Sherman Cayaditto, 21, said he lost his job wiring rebar in Phoenix at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and had to return home to Torreon, a community 50 miles north -west of Albuquerque.
From Monday, Cayaditto plans to attend a free welding camp for the unemployed offered by Northern New Mexico College in Española.
“I was like, ‘How do I get certified?’ Because I know welding makes a lot of money,” he said.
The 12-week training program teaches basic welding techniques and offers job placement assistance to qualified candidates. It is offered through a partnership between the college and the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions.
“The goal is to get dislocated people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and get them back into the workforce,” said Cecilia Romero, continuing education coordinator at the college.
Romero and his team applied for a grant through the New Mexico Ready partnership with the State’s Department of Workforce Solutions and Department of Higher Education. They received $79,000 in funding through the US Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers in New Mexico pay welders, cutters, brazers, and brazers (a person who joins metal) some of the highest wages for the job in the country – $53,000 at $71,000 per year. As of 2020, the state had approximately 1,900 to 5,000 employees working in the field.
Cayaditto said that once certified, he expected to earn between $26 and $46 an hour, adding that he would seek work in Cuba and Bernalillo.
Northern will hold its in-person welding classes in the evenings, three times a week for 12 weeks, for a total of 108 hours of training. Classes will be limited to 12 students in two separate groups, one starting February 28 and the other March 7.
“We’re overwhelmed,” Romero said, adding that they received about 30 applications.
The college has used flyers, newspaper advertisements and social media to promote the program over the past month.
Dean Moya has been teaching welding at Northern for 16 years and will teach at the tuition-free welding camp.
“It’s open to everyone,” Moya said. “I teach the basics of each type of welding. It’s kind of like a crash course.
He said the courses begin with safety training and, through a combination of educational and hands-on learning, cover tungsten inert gas, metal inert gas and other welding methods.
In addition to welding techniques, Moya teaches students about the industry and where to look for work.
“We receive requests [for welders] from the Los Alamos National Laboratory saying they will come and interview our students,” he said.
In addition to being unemployed, qualifying students must be 18 or older and fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“And they have to be ready to go to work as soon as this program is over,” Romero said.
Natasha Sanchez, 20, of Pueblo de Santo Domingo, said she heard about the program from the community’s education coordinator.
“I want to make a career out of it,” she said, adding of welders, “They’re always busy.”