One problem: Welding certification classes were beyond Helmschrott’s financial reach.
“Originally I wanted to get certified, but when we found that class through the [Starke] skills center, it cost a couple thousand dollars,” Helmschrott recalled. However, he “stumbled upon the Purdue Extension,” he said, which offered a basic two-week introductory welding course.
Loehmer spoke to Helmschrott as he was mulling over enrolling in the class, which met for 12 hours each week and cost in-county residents $200.
“He said, ‘Man, this is my last $200,’” Loehmer recalled.
The crash course Helmschrott was interested in was one the Purdue Extension of Pulaski County inherited from a county adult education coalition about five years ago. Between 250 and 300 students have graduated from the basic welding course in its seven-year existence, according to extension office manager Sue Rosenbaum, who has managed the course.
“It was a fantastic thing to do to learn beginning welding, to see if you like it,” Rosenbaum said. The majority of the class participants, like Helmschrott, were interested in learning to weld in order to get into the job market, she said.
The course operated out of a welding lab at Winamac Community High School. Winamac companies, including Braun Corp. and Galbreath Inc., donated the steel used during class sessions. The single time the Purdue Extension purchased the necessary steel for a class, the bill ran about $1,100.
Normally, the program “barely broke even, and that’s with having all the steel donated,” said Rosenbaum. “The economy’s so bad, we try to keep it at that very, very low price.”
Ultimately, Helmschrott decided to plunk down the $200.
During the three-hour classes, he and the other class members learned a few basic welds and received about $75 worth of welding equipment they could keep after the class wrapped up.
“I picked it up pretty quick,” said Helmschrott. “I was hungry. It was survival for me, so I think I tried a little bit harder.”