Not Just a Pipe Dream

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pioneer Pipe founder Dave Archer saw it coming; a looming labor shortage that could cripple the burgeoning gas and oil industry in Ohio and beyond. Something had to be done to find trained welders.


What started as a series of well-timed phone calls evolved quickly into a win-win-win for students and their families, the Washington County Career Center and a major Marietta employer. And it’s easy to see why; during the past four years, the Washington County Career Center, working in partnership with Pioneer Pipe Manufacturing in Marietta, has launched the vocational careers of 40 young men whose futures are as bright as the tools they are trained to use.


“This just couldn’t happen without so many people going the extra mile, keeping an open mind and holding all parties accountable,” said Washington County Career Center Superintendent Dennis Blatt.


That’s been the winning formula for the Washington County Career Center’s apprenticeship program with Pioneer Pipe. What started four years ago as a creative way to solve an anticipated future labor shortage has evolved into a practical demonstration of how educators and industry can work together to spark local economic growth and create well-paying jobs for its young citizens and their families.


Of course, Pioneer Pipe is first to acknowledge its own return on this investment; in fact, Pioneer’s CEO and CFO Matt Hiverding is both surprised and pleased with the return on the company’s initial $600,000 investment.


“With the help of a talented team of administrators and instructors in Superintendent Blatt and welding instructor Keelan McLeish, we were able to build a state-of-the-art training shop on the first floor of our plant in record time — about six weeks — after receiving the Department of Education’s OK to proceed,” Hiverding said.


“To our surprise, the return on that initial investment has been much quicker than we thought possible – about two-and-a-half years.”


And the return has been realized by the student apprentices, as well. Participants have earned a program completion success rate of about 80 percent, with 40 of the 50 students completing the yearlong program.


“The program is not an easy one,” said McLeish. “Students earn seven certifications in welding in an accelerated program while they remain involved in normal high school activities. They rise to meet high expectations; it’s a tribute to the character of these young people.”


Throughout their training, the students will receive a total of seven welding certifications, four American Petrolium Institute certifications and three American Society of Mechanical Engineers certifications. In addition, once they graduate, the students will become second-year apprentices receiving a 60 percent journeyman’s package in Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 168. From there, the students will apprentice for an additional three years at Pioneer Pipe.


The students’ investment of time, effort and dedication has been richly rewarded as well. On completion of the program, students can begin their careers well prepared to advance in a financially rewarding career. Certified welders begin earning about $38 per hour, a rate of pay that increases with experience and time, rising to more than $60 per hour.


“Welders are in high demand these days in Marietta, and throughout the region and the country,” Hiverding said. “With their welding skills, these young people can work anywhere in the country, but we sure hope they stay right here in Marietta.”


Of course, so do their families — and the state of Ohio.