Eyewitness News Reporter
Eyewitness News Photojournalist
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Jack Lewis is soon to be a second generation welder. Laid off and looking for work, Lewis says welding school seemed like his best option.
"I figured you can't lay off welders," said Lewis.
Lucky for Lewis, there's a new training center in town where his education comes free of charge. Energy Solutions Group is fronting the bill, training 30 students at a time in advanced welding skills. ESG says the manufacturing industry is making a come back.
"Most of our welders are baby boomers," said ESG Vice President Harley Grant. "They are vacating the arena over the next 10 to 15 years and we have not replaced them."
Companies like Volkswagen, Alstom and other supplier groups across the Tennessee Valley all require welding skills, and state leaders are interested in keeping local workers in local jobs.
"If we've got the workers, and they are trained, then companies are going to invest in Tennessee," said Congressman Zach Wamp. "That's what it's all about."
Becoming a hub for a new wave of manufacturing is the goal, and in these tough economic times, a recession-proof skill sounds like a steal to students like Jack Lewis.
"You are always going to need welders," said Lewis. "That's all there is to it."
Energy Solutions Group's welding school lasts an average of 6 months and promises students a position making at least $18 an hour.
Welders can go on to make up to $100,000 a year.
Students are accepted only through a referral process.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nearly half a million welders will be needed nationwide by 2014. The group attributes that to aging baby-boomers.
Eyewitness News reported back in March the drive at Chattanooga State to offer welding classes around the clock. There is still a waiting list for next semester.