Business, education, public partners join to offer new Mesabi Range Welding Institute

Kelly Hertling, L&M Radiator human resources supervisor, and Randy Washenesky, Mesabi Range College advanced welding instructor, stand in the college’s Eveleth welding facility.

L&M Radiator, like many northeastern Minnesota businesses, is in dire need of welders.

“We have 22 openings right now,” said Kelly Hertling, L&M Radiator human resources supervisor. “There’s definitely a shortage up here and our need is now, not two years from now.”

L&M Radiator, a global manufacturer of precision-engineered heavy equipment radiators and heat exchangers, has been headquartered in Hibbing for more than six decades. To manufacture its cooling and heat transfer solutions for the mining, farming and construction industries, L&M Radiator operates 16-to-18 welding stations three shifts per day.

“It’s very precision welding with aluminum, stainless steel or copper,” Hertling said. “We’ve been here for 60 years and we want to stay here, so we’re looking to partner with other entities to interview and hire employees who hold potential to be welders.”     

To address the needs of industry and businesses like L&M Radiator, Mesabi Range College is starting the Accelerated Welding Institute. The 8-to-10 week, 240-hour institute, in which successful students earn a Certificate of Completion, is designed to help businesses fill entry-level welding positions.

The program is offered at Mesabi Range College’s Eveleth campus through Advanced Minnesota, which is the workforce training arm of the Northeast Higher Education District (NHED). NHED is the governance structure under which five two-year colleges operate autonomously in Ely, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, International Falls and Virginia-Eveleth. All five colleges are part of the Minnesota State system.

The welding institute is a first-of-its kind for Advanced Minnesota, NHED, and Mesabi Range College.

“We worked with our business and industry partners to identify a need and ways to help them meet their needs,” said Shelly McCauley Jugovich, Mesabi Range College interim provost. “It’s really kind of a creative way to help business and industry.”

Employers that utilize the institute commit to the program by first hiring new employees to be trained at the welding institute. The newly-hired employees are then enrolled in the institute free of charge. Welding training costs are paid by the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.

It’s a unique program that assures students a job, welding training and college credit. It’s also a new educational pathway for Advanced Minnesota and NHED in offering short-term certificate training to address employers’ immediate needs.  

 

“It’s a change in the way we do business,” said Roy Smith, Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation and Advanced Minnesota talent development director. “There’s a growing need for this ‘small batch,’ workforce development in technical trades and this is new to be able to fast-track a program in this manner.”

The program means successful students can go to work immediately after completing the program. And by earning college credit, it allows them to return to college in the future for additional credit training if desired, said Smith.

“It allows students to get into the field and then go back and increase their skill level,” he said. “It’s really targeted for individuals who may not have started post-secondary training, those who started and didn’t finish, or those who are working two jobs and not able to go back and get training.”

At L&M Radiator, students who complete the Accelerated Welding Institute can also receive additional training through an in-house company mentorship program, Hertling said.

“From L&M’s perspective, we are looking to hire applicants who have an interest in welding,” said Hertling. “We are definitely hoping we can produce welders out of this program and in the future, perhaps machinists. We’re hoping to be able to streamline the process by working with partners.”

L&M Radiator is in the midst of a 100,000 square-foot expansion of its manufacturing facilities in Hibbing. The company employs about 450 worldwide, including 215 in Hibbing.

Randy Washenesky, Mesabi Range College advanced welding instructor, said the institute is a new way for the college to connect with regional businesses.

“It’s exciting to get industry to work hand-in-hand with education,” said Washenesky. “There’s a need out there and hopefully this can fulfill it.”

Mesabi Range College’s welding facility is among the finest in the state.

The welding shop features 46 welding booths and state-of-the art equipment. The facility is one of only three American Welding Society-accredited test facilities in the state.

“Every piece of equipment here is new,” Washenesky said. “Everything we have is new within the last nine months, including our ventilation system.”

“It’s a really beautiful facility,” said McCauley Jugovich. “We’ve completed some really nice upgrades.”  

A shortage of welders is being felt at businesses across the nation, Washeneksy noted. It is attributed to large numbers of high school graduates enrolling in four-year rather than two-year colleges, a wave of graduates pursuing technology degrees, online schooling, and declining enrollment in Northeastern Minnesota high schools, Washenesky explained.             

McCauley Jugovich said Mesabi Range is seeking to be flexible and creative to the needs of business and industry by offering the welding institute along with customized training learning options.

“Businesses are busy and in need of help,” she said. “We want pathways for everyone.”

The institute, said Smith, is in response to a 2017 meeting of about 20 business and industry leaders at the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation in Eveleth to discuss workforce needs. The need for a short-term welding training program emerged from that meeting, he said.

“We continued to hear from a group of employers that need welders and then we reached out to those businesses and industries,” Smith said. “This is aimed at filling that void. It really shows the value of our connectivity with our industry and business partners.”

NHED, Advanced Minnesota, Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training, Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, and northeastern Minnesota businesses and industry have for several years been working together to address the customized training needed to help Northeastern Minnesota businesses and industry succeed.

For additional information on the welding institute, contact Gail Anderson at gail.anderson@advancedminnesota.org (218)322-2468 or Heath Boe at Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training heath.boe@nemojt.org (218)735-6174.

To contact L&M Radiator about welding jobs, visit www.mesabi.com.