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Industry need means Rock Creek welding program in driver’s seat in area training

Story by Janis Nichols. Photo by James Hill.

The Portland Community College welding class now in progress at St. Helens High School will help you with that wacky piece of garden art you’ve always wanted, but it also means you could avoid the wait list and move directly into the welding program at the Rock Creek Campus. And that path leads to employment options.

“The need for certified welders in the Portland area is very strong right now,” said Scott Judy, welding department chair. “Depending on the skill of the student, he or she can become certified after one term which is three months. We have welding companies who call us routinely looking for certified welders and that was the case throughout the recession.”

The Rock Creek Campus offers eight certificate programs and a two-year associate degree in welding.

The Rock Creek Campus offers eight certificate programs and a two-year associate degree in welding.

The Rock Creek Campus offers eight certificate programs and a two-year associate degree in welding. Certified shielded metal arc welders and flux-cored arc welders are very much in demand by companies that specialize in ship and barge work, work on oil rigs and metal recycling. Of the students currently enrolled in the class located at the high school, none are high school students. They are students in their 20’s.

Jeff van Raden, managing director of Columbia Industries, the Hillsboro-based company that builds customized drilling rig moving systems, automated pipe handling machines, and ancillary equipment for the oil and gas industry, is quick to recognize the welding program. “I just hired five welders from PCC and they started today,” he said. “The college is providing a critical service for a fast-moving industry. Over the last 10 years, one-third of all welders have retired. That’s a 30 percent drop in the number of qualified, trained welders. In the last two years, Columbia Industries has grown from 60 employees to 180 employees in both fabrication and welding. Counting day and night shifts in those two areas alone requires more than 100 trained welders. We require a steady stream of qualified welders and we are looking at expanding.”

Van Raden added, “I think the PCC welding class in St. Helens is a great opportunity for people from that community and Columbia Industries is currently looking at some type of partnership with Rock Creek.  The demand for welders is likely to increase. The largest floating dry dock in the United States (Vigor Industrial) is planned for Swan Island in Portland and that means welding jobs.”

The St. Helens welding class will not be offered during the summer but it will return in the fall. “With a welding certificate in hand,” said Scott Judy, “a welder can expect a beginning salary of approximately $15 an hour with an increase to $20 an hour with two years of experience. And the demand is there.”

People who wish more information about welding classes in St. Helens should contact Scott Judy at


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