By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
A semi-truck, decked out with 12 welding work stations, is sitting in the parking lot of the Little Falls Manufacturing Development Center (the former Crestliner building).
The truck is part of a mobile training program, brought to Little Falls by the WorkForce Center, where a six-week, 160-hour welding course is being taught to 12 students. These students have hands-on welding training in the truck, led by certified instructor Josh Heibel, who owns a business in Audubon. Half their time is spent in the classroom provided by the WorkForce Center.
WorkForce Team Leader Brian Gapinski said the WorkForce Center was able to provide three separate training sessions through a Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (RMCEP) grant. The first was held in Detroit Lakes, the class in Little Falls is the second, and the third will begin Oct. 6 in Fosston.
“We were looking for a way to bring mobile type training to areas without a technical college,” said Gapinski. The only necessity is a parking space, electricity and a classroom setting.
“Tom Elbert (owner of the Little Falls Manufacturing Development Center) donated the electricity,” said Gapinski. The WorkForce Center was able to provide a makeshift classroom area.
“He’s (Elbert) been a wonderful host,” said Gapinski.
The training has been a “good thing for us,” said Gapinski, as the WorkForce Center tries to place people in positions, many of which are welding positions. He said employers are looking for those who have the American welding certification and upon successful completion of the six-week course, that’s what the students will walk away with.
Students must be at least 18 years old, and able to commit to six weeks of training, every day, all day. Current students range in age from 19 – 50, said Gapinski.
Heibel was instrumental in the design of the truck. He owns Erskine Manufacturing in Erskine.
Gapinski said Heibel runs the classroom like a business, with expectations a business would have, like people showing up on time and doing the job.
Heibel worked with Minnesota State Community and Technical College in designing the truck and the first training held in the truck was in Fergus Falls with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The classes will continue as long as grant funding can be found to support them, said Gapinski.
“Our whole thing is to put people to work,” said Gapinski.
For more information about the program, contact the WorkForce Center at (320) 232-2006.