Surrounded by pieces of metal, coils of copper wire, and blindingly-bright lights coming from welding torches, several men shrouded in black welding helmets work in Ivy Tech Kokomo's welding workroom in its automotive technology building.
In this setting, Jak Hozey thinks of art when he starts welding.
"It's like sewing, but with metal," Hozey said.
The participants are in a 10-week program, which is new to Ivy Tech Kokomo. The program is short-term and open to the public. Students can choose to crosswalk into academic programs once they finish the course, meaning they can take other courses for additional certifications or enter a degree program.
The school is working with the Kokomo's WorkOne office, which helps connect people with job training and educational opportunities.
Hozey is enrolled in the course through WorkOne and said he won't have to pay for the course if he continues to show up on time to each class.
There are a variety of ways people can receive help from the WorkOne office, whether it be information about jobs or classes or tuition assistance, said Terri Simons, WorkOne regional systems coordinator for the Kokomo area.
Welding, cutting, soldering and brazing are lumped together and rank 24th on the Hoosier Hot Jobs list for region 4, which includes Howard County. The list is produced by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and shows which jobs are projected to be in the highest demand and the highest paying by 2022.
Employers in the area are looking for welders and the Kokomo WorkOne office sees individuals asking for welding certifications, Simons said. The welding program is a way to meet those needs.
WorkOne encourages people going into these short-term training programs to think about the next step, even after they get jobs.
"We stress lifelong learning," Simons said. "We hope they do obtain employment and continue building those skills."
In addition to teaching industry skills, the Ivy Tech Kokomo course teaches the importance of a variety of soft skills, including the importance of working with other people and showing up on time, which is something both Ivy Tech and WorkOne hear as a top need from employers.
"The first thing employers are looking for is people that will come to work every day," said Ken Parry, Ivy Tech Corporate College executive. "We've talked to multiple employers across all five counties of our region and there's an issue of people just not coming to work."
The students will be tested at the end of the course to earn their certification. To pass, their work has to withstand a bend test without busting up to a certain amount of pressure. Dane Hamilton, who led the class as a substitute instructor last week, said given the students' progress so far, he's not worried about them passing the test.
At the beginning of the course, the students spent a few days going over safety information, but they spend most of their time in the welding lab and have no written tests. The goal, Parry said, is to get them to the point that they can earn their certification, and the way to do that is through gaining hands-on experience.
Most of the students, including Hozey, have never welded before.
"I've never been huge with hands-on things, but when I saw the opportunity to actually start something that I saw as artistic that is hands on, I just jumped on it," Hozey said.
Hozey has been creating art for years, he said, working with spray paint on poster boards. It was good practice for welding, he said.
"If you're a good artist, then you will excel in this field," Hozey said.
He hopes to work for a manufacturing company once he completes the certification. He'll probably create sculptures or other works of art with metal in his spare time, he said.
Hozey said the class is a good environment to learn welding. He has no previous experience in the field, but with patient instructors and plenty of hands-on experience, he's been able to learn it quickly. It also helps that he's genuinely interested in welding.
"When I'm in there in front of the parts, that's the only thing I can think about; that's the only thing on my mind," Hozey said.
More people should consider learning the skill, he said. Until now, he's always wanted to be a photojournalist, but the class has made him want to pursue welding as a career.
"This is something I never thought I wanted to do, but reach for the stars and try something you're not comfortable with," Hozey said. "In a million years, I never thought I'd be interested in this, but I love it."