Wider Horizons

Sparks still (and will always) fly in the welding program at Lethbridge College.welder

But sometimes students get stuck and need to practice one particular technique – maintaining an even pressure or the correct angle, for example. When that happens, their instructors can now send them to the classroom that is home to a “virtual welder,” where they can put in the time needed practicing one particular technique, getting experience and feedback as they go.

“Our virtual welder simulates the real welding experience and requires real welding procedures – the sounds, the lights, the sparks,” says Dave Heins (Agriculture Mechanics ‘92), an instructor in the welding apprentice program. “Your body will learn after you’ve practiced enough. You can look at the weld and the wire and get a very accurate sense of your work.” The goal, welding instructors say, is to have the students learn to react exactly the same way each time. The virtual welder – which cost a bit more than $50,000 – allows the college to save in “consumables” as well as improve safety for novices. It’s available to any student who wants or needs the extra help, says Heins.

While virtual welding is not currently a part of the Alberta curriculum, Heins says Lethbridge College’s program, where 132 students were enrolled from January to June, has developed its own curriculum and will be incorporating virtual welding into different courses in the future. Lethbridge College, SAIT and Northern Lakes College are the only postsecondary institutions in Alberta to provide such a teaching tool.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford got to try her hand at the new Lincoln Electric welder when she and other government officials were on campus in early June. The program simulates working on the top of a skyscraper, with blue skies, sparks, splatters, fizz, buzz and even a bit of vertigo when you look over the edge.

Soon enough, and with enough practice, students and graduates will find themselves working on real projects. When that happens, the molten metal and the wonderful lights and sounds that come with it are very much the real thing.

Lethbridge College offers several apprenticeship training programs that consist of a mixture of on-the-job work and technical experience. Students spend about 80 per cent of their time learning from qualified tradespeople and the rest in specialized courses. To book a tour of the welding classrooms, call 403.320.3366, and to learn more about apprenticeship programs, call 1-800-572-0103 ext. 3322.

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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