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Skilled to Work: SWeETY camp offers high school girls glimpse into skilled work

Since it began 14 years ago, more than 360 students have graduated from the program.

Posted: Jun 13, 2019 2:54 PM
Updated: Jun 13, 2019 7:12 PM

On a somewhat cool Tuesday morning in June, sparks flew past welding masks at the welding shop at Calhoun Community College.

While many of those welding that morning were college-age, male students, a section was reserved this week for a group of high school girls.

Statistics on jobs featured in SWeETY program:

  • Electrical Engineering Technician (Electrical Technician)
    • Alabama
      • 2018 employment - 2,330
      • 2018 mean wages - $61,120
      • Projected annual ave. openings - 205
      • 2018 total new online job ads* - 466
    • Region 1 (North Alabama)
      • 2018 employment - 1,700
      • 2018 mean wages - $60,000
      • Projected annual ave. openings - 145
      • 2018 total new online job ads* - 282
  • Engineering Technicians, Except Drafters, All Other (Additive Manufacturing)
    • Alabama
      • 2018 employment - 720
      • 2018 mean wages - $59,380
      • Projected annual ave. openings - 90
      • 2018 total new online job ads* - 63
    • Region 1 (North Alabama)
      • 2018 employment - 340
      • 2018 mean wages - $70,358
      • Projected annual ave. openings - 50
      • 2018 total new online job ads* - 15
  • Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers (Welders)
    • Alabama
      • 2018 employment - 9,580
      • 2018 mean wages - $41,050
      • Projected annual ave. openings - 1,345
      • 2018 total new online job ads* - 727
    • Region 1 (North Alabama)
      • 2018 employment - 3,120
      • 2018 mean wages - $37,294
      • Projected annual ave. openings - 535
      • 2018 total new online job ads* - 140

Source: Alabama Department of Labor, Labor Market Information Division in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.Employment and wages are based on the 2018 release of the Occupational Employment Statistics report, employment and wage estimate file. Wage data has been aged using the latest quarterly Employment Cost Index (ECI) factors. Projected Annual Ave Openings provided by the 2016-2026 Occupational Projections, produced by the Labor Market Information Division in cooperation with the Projections Managing Partnership (PMP). *Source: Help Wanted OnLine from The Conference Board and WANTED Technologies.

20 students spent four days at Calhoun Community college learning the basics of electrical work, welding and additive manufacturing (or 3D printing). 20 students spent four days at Calhoun Community college learning the basics of electrical work, welding and additive manufacturing (or 3D printing).

The 20 students were there for the Summer Welding and Electrical Technology (SWeETY) camp.

“It's been a lot of fun. I've learned so many things,” said Srishti Garg.

The incoming Austin High School junior started on Tuesday in the electrical part of the camp. She said she’s not planning on a full-time job in the trades, but said she hopes to learn some skills during the SWeETY camp that will help in her planned profession.

“I feel like I wanted to see how welding was, how the electrical part might be, because I want be a computer engineer,” said Garg.

The SWeETY program, done jointly with Calhoun and the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, is now in its 14th year. It’s supported by Go Build Alabama and works with incoming freshmen through seniors.

Gracey Norman, an incoming senior at Elkmont High School, started welding a couple years ago when she was in the SWeETY program. This year, she came back to teach this new class of girls.

“I hope they take away that, no matter if you’re a guy or a girl, you can do whatever you want in life and don’t let someone intimidate you not to do the things that you want to try,” said Norman.

Amberly Fortenberry, Director of Talent Development and Recruitment for the Chamber, said inspiring girls when they’re young is key.

“If we reach them and we put that bug in their ear to say here’s what’s available, then they can go out and they can see the fun stuff that we do and they can have fun doing it,” said Fortenberry.

In order to keep up with industry demand, three years ago, the chamber brought additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, to the curriculum.

“I will say that was harder, but I still enjoy it though! It's still fun,” said Townley Hayes, an incoming freshman at St. John Paul Catholic School.

An incoming home-schooled sophomore, Thea Fisk, said her dad taught her some welding and she was eager to try her hand at additive manufacturing.

“It’s the first time I’ve used a program like this. It’s kind of confusing, but I got the hang of it,” said Fisk.

By the end of the camp on Thursday, the girls said they were surprised by how much they enjoyed their time and learned some key lessons.

“I didn’t think I would enjoy the electrical part, but I did, and girls like me should have an opportunity to take part in camps like these,” said Garg.

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