WASHINGTON, D.C., — The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) on Tuesday announced five grant awards for the Advanced Welding Workforce Initiative (AWWI), a partnership to invest $1 million in education and training for advanced technical workers in Appalachia.
Projects were selected based upon their anticipated impact on the region’s advanced welding and manufacturing workforce, particularly its capacity to meet growing demand across a number of industries. Awards were also made on the basis of connecting proposals with pressing regional needs, including expanding offerings into economically distressed areas, targeting designated Opportunity Zones and recruiting workers in long-term recovery from substance use disorder.
One Kentucky project was included. Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland, Ky., will use $105,281 to update and expand the welding program on its Harlan campus, including increasing the number of scholarships available. The program will provide hands-on training in skills such as advanced alloy joining and advanced bending and fitting, alongside education in mathematics, digital literacy, and communication. After two years, students will earn a Combination Welder Diploma and can sit for welding certification testing to meet future employer requirements. This project, serving three economically distressed counties that also include designated Opportunity Zones, will prepare 15 students for employment with local businesses.
AWWI’s funding is jointly provided by ARC and DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy High Performance Materials program to prepare a new generation of welders to manufacture and service high-temperature alloy components in advanced coal- and natural gas-fueled electric generating stations. Such plants operate at significantly higher temperatures and pressures, which increases efficiency and lowers emissions of carbon dioxide but requires the use of superalloys that can withstand the harsh conditions. AWWI awardees put forth projects that would develop a workforce with the high-tech welding skills needed to use those advanced materials to ensure the successful operation of low- and near-zero emission plants powered by Appalachia’s abundant reserves of coal and gas.
Workers with similar skills are needed in the automotive, aerospace, aviation and petrochemical industries. AWWI is part of a series of joint efforts between ARC and DOE to help Appalachia fully harness the economic and workforce potential of these sectors. Other collaborations between the agencies include the Appalachian Energy and Petrochemical Renaissance: An Examination of Economic Progress and Opportunity, a DOE report – which included ARC research – that found petrochemical manufacturing currently in development in Appalachia is projected to attract between $16 billion and $20 billion in capital investment, and create more than 9,800 jobs directly and indirectly in Appalachia by 2025.