(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — The program still is very much in its infancy, but so is the educational institution that offers the program. Since the fall semester, Erie County Community College (EC3) has offered a welding program for aspiring students.

“It came out like gangbusters — it was our hottest program once it hit the ground,” said Guy Goodman, the vice president of academic and student affairs at EC3. “We were excited because right out of the chute, each of the spots we had available were filled. And they stayed filled out in the spring semester as well.”

It took only one semester for the program to earn national recognition. Earlier this year, the American Welding Society (AWS) gave its recognition to EC3 as an official educational institution. That means prospective students and employers can go to the society’s website to search for programs offering a nationally approved training program and see EC3 listed. Goodman said he recently searched the society’s database for programs in the area, and of four programs available, EC3 was the only community college.

In some of the welding courses, students are able to complete AWS certification testing at the end of the class. That test is proctored by EC3’s own welding instructor, Luke Hummer. Hummer is a certified welding instructor.

“It’s almost like a turn-key where Johnny or Suzie is training with Luke (Hummer) on a daily basis, and then when it’s time for them to take the test, he lets them go and says, ‘show me your skills,’ because he knows what they can do,” Goodman said.

Currently, the welding program has a cohort of 14 students. Of those students, one was already employed and signed up for extra training, two have job offers and will begin their careers when they finish the program, and all but one of the remaining students have had interviews with potential employers. Goodman said the remaining student isn’t interested in a career in welding and took the course to learn the skill.

“A job-placement rate of 12 out of 13 or 14 students is pretty darn good,” Goodman said.

Already EC3 is considering expanding its welding program. The first year was intended to get the program off the ground. Now, with the amount of interest the program has seen, the local institution could offer more workshops to the public and may even offer programs for additional welding techniques (currently, EC3 is focused on training for stick welding, but it could add MIG welding courses at some point).

“Part of what we do as an institution is we ask what the community needs and then we respond to that need,” Goodman said. “Based on what the needs are in the welding program, we’ll meet or exceed those needs to best provide the citizens of Erie County an opportunity to continue securing the positions that lead to family-sustaining wages.”

Erie County Community College held its first class ever in the fall of 2021 with about 200 students. By August 2022, student enrollment was about 350 students. Today, the college has 375 students.