Accelerated Welding Academy at Minnesota State College Southeast offers a chance for those who were previously incarcerated to make their first step towards a better future. 2021 classes start Sept. 7.

How it started

Workforce Development Inc., Hiawatha Valley Adult Basic Education and Minnesota State College Southeast partnered to create a program based on community needs.

“All three of the partners got together and looked at where there was a workforce gap in the community and what skills employers were looking for,” Kathleen Hardyman Morem, director of business relations for MSC Southeast, said. “Welders were crucially needed so we decided to make a program for it.”

In 2015, the partners received a Pathways to Prosperity grant from the Minnesota Department of Economic Development, which continues to fund the course today. 

The first class started in late 2015.

The program

The Accelerated Welding Academy is now taught by Michael Ford and is geared towards those who have been previously incarcerated or have something on their record that creates a job barrier, according to Kim Buysse, career navigator for Workforce Development Inc.

“Not all students have something on their record, but a lot do so we can help them with future goals,” Morem said. “The program is built to be a bridge for students to figure out what they want their career to be.”

Eights students are able to take a class at a time, which makes for a lot of one-on-one instruction with the teacher.

“When we get a new group of welding students, I would say there's three goals for them,” Morem said. “Number one is that they learn enough to be able to get an entry level job into a local employer here. Number two is that they piqued their interest enough to get more education about welding. Number three, and just as important, is for them to realize that they don't like welding after finishing the program. Then they can move on to something else, but still have a certificate for their resume.”

Students receive 10 hours of classroom learning and 30 hours of hands-on training. At the end of the academy, they will graduate with a welding certificate.

During the course, participants have access to a career navigator who can help them with transportation, clothing, food and more, all in the hopes that they finish the class.

The program’s cost is $1,500, but Morem said there is a lot of grant funding available to assist those with financial need.

“95% of our students are grant eligible,” Morem said. “So rarely do they pay anything and not only are we paying their tuition, they get all the necessary items like helmets to participate.”

Classes run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Sept. 7 to Oct. 6. 

“If nothing else, we hope this class gives our students hope that there are life sustaining wage careers out there for them, no matter what's happened in the past,” Morem said. “So, this program is not only for someone that's ready and willing to work, but they have put their time and energy into changing, you know what's happened in the past and making positive steps to move forward in their life.”

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