Free welding class helps put people back to work - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Free welding class helps put people back to work

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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -

Dozens of people affected by the BP oil spill are going back to college to learn a new trade.  The organization Asian Americans for Change is teaming-up with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to offer free welding classes. It's a program that's already putting people back to work.

Karen Thomas of Woolmarket knows how it feels to be cut from the workforce.

"I was working with the fast food industry and due to the lack of money and lack of jobs, our hours were starting to dry up. We started losing hours," said Thomas.

She was laid-off last year.        

"So I figured it would be best for me to just retrain, just go into something totally different into a skill that they are hiring, where I would stand a better chance," said Thomas.

Thomas applied for a free welding program at MGCCC's Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center in Gulfport. There are two night classes and one day class. The program initially started to help shrimpers who faced economic uncertainty because of the BP disaster.

"This oil spill incident, we don't know how long it'll last," said Tuan Dang, Asian Americans for Change Case Manager. "So we recommend this program just in case they can no longer do shrimp or fish."

Now, some 50 students from different backgrounds are learning how weld steel.

"They either lost their income, or they lost their job, or they've been on long term unemployment," said Dang.

The students can earn up to eight structural welding certifications. They must complete 220 hours of instruction. Last month, 14 students graduated from the first welding class. At least five of them have landed jobs at Ingalls and Trinity Yachts.

"I'll be more happy if there's more students going to graduate and find jobs," said Dang.

Karen Thomas is pretty optimistic her new welding skills will spark a brighter future for her in the shipbuilding industry.  

"Look out Ingalls, Northrop Grumman, and whoever else!  Here I come," Thomas said with a big smile on her face.

Asian Americans for Change also offers heating and air conditioning and electrical classes. And expect to see classes in refrigeration and pipe fitting in the near future. The $500,000 grant for the vocational courses comes from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

You can apply for the program at the Win Job Center on Pass Road in Biloxi. To qualify, you have to be a resident of the three coastal counties and must have been working on or before April 20, 2010.

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