Representatives from Deere-Hitachi Construction Machinery Corporation visited the campus of Forsyth Technical Community College last week to talk to students in the community college’s welding program about employment opportunities that are soon to open up at the company’s Kernersville facility.
Established in 1988 as a joint venture between Moline, Ill.-based John Deere and Tokyo-based Hitachi Construction Machinery Corporation, Deere-Hitachi is a mid-sized manufacturing company responsible for the production of both John Deere and Hitachi excavators. The company, which serves North America and parts of Central America, announced in October that it would be making a $97 million investment over the next four years in its Kernersville facility, doubling the size of its campus and adding an estimated 340 jobs – many of them in welding – to its existing force of 700 employees. The new facility, which is slated to be complete in 2014, is in response to the ever-growing demand for Deere-Hitachi products, said Human Resources Supervisor Mike Fogleman.
“We produce 20 of these things a day,” Fogleman stated, referencing a slide of a John Deere 3500 excavator, which he said retails for around $350,000. “We’re talking about a serious business that’s taking place over in Kernersville and the reason why we’re here to talk to you today is we’re going to go from making 20 of these a day to 28.”
Deere-Hitachi welders enjoy a competitive salary starting at $18.06 an hour, in addition to a full slate of benefits, including medical, dental and vision insurance and an incentive bonus plan, Fogleman said.
“Who wants a job?” he asked the students who gathered in the Ardmore Auditorium for the meeting last week. A flurry of hands shot up in the air. “Well that’s what we’re here to talk about … (but) we don’t want somebody in it for just a year or two. We’re looking for a career, and I hope that’s what you want also.”
Thanks to a customized welding skills training program designed by Forsyth Tech, the community college’s grads may have a leg up on the competition. The nine-month program at Forsyth Tech is tailored specifically to suit the needs of Deere-Hitachi and the Siemens corporation, which has hired 16 Forsyth Tech graduates within the last year, said Program Coordinator Dr. Jackie Woods.
“What we’re looking at is trying to enhance the skills so that they will be more accepted by business and industries,” Woods said of the students. “I’m looking at the diversity of the program, by giving the students the skills that they can utilize and find employment… In the long run, it benefits not only the business and industry, but the students as well.”
The welding program currently has 60 students enrolled, most of whom are on track to finish in August, and would likely be viable candidates for the positions at Deere-Hitachi.
“You guys need a job? Well, we need welders,” said General Operations Supervisor Demarc Vandike. “So if you’ve got talent, we’re looking for that.”
Twenty-nine year-old Johnna Harding is hopeful she has the kind of talent that Deere-Hitachi is looking for. Harding, a native of Winston-Salem, recently completed the high school diploma program at Forsyth Tech and is now trying her hand at welding. After spending more than five years as a restaurant cook, Harding said she is following in the footsteps of her aunt, who is also a welder. The two professions have some things in common, said Harding, the oldest of six children.
“Both of them are hot – both of them deal with fire,” she related. “I do well with heat. I do well with my hands.”
Harding said she’s pleased with the caliber of training she has received at Forsyth Tech thus far and believes she will be well prepared to be competitive as a welder.
“It’s a good program,” she remarked. “You see our welding, you wouldn’t think that we came from Forsyth Tech. You’d think we’d come from a four year college.”
Now is a great time for new welders to get into the field, Woods said, because the market is wide open. In a time where so many other industries are shrinking, welding is on the rise, and not just in the local sector, added the Alabama native.
“The demand is greater than the supply,” he remarked. “The problem that we have is just trying to recruit enough students to take care of demand in the industry.”
The program itself is in high demand. There is currently a waiting list to enroll,” Woods said.
City native Sterling Harris, who is slated to start the welding program in January, said he chose the program in part because of the many opportunities that are available in the field.
“I don’t think it’s a field that’s going to disappear,” stated Harris, who is currently working as a nighttime stocker at Lowes hardware. “It’s always going to be work in that field.”
Harris said he was impressed and encouraged by what he heard from the Deere-Hitachi team.
“I really liked the people that came and spoke,” said the father of two. “Everything, from the benefits and staff to the pay, they didn’t say anything that wasn’t appealing.”
City native Matt Ferguson enrolled in the program because he said he wanted a change of pace in his career.
“I’ve had various office jobs over the years and I was looking to go back to school to study a trade,” related the Mount Tabor alumnus. “I wanted a skill that I could take anywhere. There is a demand for this job right now, and I enjoy the work. It’s very hands-on.”
Ferguson, 35, said he attended last week’s meeting because he wanted to learn more about the careers that will be available to him once he completes his training in August. Knowing that so many possibilities are set to surface at Deere-Hitachi is heartening for him, said Ferguson, who spent five years as a freelance writer.
“It’s something I wanted to do in my 20s and now is the opportunity for me to do this,” he said of welding. “It really is exciting. I feel like I’ve sort of fallen into something that is in demand. In a slow economy, we’re seeing jobs in this industry, and I think for people who are well trained and work hard, there is opportunity here.”
Welding applicants may apply in-person at Deere-Hitachi, 1000 Deere-Hitachi Road in Kernersville, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 p.m. through Dec. 31. Beginning January 1, 2013, applications must be submitted online, at www.dhkernersville.com. For more information, call 336-996-8100.