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2016 July 27 - 05:26 pm

Around Campus

A look at Campus Life at Various Community and Junior Colleges

Welding has proven to be a successful career choice for three friends from South Central Nebraska. Uriel Martinez, of Imperial, Paul Uerling, of Indianola, and Jimmy Hickert, of McCook, all went through the two-year Welding Technology Program at McCook Community College. All were looking for the same thing when they enrolled: a career that paid well and wouldn’t require a lot of schooling. Martinez had done some welding in junior high and enjoyed it. At the time he enrolled at MCC in 2013, he was also welding at the feedlot he was working at, Imperial Beef. “Part of the reason I decided to pursue welding as a career, was because I had two cousins who had gone through the welding program at North Platte Community College,” said Martinez. “Afterward, they moved to the Denver area and did pretty well for themselves. That’s what I was after – a short amount of training that would result in some thing rewarding. I also didn’t want to have to pay off a lot of debt.” Initially, Martinez only planned to take a couple of classes at MCC. “Once I got into the program, however, I realized there was so much more to learn, and I decided to stick it out and just take in as much as possible,” said Martinez. “I’m glad I did.” During the third semester, he was offered a job welding truck beds and the buckets and shovels on heavy machinery for Cloud Peak Energy, Inc. in Gillette, Wyo. The job consisted of 12-hour rotating shifts. The company furnished its welders with basic tools and offered a $1,200 allowance to buy or replace other tools. “The pay was really good – especially for someone right out of college,” said Martinez, who now has his own welding truck so that he can travel around to jobs. “What I like the most about welding, though, is that it’s an art form. I’ve always liked being creative. There can be a lot of liberty in the welding profession as long as you’re doing your job right and are good at what you do.”Uerling had met MCC welding instructor Randy Chambers when Chambers was serving as the quality manager for Valmont Industries. That personal relationship enticed Uerling to take classes at MCC when Chambers hired on with the college in 2013.“Randy really wants to put out high quality welders,” said Uerling. “The program he teaches is focused on codes and passing weld tests. It’s set up for both uphill and downhill techniques, and students can learn pretty much anything they need to there.”Earlier this year, Uerling and Hickert both accepted temporary jobs at the Nebraska Public Power District's Gerald Gentleman Station at Sutherland. The plant periodically shuts down for routine maintenance. Uerling and Hickert were brought in as structural welders – Uerling for the second year in a row. He spent 11 weeks working on air heaters and steam coils. Uerling is now using his welding skills on his farm, but plans to keep welding for other companies on the side. He has his own rig so that he can travel around to various jobs. “I might head to an ethanol plant in Liberal, Kan. in a few weeks,” said Uerling. “The money is just too good to pass up. Welding isn’t the easiest way to make a living, but I like it. I like being that person who goes out and does something. Welding gives me that opportunity.”Similarly to Uerling, Hickert’s connection to MCC came through welding instructor Scott Smalley. “I took welding with Scott my senior year of high school and liked it pretty well,” said Hickert. “I earned high school and college credit at the same time by doing that, which was great because when I actually went to college I didn’t have to do stick welding. I did more TIG and pipe welding.” For about two months, he put in five 10-hour days at the Sutherland power plant and made $25 per hour working on the drag chain unit. “A lot of the welders that were there just travel from plant to plant,” said Hickert. “One of the guys I met only works eight months out of the year, makes an average of $80,000 and takes the summers off. A lot welders retire in their 50s because they’ve made so much money.” In Hickert’s case, the profession will give him the opportunity to travel. His next job will be at a paper mill in Alabama. “I found out about it by talking to a worker at the power plant who is from Tennessee,” said Hickert. “Welding is like a paid vacation for a lot of guys. When it’s hot in the summer, they go up north, and when it’s cold, they take jobs in the South. I’ve barely left Nebraska and always wanted to travel.” Having control over where he works is part of why he likes welding so much. Hickert also appreciates the new experiences.“At the power plant, they had one of the largest cranes in the U.S.,” said Hickert. “Just seeing stuff like that makes my job pretty cool.”

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