By DR. KETTA GARDUNO/Director of Career & Technical Education

Rentech is leading the way in helping Abilene ISD welding students be successful.

Over the last year, through a growing partnership between Rentech Boiler Services and Abilene ISD, four AISD students who have excelled in the Career and Technical Education welding program have been provided the opportunity to learn advanced welding skills while gaining on-the-job experience.  This semester, with the addition of a welding practicum course, participating students can earn both high school credit and a paycheck. In addition, those who continue to grow and excel on-site also have the possibility of long-term employment and options for advancement. This exciting program is opening doors for our students and is setting the stage for the development of additional internships throughout the Abilene community.

AISD welding teacher Zachary Hageman, graduate Joshua Hall, senior Christian Schroth, graduate Isaiah Casares, senior Jayton Mangrum, Rentech Production Manager Brien Burke (front)

Welders are in high-demand, and Rentech, an industry leader with customers across the nation and in several countries, is one of the leading employers of highly-skilled welders in the Big Country.  Because of the limited number of qualified welders available for hire, Rentech has decided to take the lead by working with AISD to develop welders who have the ability and determination to be successful.

The partnership began when Rentch reached out to Cooper High School welding student Joshua Hall in the spring of 2018.  Josh graduated in May and soon proved to be a great investment for Rentech.  The company then began to work closely with AISD to develop a formal internship program for students who are dedicated to becoming welders.  They currently employ two recent AISD graduates, Joshua Hall and Isaiah Casares, and are providing paid internships through the end of the semester for two current AISD seniors, Jayton Mangrum and Christian Schroth.

Both graduates recognize the value of their relationship with Rentech.  Isaiah Casares, who participated in the AISD welding courses for over two years and joined Rentech in December 2018 following graduation, currently works 60 hours per week.

“I love it,” he said.  “Being so young, this is the most amazing place to be. This is the most amazing opportunity I could ever ask for!”

When asked what he likes the most about Rentech, Isaiah doesn’t hesitate: “The people,” he said. “I love the people the most.  It is a huge family.”

Isaiah attributes his initial success to the AISD welding program.

“It taught me how to weld,” he said, “and I would not be doing what I am now were it not for the Cooper program.”

Josh, who is working 50 hours a week and attending welding classes at Cisco to be better-prepared for career advancement opportunities, emphasizes how much he has grown since joining Rentech.

“In the future, I want to become a welding inspector, so I thought I would use my time wisely,” Josh said. “I am getting my required years of welding experience while I complete my education and additional certifications that will help me become a welding inspector.  What I like the most about working here is that I learn new things and you mature quickly.  You are in the real world when you come here.  The playful things of high school are gone.”

It is important to note that Rentech’s leadership supports Josh’s career goals by modifying his work schedule to accommodate for his college classes.

Zachary Hageman, AISD welding teacher, and Brien Burke, Production Manager of Rentech Services, work together to continually refine the internship program.  They actively involve the students and their parents as well as company executives and school administrators to ensure that the program is successful.  Because of these efforts, Jayton and Christian, both current AISD seniors, were able to begin their internships in January and have already completed their welding certification exams.  While waiting for their employment to be finalized, they are fine-tuning their welding skills under the direction of their floor supervisors who also serve as their mentors.

Welding certifications are critical because they verify that the welders are capable of meeting the industry’s weld-quality specifications and are the avenue to higher pay.  With each additional certification, the hourly pay rate increases, allowing welders to earn more money as their skills advance.  Jayton is looking to the future.

When asked what he hopes to get out of his internship experience, he said, “Experience.”

“I want to learn,” Jayton added. “The money is going to be there, but learning and actually welding every day is what I am looking forward to.”

Christian expresses his appreciation to Mr. Hageman and the AISD welding program.

“The welding program helped me further the little skills that I already had and opened the door to this,” he said. “I became interested in welding because it was something different. I saw that I was pretty good at it and stuck with it.  I want to be able earn all of my welding certifications while I am here because it is more money, makes me a better welder, and gives me more opportunities.”

Mr. Hageman emphasized that students must prove themselves in class to be considered for this program.

“They are here because of their skills and their work ethic,” he said. “They have the ability to adapt, change, and get better.”

Armando Rodriquez, the floor supervisor who has helped mentor all four young men, believes the program is a success.  He describes Josh and Isaiah as responsible and eager to learn and emphasizes that they have proven to be a benefit to the company.  He is looking forward to Jayton and Christian following in their footsteps.

Brien Burke echoes Mr. Rodriquez’s assessment, adding that Rentech is the standard bearer when it comes to quality welding.

“If you can work here,” he said, “you can work anywhere in this city.”

AISD is appreciative of Rentech giving our students the opportunity to do just that.