Welding instructor George Moreno embarked on a personal mission when he quit his part-time teaching job at Cerritos College and his full-time job with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. At only half his previous pay, he left to reinvigorate the neglected welding department at Santa Ana College, a few miles south, in an economically depressed area of Orange County, California.
Santa Ana College’s Welding Department had fallen behind the technology curve before Moreno arrived in mid 2007. The equipment was decades old and didn’t reflect modern welding standards. With limited resources, Moreno started lobbying the college for funds, seeking federal grants and soliciting community and corporate support.
Moreno outfitted 40 training stations with new welding machines from The Lincoln Electric Company “What first caught our attention was the local Ironworkers Union, which told school administrators they could employ every certified welder who graduated from the program,” said Santa Ana President, Erlinda Martinez. “As soon as we heard that, we knew there was something special here.”
Santa Ana College committed the financial resources necessary to turn the welding program around. Then, two local steel companies stepped up and pledged more than 250,000 lbs. of scrap metal per year.
With support in hand, Moreno now has 40 training stations with new welding machines from The Lincoln Electric Company, which donated additional equipment and educational materials to the school. The welders included state-of-the-art Lincoln Invertec® V275s for stick and TIG welding, Invertec® V350 Pros for multi-purpose use, and Lincoln’s Precision TIG® 225s with digital display for high-quality TIG welding.
"I chose Lincoln machines because they are very advanced and the most user-friendly machines out there,” Moreno said. “Students learn much more quickly and more effectively on them. The less complicated the machine, the better they do."
Santa Ana began offering classes for beginning and advanced welders, including instruction in MIG, TIG, flux-cored, arc gouging and stick welding. Moreno then reached out to the industry to allow the program to certify students through the American Welding Association. Not long after the facility began its transformation, classes began selling out.
But it wasn’t all traditional students who enrolled. The classes included students in their 30s and 40s with bachelors and masters degrees, former lawyers, other professionals and women. When Moreno left his former position, he knew the Santa Ana area was in need of skills training, but he never imagined to what extent. By fall of 2009, there was a waiting list of more than 150 students.
MIG, TIG, flux-cored, arc gouging and stick welding. Throughout the past decade, the number of skilled welders in the United States has dropped sharply from an aging labor pool and younger interests shifting away from trade labor. But while the demand for new welders has remained throughout the recession, many displaced workers are finding paychecks in fields they never before considered, said Lincoln Electric Sales Representative Clint Keller.
"There’s always been a need for good welders," Keller said. “And that hasn’t changed. What many people didn’t realize before is that certified welders can start out making $50,000 a year and just keep going up from there.”
Moreno has also started working with faculty and staff of Santa Ana High School to renew its welding program. He said his drive is not about personal gain, but helping people in his community find good-paying jobs.
"This area really needed something like this, and I wanted to help people receive training they can use for the rest of their lives," he said.
School President Martinez said Moreno has been an inspiration to the area.
"It’s amazing what one instructor can do,” she said. “He really is a role model for the school and this entire community. He loves his students, and it shows."