And the jobs are easy to find, he said, urging the students to look for themselves by typing in “welder” at one of the big online job boards and seeing the pages and pages of listings. And welders don’t necessarily have to weld.

“A lot of people think it’s all about the hot metal and sparks, but that’s not true,” said Urbina. Welders can work as supervisors, inspectors and technicians.

For those higher-level welding positions, companies typically want an associate degree that requires 18 to 24 months of study. But the wages are higher, he said, starting at $20 to $25 an hour.

High school senior Kimberly Lopez said that before Urbina’s presentation, she had no idea how much welders earned or the wide variety of welding careers. While she still doesn’t want to be a welder – she has her sights focused on becoming a health or physical education teacher – she said the Project GRAD program is opening her eyes to a variety of opportunities.

Alejandro Ibarra, a senior at Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center, wasn’t converted either. He’s planning to study the culinary arts.

Programs like Project GRAD are attracting employers who are trying to find and recruit enough welders.

“I’m always looking for 50,” said Mike Buendia, director of human resources for Southwest Shipyard.

And that number of openings is likely to grow as his company expands its operations, said Buendia, who participated on a panel of employers that evaluated each student’s 30-second introduction.

He said he makes his way around to the community colleges and other training programs to recruit the workers the shipyard needs to build, repair and maintain ships, ferries and other vessels.

Next week, Project GRAD is hosting parents for a session that includes a career fair as well as information on applying for college and how to find financial aid.

©2014 the Houston Chronicle. Visit the Houston Chronicle at Distributed by MCT Information Services


Add your opinion to the discussion.