It has recently come to my attention that the welding program at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland will be almost completely eliminated. The reason given is that there are not enough students getting welding certificates or actually graduating from the welding program.

Many of those students are not completing their welding degrees, because of an inability to finish other prerequisite courses such as English and math.

However, the large majority of them are going on to get jobs throughout Maine and New England at companies such as Casco Bay Steel, Pratt & Whitney and Bath Iron Works, because they do get certified in specific tasks: tasks that are done specifically to the welding code.

Many of these students finish their program with three to 10 certificates of completion of tasks from the program. It is the ability to do these specific tasks that businesses look for when hiring an employee.

The jobs are often very task-specific, and if people can document that they have the qualifications to do that specific task, then they are hired. They are not hired on the basis of having a welding certificate or a diploma from a specific welding program. The students who leave the welding program at SMCC and have certification in specific tasks that local companies are looking for are making $20 an hour the first day on the job.

At a time when there is a scarcity of skilled laborers, does it make sense to do away with a program that has consistently provided skilled workers to companies throughout Maine and New England?

Clearly, there is a need for more skilled American workers in the U.S. labor force. Can we afford to lose these skilled workers who have the ability to support themselves for the rest of their lives in high-paying jobs in companies that manufacture goods in America?

Benjamin Thompson
South Portland