By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Trade schools in Wyoming and nationally are seeing a boom in enrollment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The operators of several Wyoming programs that train students for work in trades such as automotive and welding told Cowboy State Daily their enrollment numbers have skyrocketed over the last two years, with more and more people becoming interested in hands-on work that doesn’t require a four-year college degree.
Western Welding Academy
Western Welding Academy in Gillette only launched in late 2019, but has managed to increase its enrollment by more than 1,000% since then.
“When we started, we only had around eight students, but now, we have about 150,” welding instructor Danny Kiederling told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s a smaller campus, but if you look at the last two years, that’s a pretty big increase in quality of product.”
The majority of WWA’s courses last anywhere from five to seven weeks, although its most popular course, professional pipe welding, lasts six months.
Kierderling said he believes more people are turning to trade schools because they allow for a shorter time in school and larger paychecks after graduation.
“We have one student who did really well here and he holds the record for being a Western Welding Academy student who has brought home the biggest paycheck so far, $7,800 for one week,” he said. “He’s 19 years old. I think people are getting wise to that. There’s only so many lawyers you can have, but America runs on blue collar people who works with their hands.”
With nationwide shortages in trade workers and skilled laborers across the board, students essentially have their pick of jobs once they get out of trade school, operators of the schools said.
WyoTech, an automotive trade school in Laramie, was on the brink of bankruptcy when it was purchased by a team of Wyoming natives in 2018. Around that time, there were only 26 students enrolled at the college.
As of last fall, 685 students were enrolled, an increase of more than 2,000%. Of all the trade schools in Wyoming, WyoTech is one of the oldest, having opened in 1966.
“The growth of WyoTech, as well as other trade and vocational schools across the nation, is a sign of the changing times within the U.S. job market,” WyoTech President Jim Mathis said. “There has been a growing emphasis on skilled labor, as those jobs remain unfilled the longest.”
WyoTech will be expanding its current facilities by 90,000 square feet within the next year, due to the large amount of growth it has seen in just three years.
Its programs last around nine months and focus on either automotive technology, collision repair or diesel technology. The short programs not only allow for students to enter the workforce in a shorter time period, but also generate less student debt that one would at a typical four-year university.
Mathis also noted that by the time WyoTech students graduate from the nine-month program, they will have three years’ worth of industry experience.
Laramie County Community College, which has campuses in Cheyenne and Laramie, has several trade programs, including for welding, automotive and diesel technology and wind energy.
LCCC spokeswoman Lisa Trimble told Cowboy State Daily that the wind energy program is actually being retooled and will change from being offered as an associate’s degree to a “credit diploma,” shortening the class time from two years to 10 months. The revised program will be active for the 2023-2024 academic years, Tshe said..
“The hope is to draw more students who are interested in learning the trade and going to work as soon as possible,” Trimble said. “COVID-19 hurt the wind program since most of the students in the program come from out of state.”