Lin Liles remembers a student calculating exactly what his welding job salary looked like on a minute-by-minute basis.

The way the student figured, the company he was working for was paying him $1.68 … a minute.

Liles explains the calculation this way: that student could essentially buy a Mountain Dew every minute of the work shift if he chooses. The example goes over pretty well for the students rapidly enrolling in welding programs across Alabama that may take just two years or less of training before students are on their way to great incomes in the metal industry in Alabama.

“Welding’s a hot item in the state of Alabama as companies move in. Our classes have been full the last 10 to 12 years because it’s such a demand,” said Liles, a welding instructor at Northwest-Shoals Community College (NWSCC).

“There’s good money out there, and jobs that pay less than that, but the more skill you have, the better you’ll be. I have one student who grossed $80,000 in three months.”

Women in Welding: Alana Willingham-Brown
After four years and more than $60,000 in college debt, it was a two-year degree and NO debt that landed Alana Willingham-Brown in the welding industry at a nearly six-figure salary. Alana, now a welding instructor at Lawson State, tells her story.
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The metal manufacturing industry in Alabama employs more than 51,000 workers across more than 1,320 companies, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. Twelve percent of workers and more than half of the companies are welders, cutters, solderers and brazers.

The students who choose welding as a career pathway come from several different backgrounds. Bishop State Community College student Alexandria Baker had no previous welding experience before hearing from a Facebook friend that the career path was worth trying. Michael Appler, another Bishop State student, said he had tinkered with cars when he was younger and took some welding courses in high school to solidify his plans.

Lori Peden, a nontraditional college student at NWSCC, said she chose welding because of the potential for a better quality of life.

“I am a good helper, and I like to work with my hands. I chose manufacturing and the F.A.M.E. (Federal for Advance Manufacturing Education) program because it interested me and I had a scholarship to continue my education after receiving an associate’s in welding,” she said.

Bishop State welding instructor Leon Jackson said many of his students enter entry-level jobs at $18 to $20 per hour after obtaining welding certifications. Partnerships the college has with businesses in the Gulf Coast allow many students to walk directly into jobs, he said.

“We’ve actually had to offer even more short-term programs because companies need workers,” he said.

Four years and $60,000 in debt later, Alana Willingham-Brown said her debt-free education at Lawson State Community College paid for the previous debt and then some during here near six-figure-a-year career in welding.

But it’s not all about the money. Now a welding instructor at Lawson State, Willingham-Brown encourages students to consider their options and the opportunity to fulfill who they are via the career path they choose, versus choosing a career that others try to guide the students to take because of income.

“Welding is something you know very quickly if you love,” she said.

“Something I don’t think a lot of people understand is that when they say you’re supposed to be successful and go to college, this is just another way that might be more practical to some people.”

The Alabama Technology Network (ATN) and Alabama Community College System (ACCS) have partnered with the Business Council of Alabama and Manufacture Alabama to promote MFGDay in October and November. ATN will feature six different industries in the state across six weeks. Those industries include metal, auto, aerospace, pulp and paper, food and chemical manufacturing.