During a special graduation ceremony at the Floyd County Prison (FCP) in Rome, 12 offenders stepped forward to receive a Technical Certificate of Credit from Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) showing they completed their training in Shield Metal Arc and Flux Core Welding.

“This will change your life if you allow it,” Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Welding Instructor Scott Edison told the group of men. “I want to thank you all for coming in and giving it 110%.” The program was taught in the TCSG mobile welding lab that was temporarily set-up on the prison grounds.

GNTC President Dr. Heidi Popham presented the men with their certificates and shared with them how the program was developed. GNTC studied how other technical colleges had worked with local prison systems and developed a welding program for offenders at the FCP.

“This is a great day. You are showing employers that you are dedicated future employees,” said Popham. “With this certificate you will be able to land high demand welding jobs.”

Betty Dean, deputy warden of care and treatment at Floyd County Corrections, told the graduates how proud she was of their progress in improving their lives. She recognized one student, who has been incarcerated for 19 years, for taking active steps to improve his life once released.

“If we can turn one person’s life around at this facility than we have done our job,” she said. “The fact that we have turned a dozen lives around means we have done our job times 12.”

The welding class at Floyd County Prison was made possible through partnerships at both the state and local level said Stephanie Scearce, GNTC vice president of Economic Development.

Scearce and her team went before the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) Workforce Investment Board to apply and successfully secure funding for the course. In addition, they also submitted an application to TCSG to secure one of their mobile welding labs. Now that the class is complete, the lab will return to TCSG.

“The money we spend on these types of programs saves us on extra security and offender care in the long run,” said Mike Long, FCP warden. “In my experience, when you break the chain of incarceration it makes a difference to the former offenders and their families. Their children are less likely to wind up in the system if their parents are home and have a good job.”

Brandi Dover, GNTC Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program coordinator, said her department coordinated with GNTC’s Economic Development office and Lesia Lambert, director of Workforce Development at NWRC, to fund the project. The WIOA handled the applications and paperwork of the offenders who wanted to be a part of the program.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the average hourly pay for welders in northwest Georgia is $17.45 as of 2019. The industry is also seeing growth as a result of retirements. The American Welding Society estimates half a million welding jobs will be available nationwide by 2022.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of Northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma, or a certificate in business, health, industrial, or public service career paths. This past year, 12,454 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. With an annual credit enrollment of 7,730 students, GNTC is the largest college in Northwest Georgia. GNTC has an additional enrollment of 4,724 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training, and Georgia Quick Start. For more information about GNTC, visit us at www.GNTC.edu. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.