Two Nercon High School Apprentices Earn Welding Medals & Scholarships
June 01, 2022
Two Nercon Conveyors high school apprentices recently competed in the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) Tech Challenge and earned gold and silver medals and a $1,000 scholarship thanks to a strong partnership with Oconto High School’s shop class.
Aubrey Williams and Houston Rude, both high school seniors at Oconto High School and part-time Nercon employees, competed in the welding skills competition, demonstrating their TIG (Gas Metal Arc Welding, or GMAW) and stick welding (Shield Metal Arc Welding, or SMAW) capabilities. Williams took home a gold medal and a $1,000 NWTC scholarship and Rude a silver medal in the live 10 participants.
“My interest in welding started my freshman year at Oconto High School in Mr. Porath’s Intro to Metals class,” Williams said. “I almost didn’t go to the competition, though, as I had a sinus infection and really hadn’t done a horizontal Tig weld before, so I was really nervous, but I’m glad I did!”
Rude, whose father owns an energy company and had introduced him to welding as a child, said he simply has a passion for welding.
“My dad runs an energy company and his crews would run pipe and underground gas lines so I was exposed to welding as a child,” Rude said. “By the time I got to high school, I was doing all the extracurriculars I could to welding.”
The job experience as part-time fabricators at Nercon Conveyors may have played a role in their success in the competition.
“They are both very driven in learning more,” says Jim Eckes, Nercon’s Oconto Plant Fabrication Manager. “Cross-training isn't evident sometimes, but with these two it is. They are constantly asking ‘when can I get to the next project?’,” Eckes said. “Their performances in the competition have definitely left us wanting them to become full-time employees and finish their two-year degrees in welding at NWTC.”
In fact, Nercon has a full tuition reimbursement program that offers part-time employees $2,500 per year in tuition and books and flexible work assignments while they finish their welding programs and $5,000 tuition reimbursement for full-time employees.
“We're interested in ensuring that manufacturing is supported across the board,” Eckes explained. “Most parents think it's a dirty, dingy job that doesn't pay well. But manufacturing positions are well paid, clean and safe and very rewarding so we’re investing in its future by partnering with Oconto High School to help create a future pool of employees like these.”
Shawn Porath, the Oconto High School shop class teacher for the past five years, is well aware of the value the partnership with Nercon brings to the classroom.
“It's a good partnership because the kids are getting training for a career in the future,” Porath said. “And many of them will go straight into work for Nercon because of it.”
The partnership consists of a donation of machinery and scrap metal to allow more kids to participate in welding, which can be an expensive co-curricular if metal costs were necessary. But donations of scrap metal from Nercon help Porath build flexible, creative projects out of unique pieces of leftover metal that would otherwise end up at the recycling plant.
“We create a class around the stuff that Nercon has leftover from a project,” Porath explained. “It keeps the projects -free for the kids. We’re resourceful and collaborate with the kids on what they want to do with it.”
Now that they’ve graduated and school is out for the summer, Williams and Rude will continue to get experience at Nercon, transitioning to full-time employees for the summer. Both are looking forward to receiving continued on-the-job training at Nercon.
“I’m looking forward to learning even more,” Rude said. “Earlier in the month, I talked to Nercon about summer work and they're looking forward to getting me associated with their presses and CNC table routers as soon as possible. You don't go to and you know everything; you go to and you learn something every day. I don't know everything. I take all the constructive criticism that I can.”
“Considering I just graduated, it hasn't fully set in yet that I’m a full-time employee now, but when my apprenticeship ended, I felt more like an employee and more responsible than before. I’m still learning, though, and going around to all the departments so I can learn more every day.”
Williams and Rude are set to graduate from NWTC in 2024 and can continue their employment at Nercon then thanks to the partnership with Oconto High School.