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Welders, America Needs You

The craft of fusing metal is getting new respect from manufacturers

Hobart Institute of Welding Technology student Devin Cothren
Photograph by Peter Baker for Bloomberg Businessweek
On a recent afternoon, 17 students sit in a classroom in Troy, Ohio, doing trigonometry. For several hours, they figure out tangents and cosines, tapping away at their calculators to find the distance of a line, the degree of an angle, or the circumference of a cylinder. Most of the students just graduated from high school; all but two are male. Many of them wear camouflage hats and Harley-Davidson T-shirts. Everyone’s in jeans. Muffled sounds of clanging and crackling—molten pieces of metal are being fused together outside—seep through the cinder block walls. This is welding school.

The Hobart Institute of Welding Technology has been around since 1930 and is considered one of the top national programs in the trade. To get in, you need a high school diploma or a GED, plus about $25,000 to cover the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses. For nine months, students learn how to weld structural steel and pipe, spending more than 1,000 hours under a hood practicing the art of fusing different pieces of metal. As they advance, they learn to work with more complicated alloys, such as aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel, always striving for that perfect weld that makes the metal stronger. “A nice weld is a work of art,” says Andre Odermatt, Hobart’s president.