New SCC Welding Facility to Bond Education with Gage County Manufacturing Companies

New SCC Welding Facility to Bond Education with Gage County Manufacturing Companies Main Photo

12 Mar 2024

Today’s manufacturing endeavors are more reliant on automation than ever. Yet a skilled workforce is necessary to utilize that technology to its full potential. The best manufacturing companies recognize this fact and consistently seek to ensure their people have the capability and resources to do just that.

In Gage County, Nebraska, local manufacturers and Southeast Community College (SCC) are working together to ensure that possibility, illustrated by a new Welding Building under construction at the SCC Beatrice Campus. The school will be better suited to meet the needs of the local manufacturing community through the courses and accredited certification testing it will host there. Many individuals now must travel to the SCC Lincoln campus to access those services. 

“We consistently seek to identify the community’s workforce needs, and local manufacturers have vocalized the need for welders for some time,” said Jon Kisby, Dean of Ag/Transportation/Welding at SCC. “The new Welding Building is a direct reflection of that collaboration.”

Beyond welding itself, the building holds a world of promise for area manufacturers.

“Any initiative that draws potential workforce into Gage County is good for the manufacturers,” said Herb Griebe, Plant Manager at Neapco in Beatrice. “Pulling talented individuals, specifically skilled labor, into the community will drive all kinds of benefits.” 

Welding facility

Construction broke ground in 2023 on a 4,000-square-foot facility as a stand-alone building adjacent to the campus dining hall. The focus will be entry and intermediate welding instruction for individuals. The facility will have 20 booths complete for multi-process welding, a small fabrication space and an instructor’s office. Five of the booths will be oversized to provide space for certifications. Construction is anticipated to be completed in time for the fall 2024 semester. 

The project cost is currently in excess of $3 million, with $1.5 million provided through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding, which is often available for workforce development projects. SCC officials anticipate turning to the community for help with the remaining project costs.

“The Beatrice manufacturing community requires a propensity to evolve as individual needs change,” said Rick Blessen, SCC Director of Advancement. “This project was designed with flexible spaces in mind to react as technology changes.”

Area manufacturers were eager to provide feedback to SCC on what the facility could provide. “We wanted to show our support for the program and to illustrate to SCC that their support of the manufacturing community is very valuable to the school, our company and the community, " said Randy Kinney of Kinney Mfg, LLC. 

Local manufacturing needs

Beatrice has many manufacturers in numerous industry segments, like food, advanced and metal manufacturing. They all have similar needs, from finding qualified individuals with welding skills to reskilling or upskilling current employees. Kinney said he is looking for new people to enter manufacturing to support the company’s growth.

“As a company, we are investing in new equipment that utilizes automation and robotics to support growth.  These machines require higher paying jobs to program and operate this type of equipment,” he said. “People going through the welding program at SCC can expand their interest in manufacturing, and then we can bring them in-house and give additional training.” 

Indeed, the 2021 Southeast Nebraska Manufacturing Wage Survey indicates the median wage for an entry-level welder is $18.59 per hour, while an experienced welder is $22.50. While some suggest skilled trades like welding may be less critical with the influx of robotics, Kisby believes that theory couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Employees need to have the basic understanding of welding to ensure machines perform as they should,” he said.

Griebe knows the SCC Welding Facility has the potential to open other doors of opportunity for local manufacturers. 

“As individuals attend programming at the facility, they will be introduced to the possibilities that general manufacturing careers in the area hold for them,” he said. “From a training perspective, we now have to periodically send our employees for training to places that require air travel, which is extremely disruptive to our operation. The potential for our employees to just drive down the street for that training is priceless and could allow us to dabble in part-time employment, where individuals work and go to school to develop their skill set.”

The facility displays the excellent relationship between SCC and area manufacturers, said Corey Ballue, Neapco Manufacturing Engineer.

“At Neapco, we do not have a high number of welders, but as the success and popularity of programs continue to grow at SCC, we’ll be able to grow with them to expand into other training areas,” he said.

Beyond welding

Students can achieve an A.A.S. Degree, certificate or diploma in Welding Technology at the SCC Lincoln campus. However, segments of the program can be completed at Beatrice, either to meet local manufacturers’ requirements or for students to complete many of the courses without driving to Lincoln.

The importance of the SCC Welding program goes well beyond that skill alone. Students have degree and certificate options in 15 career and technical programs at the Beatrice Campus and can transfer credits to a four-year college to complete a bachelor’s degree. Agriculture programs are popular, with crops and livestock managed by students who could benefit from developing their welding knowledge. 

Before the building is ready for a semester of student classes, SCC officials will work with local companies to start programming for industry training, such as workplace learning and continuing education. Once programming is entirely underway, Gage County will tremendously impact workforce development by attracting new people to manufacturing in general.

“We want students going through this program not only to gain technical welding skills but also general manufacturing skills in blueprint reading, quality tool knowledge, general safety knowledge and overall attendance,’ said Kinney. “Our goal is to highlight that a manufacturing career that starts at SCC can allow folks to stay in Gage County and have a successful career supporting manufacturing in our county.”  

NGage celebrates Gage County’s manufacturers and education professionals for their innovation, creativity, problem-solving and dedication to the people of the region! Contact us for more information on the possibilities here today!