WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) announced five grant awards for the Advanced Welding Workforce Initiative (AWWI), a partnership to invest $1 million in education and training for advanced technical workers in Appalachia.
Projects were selected based upon their anticipated impact on the Region’s advanced welding and manufacturing workforce, particularly their capacity to meet growing demand across a number of industries. Awards were also made on the basis of connecting proposals with pressing regional needs, including expanding offerings into economically distressed areas, targeting designated Opportunity Zones and recruiting workers in long-term recovery from substance use disorder.
Belmont College in St. Clairsville, OH will use $281,603 to partner with Eastern Gateway Community College and Ohio Mid-East Career and Technology Center to launch the Eastern Ohio Appalachia Pipe Welding and Fabrication Project. This regional approach will equip advanced welders with specialized skills required by natural gas and combined-cycle power plants, and growing sectors like oil and gas and metal fabrication, which will soon need hundreds of qualified workers for a proposed Ethane Cracker Plant in Belmont County. Within the project’s first year alone, at least 50 students will obtain new jobs or enhance their current position. After three years of completion, 121 students and 30 workers/trainees will acquire new positions or advance in existing jobs.
Calhoun Community College in Decatur, AL will use $198,000 to purchase training equipment to strengthen robotic welding programs on its Decatur and Huntsville campuses. The addition of robotic welding equipment and subsequent courses will equip students with much-needed skills sets, while incumbent workers will be able to obtain a Certificate in Robotic Welding to advance their careers. The robotic welding equipment will support a broader range of courses than currently offered in both the Welding Technologies and the Aerospace Welding programs, with the potential to create a new short-term certificate. The programs will train 110 degree-seeking students during the project period.
Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University in Huntington, WV will use $336,796 to partner with institutions like Mountwest Community and Technical College to educate and train Central Appalachians in advanced welding methods needed in manufacturing, fossil power plant, aviation, automotive, and petrochemical industries. The program will offer hands-on training through classrooms and a new mobile training laboratory funded by the award. The university anticipates at least 18 students will obtain new employment, 35 workers/trainees will obtain new or enhance their current positions, and at least ten businesses will be improved after just the first year of implementation.
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland, KY will use $105,281 to update and expand the welding program on its Harlan campus, including increasing the number of scholarships available. The program will provide hands-on training in skills such as advanced alloy joining and advanced bending and fitting, alongside education in mathematics, digital literacy, and communication. After two years, students will earn a Combination Welder Diploma and can sit for welding certification testing to meet future employer requirements. This project, serving three economically distressed counties that also include designated Opportunity Zones, will prepare 15 students for employment with local businesses.
Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, PA will use $78,320 to expand training and add new welding certifications, including the joining of advanced alloys using robotics, to meet employer needs in high-temperature fossil-based power plants, as well as aviation, automotive, and petrochemical industries. As a member of Carnegie Mellon University’s Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, the nation’s leading collaborative effort in robotics and workforce innovation, Westmoreland partners with and learns from top robotics firms. At least 68 students and 21 workers/trainees will obtain new positions or enhance their current employment during the project period.
AWWI’s funding is jointly provided by ARC and DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy High Performance Materials program to prepare a new generation of welders to manufacture and service high-temperature alloy components in advanced coal- and natural gas-fueled electric generating stations. Such plants operate at significantly higher temperatures and pressures, which increases efficiency and lowers emissions of carbon dioxide but requires the use of superalloys that can withstand the harsh conditions. AWWI awardees put forth projects that would develop a workforce with the high-tech welding skills needed to use those advanced materials to ensure the successful operation of low- and near-zero emission plants powered by Appalachia’s abundant reserves of coal and gas.
Workers with similar skills are needed in the automotive, aerospace, aviation and petrochemical industries. AWWI is part of a series of joint efforts between ARC and DOE to help Appalachia fully harness the economic and workforce potential of these sectors. Other collaborations between the agencies include the Appalachian Energy and Petrochemical Renaissance: An Examination of Economic Progress and Opportunity, a DOE report – which included ARC research – that found petrochemical manufacturing currently in development in Appalachia is projected to attract between $16 billion and $20 billion in capital investment, and create more than 9,800 jobs directly and indirectly in Appalachia by 2025.