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Six months ago a group of 22 students came together to form the inaugural cohort class at Harbor Island Training Center, a collaborative program between Vigor Industrial Shipyards and South Seattle Community College designed to provide students with marketable welding and fabrication skills needed to enter the booming maritime industry.
"We had to come together as a group of strangers to form a team to get the shop built and get the program up and running," graduate Mike Mullins said. "It's just been tremendous. I want to thank Vigor, South Seattle Community College and the Workforce Development Council (of Seattle/King County) for putting faith in strangers. We can do it, and we have."
Mullins is one of 19 students who graduated from the six-month program on Dec. 18 at Vigor's shipyard on Harbor Island. Of those graduates, one-third already have jobs lined up in the maritime and welding industries while the remainder are actively interviewing with potential employers. That process is being aided by WorkSource Centers on South's West Seattle and Georgetown campuses, and with the help of Workforce Development Council case workers.
Mullins, 42, is a single father with a Master's degree in Documentary Filmmaking who worked as an audio-visual technician at the Art Institute of Seattle until he was unexpectedly laid off. That's when he discovered the welding program at Harbor Island Training Center and decided to sign up. Not only will Mullins be transitioning into welding work with Vigor, he'll also help them create training videos for Vigor employees across their entire network (based on his prior expertise in filmmaking).
"This program has been an open door to many opportunities in welding," Mullins said, while adding an important part of his success comes from his teacher.
"I have to give a lot of props to our Instructor Ken Johnson," he said. "The man has worked tirelessly and has bent over backwards for all of us multiple times. He's in here sometimes from 6:30 in the morning until 8:00 at night: I don't know how he does it. Ken has been a great instructor."
For Johnson, those long hours on occasion are just part of the job.
"Some of our students needed a little extra time for some of the hands-on learning," he explained. "I think stepping up and going the extra mile was worth it to help them learn the trade."
"It's great to see younger people get out into the welding industry," Johnson said. "According to AWS (the American Welding Society), there are 500,000 welders but 50,000 welders a year are retiring. In order to keep the trade alive, we need to bring younger people into the trade. This is the first step in where it starts."
"What we've learned here can open a lot of doors anywhere, not just here (at Vigor)," Mullins said.
The second generation of graduates are gearing up for another session now (and its filling up quickly!). For more information on the Harbor Island Training Center, with a classroom on site at Vigor's shipyard, please visit http://www.southseattle.edu/harbor-island-training-center/.