Old Colony adult education program graduates first cohort of welders

Apr 3, 2023

ROCHESTER — It's never too late to learn a new skill, just ask the graduates of a newly developed welding program at Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School.

The program brought together 10 adults from diverse backgrounds including a martial arts instructor, a fisherman, a supermarket meat manager and more.

They participated in a 200-hour course to learn the skills and theories behind welding and to prepare themselves for new opportunities in the trades.

On Wednesday, March 29, the group graduated from the program.

Graduates included: Leduc Crowley, Michael Fox, Kevin Benson, Faythe Neil, Kenneth Ross, Kennie Rivera, Carl Pietro, Zack LaSalle, Paul Rodrigues and Christopher Leduc.

“I knew nothing about welding when I started, and I feel comfortable welding something together now,” said Ross, a Rochester resident who works for the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department. “I’ll retire when I retire, but I want to learn something [new] … I’d like to go work [part time] somewhere in a small shop.”

The program, developed in collaboration with the Greater New Bedford Workforce Board, is free and lacks certain requirements that can stop people from applying, said Workforce Board CEO James Oliveira.

“If you're interested in doing this [program], you can come and take it,” said Oliveira. “That’s the beauty of it.”

One of the program’s requirements is attendance, and according to Old Colony Superintendent Aaron Polansky, this cohort set a high bar for future students.

“It's a beautiful thing — we set a standard that I don't know many people will meet,” said Polansky to the group of graduates. “What you did, what you created, with your attendance was almost perfect attendance by every single participant. It’s a really beautiful [thing].”

And in a 200-hour course, near-perfect attendance is important. According to welding instructor Lucas Olivier, 200 hours “is not a lot of time at all.”

“It's a great feeling teaching these guys because most of them don't know any welding and you're starting from scratch,” said Olivier, who started teaching five years ago and is himself an Old Colony graduate.

When teaching first-time welders, Olivier said that safety is the top priority.

“This can be a really dangerous job, you can get seriously hurt if you don't know what to do,” he said. But after safety lessons, the class learned about the science behind welding and, of course, practical skills.

The course ended with a test that proved the students can perform a basic weld that stands up to scrutiny, said Olivier. If they pass, they’ll be well-qualified to “get their foot in the door” with a potential employer, he said.

And right now, welders are in high demand, said Oliveira, who added that 50% of the state’s manufacturing jobs are on the South Coast.

“This is a great example of folks who want to do better and just enhance their job opportunities exponentially,” he said. “Welding, in the workforce development world, is very highly sought after.”