Learning the tools of the trade one chair at a time

On the surface, they may look like any other Adirondack chairs, but these Adirondack chairs are special. They have greater value. That’s because they have a story. And that story begins at a high school in Peoria, Illinois.

As a part of Caterpillar’s ongoing focus on the skilled trades, a group at Caterpillar Building LL recently partnered with Manual Academy to help expand the school’s manufacturing technology programs with the Manual Weld Training program, which was instituted in 2010.

The goal of the program, which was started by Tony Rice and Hosea Washington, both 6 Sigma Black Belts (and sponsored by factory manager, John Walenta), is to not only teach vocational welding but provide resources and instruction for achieving professional certification.

Or, as Manual Academy Manufacturing Technology Instructor, Andrew Rice (Tony’s brother) put it, “We’re not just teaching them to weld but teaching them to be a welder.”

While this distinction might seem small, it can have a huge difference when it comes to landing a solid career. That’s because being successful takes more than having a skill – it requires an underlying professionalism.

The program is really a labor of love for the Rice brothers and Washington, in particular, who himself is a Manual graduate. Washington enlisted Andrew’s support internally at Caterpillar and the program quickly took off.

“We have received lots of support because people have seen the value and are quick to help out,” said Andrew.

In 2010, the program was kicked off with a donation from Caterpillar of $10,000 worth of new welding helmets with breathing apparatus. A curriculum was developed and other tools and supplies were donated. In the program’s first year, 45 students attended. Now, the program attracts over 100 students annually.

Caterpillar’s support extends beyond the welding helmets and professional expertise. The company regularly donates scrap iron, which makes a big difference in the training process because students get the opportunity to work with high-quality materials. Students also are brought to Caterpillar facilities to both observe professional welders at work and practice in Caterpillar’s welding shop.

But there is an even bigger goal: to help the program get to the point where their students will be able to pass certification by the American Welding Society prior to graduation – meaning they would be qualified for professional welding jobs right out of high school.

In short, the Manual Weld Training Program teaches kids the welding skills, but it teaches them to be so much more – to be professionals – because professionalism is one skill that translates well to any career whether it be welding or not.

It also gives some students a chance to achieve something they maybe haven’t achieved in the classroom – the sense of accomplishment and pride after they succeed.

That’s why those Adirondack chairs are so much more important than just Adirondack chairs.

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