The Challenges of Starting a Welding School
As a welding instructor, I have often dreamt about opening my own welder training facility but have always looked at it as an unobtainable dream. I can’t even begin to imagine how would I prepare myself to make my very own school a reality. With ...
As a welding instructor, I have often dreamt about opening my own welder training facility but have always looked at it as an unobtainable dream. I can’t even begin to imagine how would I prepare myself to make my very own school a reality. With this in mind, I thought I would love to talk to someone with first-hand experience — so I asked Scott Raabe, who recently did the very thing I find so unobtainable in starting Precision Welding Academy, Katy, Tex. He gave me a glimpse into his teaching styles and what it takes to open a training facility.
By Stephanie Hoffman
Raabe entered the wonderful world of welding at the age of 17 when he was first introduced to oxyfuel cutting. Like so many, the sheer amazement of ripping through steel with a flame, turning around, striking an arc, and learning how to put it back together was what hooked him. He then worked for many years as an oil field welder.
Raabe first got a taste of teaching during a layoff from his work in the oil fields. “I took a job teaching to better my welding skills during my lay off, then headed back out into the field. I loved watching the students learn; I loved watching them get better every single day. It was my guidance that helped them, and you can’t beat that feeling. The second time I left the field to go back into teaching was when I found myself still teaching everyone around me. I knew teaching was my true calling. So, I left the field and haven’t looked back,” said Raabe.
Raabe explained how this dream was four years in the making. He was sick of watching so many other schools in his area pump out mediocre welders. Raabe stated, “I don’t want my students to spend 100% of their class time welding. I want them to learn all aspects of our trade. I want them to learn fabrication, blueprints, layout, fit-up, programing skills, projects, bidding jobs, and Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) training, with welding being the base of all of these. I have their attention for a certain amount of time, so why not try to give them as many skills as I can?”
The Challenges of Being an Instructor
We talked about his transition from field welder to instructor. Both of us shared that it can certainly be hard for new instructors, in the beginning, to take the pace down and give your all to your students. It was certainly a struggle for me at times.
I was teaching at a high school with 9-12 grade students, who you would assume could read a tape measure, but they not always could. High school students make it to junior and senior years never learning how to read a tape, and that was a wake-up call. Working with students every day certainly comes with a set of obstacles. Each student has their own way of learning and processing information. Some come from a more mechanical or agricultural background where they have been exposed to handling tools, used to an open flame and not shocked at the spark of an arc. But for others, everything is 100% new. It’s a hard thing to balance all within one class.
“In the field, you mainly only have to worry about yourself and get the job done. You work at your own pace and move onto the next job. When you are an instructor, you have multiple people to worry about and you have to deal with multiple personalities. You now not only worry about your own safety, but now, you’re watching over multiple inexperienced, future welders. When these students leave, they are a reflection of you and your teaching. You hold the key to push them towards a successful career,” said Raabe.
Adaptive Teaching Styles
One thing I genuinely love about Raabe’s teaching style is how he implements problem-solving skills with his love for art and projects to nail every aspect of creating a well-rounded welder. Scott Raabe talking with a local high school about his experience in the field.
“I think having an artistic mindset helps a lot of welders/fabricators overcome obstacles in the field. They have to look at prints or ideas in a different mindset, and they can find a better option to finish a project when it just doesn’t make sense. I tell my students if what I teach doesn’t work for them, then find what works for you, and let me train you to perfect that style. Be creative; the biggest killer in people and business is an attitude of `We have always done it that way.’ I believe you should never hold yourself or your students back with that mentality,” said Raabe.
He knew he didn’t want his students at his school monotonously welding joints over and over. Let’s face it, it’s boring. That method won’t hold anyone’s attention in today’s world. Most of you reading this, myself included, probably learned by the “Looks like crap! Do it again!” method.
“I noticed that the students loved projects and challenging their minds. I wondered why not capitalize on this. What is the difference between 20 welds on 20 coupons, or 20 welds on one project? The difference is they have to draw, read a print, cut, fit and weld 20 joints all at one time. To me, that is much more valuable than just welding the same coupon over and over again,” said Raabe.
With this in mind, Raabe came up with a four-part Capstone Project, which each of his welding students is required to complete before finishing each of his programs.
“When they start, they know basic skills and knowledge. The first project is a nice, simple project that, by the eighth week, should give them the skill set to produce quality work. They will read the prints, lay them out, cut, fit and weld to specifications. The next project will grow as their skills develop and be even more difficult than the previous one until they reach their final project. At the end of the final project, they need to bolt them all together, pressure-test the pieces and test everything with nondestructive methods and see if it all passes,” said Raabe.
Setting up a School
With these great ideas for curriculum and an undeniable passion, how did he implement them into Precision Welding Academy?
“The journey was filled with ups and downs, after leaving my first teaching job, getting the idea for Precision after seeing how some schools were blindly pushing out lackluster welders. I thought I could just buy a building, throw welders in the building and call myself a school. I discovered that it was far from reality. Texas has a thousand hurdles, and even more, hoops to jump through before you can even be approved by the state to become a licensed school,” Raabe emphasized.
One of the biggest hurdles facing him was the location. He knew he couldn’t be on top of another school. New schools next door to an established school may not bode well for business. He also knew he couldn’t be so far off the beaten path no one would want to make the commute. Once he settled on an area, he needed to find a location that would have the three-phase power requirements needed. In the end, his building had to be upgraded from 200 to 480 A to handle powering equipment, including all his ESAB 285 Rebels.
Raabe also explained to me all the clerical portions of this venture. “The next hurdle was getting approved by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). You have to have a full catalog, curriculum, employees, a building (the building needed to be up and running for two months without revenue) and enough capital in the bank they believe can sustain your business. This took a solid 6 to 7 months of constant work to be approved. Once everything is sent to TWC, it can take up to 90 days for a review.”
He makes it seem so easy as he explains everything to me. Raabe told me his new challenge is finding resources to help fund students that are looking to attend the programs, along with looking into partnering with loan companies willing to service his students.
Raabe says it’s essential to, “Never forget why you are starting down this journey. Embed that reason in everything you do and let it shape the culture and future you are making. This is not an easy journey; it took me four years of constantly working towards this dream every day after work, constant practice, changing curriculum, changing ideas, and learning how to be a better educator for my students. Do your research and see what your state requirements are to open your own facility. Finally, remember this is about the future of your students and our trade; don’t let money blind you.”
For more information about Scott Raabe and his school, visit Precision Welding Academy and follow Raabe on Instagram: @precisionweldingacademy and @Scott_Raabe.
This article was written by Stephanie Hoffman (Program Manager, Workforce Development, AWS Foundation) for the American Welding Society.