HOPKINSVILLE — A recently laid off worker is spending 40 hours gaining additional job skills she may need in the workforce.

Lisa Gant, of Allegre, started welding classes at Hopkinsville Community College on Wednesday, as she searches for employment to pay the bills.

"I'm trying to find a job," Gant said. "The training's really important to me. I hope it helps me get a job, plus once I'm employed I'll know how to weld."

Several local industries send potential employees to the HCC welding facility, on Elm Street next to Roundtable Park, as part of pre-employment training or advanced job training. Reviews of the employees' work and performance are sent to the companies, with the idea that those who are trained would be ready to begin a new job immediately or perform more extensive work at their current job with no further training.

"I'm excited about it," Gant said after she welded scrap metal Thursday morning. "It's something completely different."

Reese Bailey, workforce development liaison for HCC, said by providing the short-term customized training for industries, the college is providing a much-needed community service, and has been doing so for 10 years.

"We provide the training industries need to remain competitive in worldwide competition," Bailey said. "It's important to keep them on the cutting edge.

"If industries are interested in locating here, one of the first things they want to know is if we have a trained pool to pull from. Industries will not come here if we can't provide the workers. We want to train the people who live here so they can go and get good jobs."

As many as 40 businesses from Caldwell, Trigg, Todd and Montgomery counties have utilized the college's training services.

"Industries can call and tell us exactly what they want," Bailey said, adding that trainings can be done at the facility seven days a week, 24 hours a day to accommodate first, second and third shift schedules.

He added that a lot of industries don't have time to send employees to college full-time.

"They have the experience, they only need an upgrade," Bailey said.

Proper training offers a highly skilled workforce and prevents high turnover rates, poor product output and slow production, Bailey said.

"Field training is the key to delivering a quality product just in time," Bailey said. "It allows businesses to do more with the same amount of people because they have higher skills."

Michael Stringfield, who has almost 20 years of welding experience and an American Welding Society certification, is one of 30 instructors who conduct the contract trainings at HCC.

"This is very essential," Stringfield said. "If they don't get this, they are not going to be able to get a job. Once a person is through this program, he's ready to go."

Written and practical tests measure students' success and results are passed on to current or potential employers.

To stay up on what businesses need, Stringfield visits factories frequently and becomes familiar with the latest equipment and techniques. In classes of less than 10, he teaches different welding techniques and all of the arc welding processes, as well as welding of different materials, hands-on.

If businesses need a particular training that HCC can't provide, the college will work with the KCTCS (Kentucky Community and Technical College System) to locate the needed instruction through mobile training teams.

"There's a lot of individual instruction, a lot of one-on-one," Stringfield said during a break Thursday in class.

Earlier, as he trained the students on a specific technique used by this particular factory, Stringfield said trainees should be able to go on the production line with no additional training.

"They learn how to do all processes, so when they are out of the program, they should be able to function up to speed," Stringfield said.

Prior to hands-on instruction, students participate in thorough classroom instruction, as well as safety courses.

In addition to training for specific businesses, some training also is done at the HCC facility for individuals wanting to broaden their skills. The Western Kentucky Workforce Investment Board works closely with the HCC program to get those looking for jobs the required training. Grants are available for those who need assistance.

For more information about this program, contact Hopkinsville Community College at 886-3921.

KAREN BIGHAM can be reached by telephone at 887-3262 or by e-mail at kbigham@kentuckynewera.com.

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