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Virtual welding simulators spark kids’ interest
Grant Wood AEA partners with area businesses to get Eastern Iowa students in apprenticeships
WILLIAMSBURG — Christopher Yenter, a junior at Williamsburg High School, will begin training in the “highly skilled and high paying” career of welding after being selected for an apprenticeship at Kinze Manufacturing this summer.
Yenter, 17, is the first student in Williamsburg to be placed in the new welding apprenticeship program sponsored by the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, which provides education services to seven counties in Eastern Iowa, including Linn, Johnson and Iowa.
The program is offered through a regional career and technical education planning partnership, established by the Iowa Department of Education to assist school districts in providing high-quality career and technical education programs.
Yenter begins each school day in a Kirkwood Community College welding class held at the high school. It “keeps me in a happy mood” all day and engaged in the rest of his classes, he said.
Apprenticeship opportunities for students like Yenter will only expand as Grant Wood AEA offers welding experience with newly purchased virtual welding simulators, which provide hands-on training with realistic welding scenarios.
‘Excited’ about careers
The welding simulators are a “safe way to get kids excited and interested” in the career, said Kevin Wilkinson, an industrial technology and science, technology, engineering and math teacher at Williamsburg Junior-Senior High School.
Combining virtual welding experience with live welding builds muscle memory and “builds a better welder faster” than just doing one or the other, Wilkinson said.
Even some professional welders are trained using virtual reality before being able to live weld because the steel they work with is expensive, said Jen Boyd, a Grant Wood AEA Future Ready curriculum consultant who works with school districts.
The AEA bought the simulators two years ago with grant funding from the regional career and technical education planning partnership and from the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act — often referred to as the Perkins V Act — which provides almost $1.43 billion for career and technical education programs across the United States.
Iowa receives nearly $13.9 million annually in federal funds, divided between secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
Twelve virtual welding simulators are now circulating through 12 school districts in the region, meaning around 450 students experienced virtual welding this school year, Grant Wood AEA spokeswoman Renee Nelson said in an email.
The virtual welding simulators cost about $56,000 each.
While only eight or nine apprenticeships were available in the region this year for students like Yenter, the AEA is hoping to increase that number in the coming years.
Using a virtual welding simulator is kind of like playing a video game, Wilkinson said. It’s interactive, with a beginner, intermediate and advanced level, and students can complete for a high score. It helps students build muscle memory before using real welding tools.
“We use it to get kids excited about our program,” Wilkinson said. “They’re able to immediately jump in and get a feel for what it’s like to weld without first going through a safety course.”
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