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Welding students build float for MLK Day Parade in San Diego

Welders are important to one of San Diego’s biggest industries — shipbuilding.

At San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), welding students are also using their skills to honour civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“For years this country I feel we focused on the service industry more than industrial,” SDCE welding instructor Bob Pyle said. “We’re seeing an upswing and a change in that now.”

As students learn the trade of welding, they’ll be working in a field where the presence of semi-automated machines is a given and where being trained in the latest technologies is crucial to job security.

“Robotics have been with us for years. They’re not a threat to human being welding at this point,” he said. “We still need people who are able to manoeuver in tight areas and manual welding. there’s still a huge need for that.”

Many of the students will go on to work at companies such as General Dynamics NASSCO in Barrio Logan. The shipbuilder is adding nearly 1,000 jobs for the first of six new ships for the U.S. Navy.

For others, welding sparks their imagination.

“I’d like to do industrial lighting,” welding student Andrea Cook said. She also said she’d like to open her own business someday.

“I was a theater major,” she said. “I was technical theatre, so I always built stage lighting and design.”

Cook is one of 16 of the 174 women enrolled at SDCE’s free welding certificate programme.

This month, welding instructors and students will showcase their design for the city of San Diego’s yearly parade honouring Martin Luther King Jr.

Students built a 700-pound stainless steel statue of King over the course of two months. The 68 steel plates are stacked right next to each other, cut with a computer controlled plasma cutter.

The students used the three basic principles of welding — MIG (Metal Inert Gas), TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) and stick — to create the statue.

Instructors say another principle that’s just as important to welding skills is project management.

“This project has really taught them to work together,” said Mike Bradbury, welding instructor at SDCE. “We have a timeline we need to meet. It’s really stretching them.”