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Lake Superior College, Altec to offer free welding classes for high school students

The weekly sessions begin Wednesday and continue until April 22.

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Nicole Okstad welds a piece of aluminum at Moline Machinery in Duluth. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Lake Superior College and manufacturing company Altec Inc. have partnered to bring nine free sessions of welding classes to high school students interested in exploring the trade.

Nicole Okstad, a former LSC welding student and employee at Moline Machinery, will be one of two female welders leading the classes. While the classes aren't limited to just female students, Okstad said the programming communicates to girls that they, too, can pursue a career in welding after high school.

"I just hope they understand women can do this," Okstad said. "It's very rewarding to see what you've made out in the world."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up 5% of welding, soldering and brazing workers in the U.S. in 2019, a 1% increase since 2000.

During her time as a student at LSC, Okstad, who graduated in 2017, only had a handful of female classmates. In her workplace, she said that number is even smaller. Still, that never deferred Okstad from finding the fun in playing with molten metal.

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"I've always been a garage welder," Okstad said.

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Manufacturing companies, including Moline and Altec, face growing workforce shortages as baby boomers continue to retire. To fill those positions, companies have come to depend on recruiting students from colleges like LSC.

The free welding classes are one way LSC can attract prospective students, while giving them the chance to gauge their interest.

Between 2019 and 2020, LSC's welding program has grown from 153 to 163 students.

During the weekly classes, high students will learn basic welding skills by making a project of their choice they can bring home.

"If they want to learn something in the shop we’ll teach them," Okstad said.

The classes will take place from 5-7 p.m. every Wednesday for nine weeks, beginning Wednesday and continuing until April 22.

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Junior and senior high school students are invited to attend, though Okstad said they've opened the class up to younger grades as long as they can obtain transportation.

Altec, a Birmingham, Ala.-based manufacturing company with a location on Rice's Point in Duluth, is sponsoring the event. Lyndsay Barrett, a fabrication supervisor with Altec, will also lead the classes.

In past years, students have traveled from Two Harbors, Superior and elsewhere in the area to attend.

To register, email continuingeducation@lsc.edu. Students who attend at least seven of the nine classes get to bring home their welding hood, jacket and welpers.

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