Four student welders outside the welding department

Left to Right: Student welders Howard Rivera, Angel Espinoza, Jack Finocchio, and Andrea Rosas.

Robotic welding coming to College of Continuing Education

April 19, 2024 | San Diego Community College District

Student welders at San Diego College of Continuing Education will soon be adding new skills to their repertoire — coding and robotics — for free. While they already have access to five tuition-free welding certificates: Shielding Metal Arc Welding; Gas Metal and Flux Cored Arc Welding; Gas Tungsten Arc Welding and Pipe Welding, a $300,000 technology upgrade is underway.

The 100,000 square foot welding facility located at the Educational Cultural Complex (4343 Ocean View Blvd.) will be equipped with a plasma cutter robot, a welder robot, electrical upgrades to equipment installed in the 1970s, as well as new smart TVs and cameras for HyFlex teaching.

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“We are so proud to bring an emerging equitable opportunity to Southeastern San Diego,” said Brad Dorschel, Master Welder and Skilled and Technical Trades Program Chair at the SDCCE. “I am certain you cannot learn robotic welding anywhere else in the nation without a cost. The knowledge our students will gain here will transfer to all industrial robotic industries.”

“San Diego College of Continuing Education was truly designed to alleviate poverty. Our unique college is a noncredit college offering short term certificates that offer state licenses or skilled gains for the workforce. Our students typically come from significantly diverse and socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Giving them access to learn a high demand industry paired with futuristic technology makes them very competitive candidates for the workforce,” said College of Continuing Education, President Dr. Tina M. King.

While robots will not replace human welders, Dorschel explained the purpose of robotic welders is to troubleshoot weld parameters, increasing efficiency and productivity. The Department of Labor projects a 26% growth in industrial automation (robotic) jobs by 2030.

The college’s integration of robotic machinery into the certificate program is an exciting advantage for the future generation of welders; Andrea Rosas, Angel Espinoza, Jack Finocchio, and Howard Rivera.

The opportunity to work with robots feels reminiscent for Rosas, 30. When she was a girl scout cadet, Rosas designed robotics camps for young girls where they could build, troubleshoot, and code for competitions. She then left San Bernardino to move to Oahu, Hawaii to study criminal justice. “I enjoyed my major but robotics and working in a trade were always in the back of mind.” After studying at Chaminade University of Honolulu, Rosas moved to San Diego and was inspired by her uncle, a successful architect, to pursue welding. “I wanted to go back to school but didn’t have the means to do so. I was amazed when I got here [to SDCCE] that this welding school is free.” Now Rosas has her dream set on becoming an underwater welder, combining her love for the ocean and metal fabrication. 

Before coming to the College of Continuing Education Espinoza, 24, attended Miramar College for biotechnology. “When classes started to become too hard to manage between work and school, I had to leave to focus on my job,” explained Espinoza. “San Diego is so expensive. The door to go to college opened again for Espinoza while Working as a Fire Watch at General Dynamics NASSCO. “I learned about the College of Continuing Education’s welding program through my coworkers. Now welding is my passion,” he said.  SDCCE’s shielded metal arc welding curriculum led Espinoza to a promotion as a fitter for NASSCO. His long-term goal is to become a welding instructor. The college’s technology upgrades will be an asset. “The future is technology. Learning robotics will open a lot of doors.”

Space enthusiast, Finocchio, 24, sees his future in Aerospace welding, building rockets and launching space stations. On track to achieve his dream, Finocchio studied aerospace engineering for three years at San Diego State University (SDSU). “Unfortunately Covid happened and disrupted my education. During the pandemic, I decided I didn’t want to go there anymore and I took an interest in welding,” he explained. “I tried to work in an apprenticeship without schooling but that path didn’t work for me. So I decided to come here because the community college system is affordable. I still have loans from SDSU, with this it feels good to not have tuition weighing over my head.” Finocchio works in the hospitality industry, but with a yearn for space travel, and physics, he looks forward to starting work with economic upward mobility, in the shipyards. “There is so much more growth to be had in welding from travel to aerospace. I just need the experience first to build my career. Here at [SDCCE] you can do something wrong and learn how to do it better.”

San Diego native Rivera, 21, dabbled in a few career paths before he discovered welding. Right after graduating from Morse High School, he enrolled at the College of Continuing Education due to the lack of tuition cost. He first tried culinary arts and plumbing. “Culinary was fun, it helped me land a job as a lead cook at Applebees but being in the kitchen can get overwhelming,” he said. “Plumbing has a lot of rules, I don’t think it is for me but I have my certifications in case I want to do it.” Now Rivera is on track to complete all five welding certificates from the SDCCE to become a pipe welder.

In addition to the new robots and HyFlex technology coming this summer, SDCCE secured a $1.175 million in funds from BlueForge Alliance in October 2023, to double the size of its welding lab as part of a comprehensive effort addressing a shortage of skilled welders. Plans for expansion are in progress.

Welding is among the highest paying skilled trades in the country. Welders in San Diego County are earning an average of $73,531 annually, according to the California Employment Development Department, which projects 42,600 job openings for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers each year, on average, over the decade.

Enrollment for summer session opens on Monday, May 13, 2024. For more information visit San Diego College of Continuing Education.

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