Welder at work

Wendy Kienbaum had never even used a welder prior to her arrival at Blackhawk Technical College in the fall of 2013. A year later, she’s a welder apprentice for the Local 383 Ironworkers Union in Madison, WI, currently working with Chilstrom Erecting of Milwaukee.

“Since I had never touched a welder before my first day of classes, I would say hands down that I wouldn’t have this job if not for Blackhawk,’’ she said.

Kienbaum, 20, fit the description of a non-traditional student simply because she was a female in a male-dominated trade. But she also was non-traditional in a different sense. She didn’t come to Blackhawk with any previous training in the demanding field.

“I chose BTC because my mom, dad and sister attended school there,’’ she explained. “Then, after some research on welding programs, I learned that BTC’s was very reputable and heard that the instructors were very qualified. After I found that out, it was a no brainer.’’

Once enrolled, she learned she may have underestimated the impact her instructors could have.

“The assistance I received from the instructors was most important,’’ she recalled. “It was hands on, one-on-one help whenever I needed it. I gained so much confidence from their mentoring.

“My knowledge of the trade was slim when I started. Those simple conversations I had with them about their experiences in the field were priceless. They helped give me the confidence to go out there and pursue my career.’’

She also learned the industry’s view of Blackhawk helped. While in school and prior to taking the apprenticeship position, Kienbaum worked at Kuhn North America in Brodhead, WI, an invaluable experience in her development as a welder.

“BTC has such a good relation with Kuhn,’’ she said, “and that allowed me to work while finishing school and schedule my work around my class schedule.’’

Kienbaum received her welding certificate in May after completing the one-year program. But while she has that treasured piece of paper in her hands, she wouldn’t be surprised if she returns to BTC and takes advantage of the programs to be offered at the school’s new Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Milton that opens in August 2014.

“I would like to further my education, and if BTC expands the program, I will surely be back to attend classes and gain even more skills in my trade,’’ she said.

“I bring the skills and knowledge I gained from BTC to the workplace every day.  I know that in the future, when an employer sees BTC on my resume, they will know I received q quality education and am prepared for what is otu there in the industry."