects.
Want to learn more about the programs offered by Drake State and other Alabama community colleges? Head over to accs.edu for more info!