By Marlena Hartz
Behind red and yellow plastic curtains, away from the carpeted halls of the campus, Clovis Community College welding students work diligently in their lab. As orange sparks spew like water from their torches, future welders hone their skills daily, using electricity to fuse metal together.
“The first time I picked up a torch, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Bill Adams, who was honored at CCC’s board meeting Wednesday as a recipient of the Educator Award from the American Welding Society.
Bill Adams created the welding program at the Clovis Community College in 1997. The program began with eight students and one evening class. It now boasts of 64 students and six classes.
Adams seems a testament to the age old adage — do what you like and you will be happy. Sporting a camouflage cap and a striped oxford shirt, he laughs often as he sits in his small office, surrounded by the metal work of his students.
“I have found that teaching something you like, to students who want to learn, is one of the greatest experiences there is,” said Adams, who chooses torches like an artist chooses paintbrushes.
“There are thousands of torches, too many to name,” he said, as he paused to describe one of his favorites.
“A plasma torch, that’s spelled p-l-a-s-m-a, uses electricity and air. It’s used for fine work — it cuts just like a pair of scissors,” said Adams, who manipulates metal into abstract art in his spare time.
“Some people just have that touch,” said Jean Morrow, director of extended learning at the Clovis Community College, “that make things look beautiful — Bill’s got that touch. Welding is not just a skill. It’s partly artistic. It’s a craft.”
Whether welding is labeled a skill, craft, or an art, it is also an industry in peril.
According to Adams, 80 percent of large and small manufacturers report a serious shortage of qualified welding applicants. Despite the success of CCC’s welding program, owner of a local welding company, Jim Tidenberg, said finding qualified welders is often a challenge.
“I definitely have trouble finding welders,” Tidenburg said.
In Curry County, as the dairy industry grows, Adams predicts the need for metal work only increasing. The demand in the area, Adams said, does not meet the supply.
“America sees welding as dark, dirty and dangerous,” Adams said. “That’s the image that has been portrayed to our young people. But welding is changing. We have top of the line equipment in our lab; welders are even using robots and computerized technology today; some labs are cleaner than an operating room.”
One of his students, 19-year-old Grady Goodson of Portales, plans to capitalize on the need for welders in a world where a stigma discourages some from joining the field.
“You can do artwork, build a barn,” said Goodson of welding, pulling his thick, leather gloves off to reveal blistered hands, “You will get dirty, but if you don’t mind that, it’s fine. I like visualizing something and watching it come together.”