New Take On Old Tradition of Apprenticeship

Steel Yard facilitates creative training for metalworking industry

By ecoRI News staff

A recent Weld-to-Work participant uses a plasma cutter to trim a piece of steel for a public art project. (Steel Yard)

A recent Weld-to-Work participant uses a plasma cutter to trim a piece of steel for a public art project. (Steel Yard)

PROVIDENCE — As a reaction to the disappearing job market of 2008, the Steel Yard piloted a paid educational opportunity that focused on community engagement and metalworking for participants with significant hardships. This program, Weld-to-Work, has since trained more than 100 participants, who have been taught skills that will make them more eligible for jobs in the metalworking industry.

Although Rhode Island’s economic landscape has changed since Weld-to-Work began, there has continued to be an increasing demand for this program, according to Steel Yard executive director Howie Sneider.

The Steel Yard recently announced the start of the latest Weld-to-Work program, which will serve eight young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. This year’s cohort was selected from some 40 applicants who all met the income and age qualifications.

Carrying on with the tradition of apprenticeship, each trainee will learn studio safety and about basic metalworking tools that cut, grind and drill metal, as well as how to use the oxygen-acetylene torch and plasma cutter. In addition to technical training, participants are taught to think critically and creatively, to work with a team and show leadership, use available resources, and problem-solve while gaining valuable work experience, Sneider said.

Training begins with basic shop practices and culminates with the design and fabrication of both an individual project and a team project that is installed within the community. This Weld-to-Work class will be creating distance markers for local parks and collaborating with The Nature Conservancy to create sculpture for its Providence office.

“The skills and confidence gained through a metalworking education can be truly transformative,” program director Islay Taylor said. “The students who attend Weld-to-Work have come through a very competitive interview process that accepts one in five applicants. They get to experience a creative mix of the Steel Yard’s educational and professional programs.”

The Textron Charitable Trust and the LISC/Citizens Bank Growing Communities grant to the Olneyville neighborhood have helped fund the program.

The nonprofitSteel Yard sits on a 3.7-acre campus on Sims Avenue — the site of the former Providence Steel and Iron. The property, which is along the Woonasquatucket River in the heart of the city’s Industrial Valley, is on the National Historic Register.