Collaborating to Create the Ultimate Welding Workforce

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Insights

If you want to build a reputation for excellence and a legacy that lasts, you can’t do it alone. It’s a team effort that requires internal experts, a strong workforce and collaboration with community and educational leaders to create a talent pipeline that fuels the future.

That’s what Cecil and Mildred Jones believed after starting businesses in the Mankato community in the 1920s. They were passionate about the role education played in opening doors for careers. And it’s why Jones Metal President + CEO Sarah Richards and the Page Jones Richards Family Fund of the Mankato Area Foundation provided resources to create a state-of-the-art welding lab at South Central College (SCC) in 2019.

Since opening its doors, the Jones Metal Welding Lab at SCC has had an incredible impact—both on the lives and careers of welders in southern Minnesota and on the company itself.

“The average age of our welders used to be 40-45. Now we have 12 people on our team under the age of 30,” said Richards. “As our welders retire and business grows, we have an excellent way to fill those positions.”

Supporting this lab was just one step Jones Metal took to further develop the manufacturing talent pipeline in southern Minnesota.

The company also participates in Minnesota’s Dual Training Pipeline grant program that gives people work-based learning opportunities alongside classroom instruction. Expanding the Pipeline, Jones partners with local high schools to provide internships. The interns are often hired for the summer after graduation and then begin the dual training in the fall. They earn their welding certificate, work 30 hours a week and tuition is paid for.

The result is a highly skilled and professional weld team, trained to deliver quality to customers.

“We have to show up and let people know there’s a great place to work right here in Mankato,” explained Richards.

Training Welders for Excellence

While SCC President, Dr. Annette Parker, had the initial vision for the lab, she worked closely with experts on the welding program advisory council to bring it to life. This council included leaders from Jones Metal who influenced the design and curriculum. They wanted something that would provide real-world skills.

As a result, the SCC Jones Metal Welding Lab looks, feels and smells like a real manufacturing floor—just at a slightly smaller scale. It offers a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on activity that allows students to record their progress and review performance with instructors to gain insights for improvement.

They learn how to do it right and then how to do it better.

Students build skills in MIG and TIG welding, directional welding and how to create consistent, smooth welds. They learn to read blueprints and other documents important to the work. After students master all the necessary techniques by hand, they have the opportunity to move on and work in the robotic cell.

“First they have to learn how to make quality welds and what it looks like by hand, then they can learn how to use robotics,” said Richards. “Welding still requires the human eye to inspect for quality assurance. Robots just can’t do that.”

Fabricating A Strong Future

In the future Richards thinks a more holistic metal fabrication program would serve Southern Minnesota well. She’d like to see SCC’s program expand to include press brake operation, laser cutting, sheet metal rolling and automated welding.

“People who attend technical schools typically stay within 30 miles of where they grew up. That’s what our grandfather did after earning his degree from Dunwoody College and look at what he accomplished,” explained Richards. “We have a lot of great talent right here and we want to help give them the tools for successful careers whether or not they work for us.”

This vision for collaboration and creating excellence is evident in the way Jones Metal does business, serves partners and shows up in the community. They stand behind the products they create, the people who create them and the institutions that train them. They go beyond what’s required to do what’s right.

“Jones Metal has supported South Central College tremendously over the years, providing our students with scholarships and apprenticeships while in school and rewarding careers once they graduate,” said SCC President, Dr. Parker. “Their generous contribution to our South Central College Foundation, with the naming rights donation of the Jones Metal Welding Lab, has transformed our welding program to better meet industry needs.”

Learn more about the SCC Welding Program, investments from Jones Metal and the pipeline grant program with these resources: