Die-hard, skilled laborers in demand

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Primo Ruiz welds at SaeHaeSung in Andalusia on Tuesday. The company expects to need 50 new workers when the Hyundai plant expands.

From the local level to the national level, there is an increasing need for skilled laborers in the tool and die industry.

And Covington County residents are in a unique position to secure one of those jobs – not only by gaining the valuable educational skills at LBW Community College needed for one’s resume, but also with employment opportunities at Montgomery’s Hyundai plant, and in Andalusia at SaeHaeSung Alabama.

This week, it was announced there was a need for nearly 1,000 skilled workers at the plants – 877 in Montgomery and at least 50 in Andalusia. Other Hyundai suppliers are expected to add jobs, as well.

Those in the tool and die industry produce tools, dies and molds that other makers use to shape products – from car fenders and dashboards to shampoo bottles and cell phones.

Soaring auto sales and an improving economy has caused an increase in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers in that sector jumped 7 percent last year to 98,000 nationwide.

Robert Burns, spokesperson for Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, said that there are typically two classifications for jobs within the Hyundai plant – production and maintenance.

“In production, potential employees must have a high school or a GED minimum education, plus at least six months of work experience,” he said. “It’s certainly a plus if they have certain skills that are applicable. For example, say, (the applicant) worked in a paint shop, we could certainly use those (skills) to touch-up paint.”

Burns said the maintenance division is where the training is helpful.

“It’s helpful to have someone who understands the electrical side, (such as) an electrician or maybe even someone who has experience in mechanical work,” he said. “We have a very high need for someone who is training in programming robots and programmable logic controllers.”

Burns said at the Montgomery plant, they don’t typically rely on human welders, because they utilize robots to weld.

“We have a few welders,” he said. “And a little bit of welding knowledge is important when working with the robots. They have to know when a weld tip is wearing out.”

However, some local tier suppliers do utilize welders – such as SaeHaeSung of Andalusia; Hwashin in Greenville; SMART in Luverne and others.

Tammy Merida, chair of LBWCC’s applied technology programs, said they place welders at SaeHaeSung, as well as at a manufacturer in Elba, SMART and others work on offshore drilling rigs.

Merida said the welding program takes four semesters to complete, and students can apply for financial aid to assist with the program. Currently, there are 25 students enrolled in the program, but there is always room for more, she said.

“Instructor David Bronner is good about working with students, if a potential employer is looking for a certain type skill,” she said. “We also offer continuing education for employers.”

High school students also have the opportunity to participate in the dual enrollment welding course, which allows students to attend the needed college courses while in high school.

“Taking these classes during school allows them to make a big dent in their degree before they even graduate from high school,” she said of the program, which currently has 10-12 students enrolled.

“(Welding is) a very high demand and high-paying skill,” she said.

Additionally, Merida said LBWCC offers industrial electronics – another set of necessary skills needed in the field.

“Some of the students go on to work at power companies; several work offshore, at Eglin (Air Force Base), and more,” she said.

There are 50 to 55 students enrolled in the course, which takes five semesters.

For more information about LBWCC’s programs, contact the college at (334) 493-3573 or visit the campus at 1708 North Main St. in Opp.