May 9, 2014

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Media contact: CeCe Todd, (480) 461-4032

When Sierra Jennings’ counselor at Chandler High School suggested she enroll at the East Valley Institute of Technology, the 16-year-old junior had no difficulty selecting a program.

“I’m a fourth-generation welder,” she said.

As one of several female students in EVIT’s welding program, she is considered a non-traditional student. EVIT recruits non-trads to help create employment opportunities for future generations by breaking down stereotypes and closing gender gaps in the workforce.

Even though Jennings comes from a family of welders, she acknowledges that she had to toughen up a bit for her EVIT program.

“It was intimidating at first because of all the guys,” she said. “You just can’t let them push you around.”

But she has adjusted well and is flourishing in the program. Earlier this year, Jennings was selected to assist Mesa Mayor Scott Smith with the ceremonial welding event for the extension of the Metro light rail on Main Street.

Welding is one of more than 30 occupational training programs currently enrolling at EVIT, a public school with two centralized campuses in Mesa – the Dr. A. Keith Crandell (Main) Campus, 1601 W. Main St., and the East Campus, 6625 S. Power Road – and programs at Apache Junction High School, 2525 S. Ironwood Drive. EVIT’s programs are tuition-free for high school students – including charter and home-schooled students -- who live in Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Fountain Hills, Apache Junction, Higley, Queen Creek and J.O. Combs school districts. Tuition-based programs for adults are also offered, with financial aid available.

For all students, male as well as female, EVIT’s welding program can open doors to lucrative, in-demand jobs. The program has a strong industry partners and a 98 percent success rate in placing students in jobs, college or the military. Many of them go into the UA Local 469 Arizona Pipe Trades Apprenticeship program.

Rick Wieting, training director for UA Local 469, said EVIT’s welding graduates get a solid foundation.

“They are aware of all the safety concerns in our trade and are prepared to weld on the jobsite,” he said.

Once they complete the paperwork for the apprenticeship program, EVIT welders are dispatched as first-year steamfitter apprentices.

“Most contractors like the new apprentices to weld under the direction of an experienced journeyman because the graduates may not have learned all the weld processes we use in the field,” he said. “So, although they are working and learning our trade, they may not be welding all the time.”

Apprentices usually start schooling the semester after they sign up. They will go to class six weeks a year and earn a good wage working the rest of the year, Wieting said. There are about 15-20 EVIT graduates currently working as welding apprentices.

After she completes welding at EVIT, Jennings wants to go into a five-year apprenticeship.

Her experiences in the welding program have not only given her skills she can use to get a good job, but also self-confidence.

“I’m not afraid to say what I need to say, and I can work with people,” she said.

EVIT counselor Pauline Acosta said currently only about 2 percent of workers in the welding industry are female, and the industry would like to recruit more. Partners and advisors to EVIT’s welding program are strong advocates for women.

Those who can do the heavy lifting and welding could earn $50,000 starting salaries. But, Acosta said, there also are opportunities for women in welding to go into project management or work as inspectors.

“There are a lot of opportunities for them,” Acosta said. “If they play their cards right, the sky is the limit.”

To register for the 2014-15 school year, visit www.evit.com and see your high school counselor. For more information, contact enrollment director Melissa Valenzuela at (480) 461-4153 or mvalenzuela@evit.com.

It is the policy of the East Valley Institute of Technology District #401 to provide all persons with equal employment and education opportunities regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, marital status, age or disability. District grievance procedures will be followed for compliance with Title IX and Section 504 requirements. The compliance officer is the EVIT Superintendent.

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