ST. ANSGAR | Students at St. Ansgar High School will soon be able to learn a skill, which could lead to a career, all in the safe confides of a virtual reality welder.

A lack of availability for technical and vocational training has been brought up in town hall, school board, and strategic planning meetings throughout Mitchell County, over the past year. The VRTEX welder would allow the St. Ansgar industrial technologies department to enhance the current welding curriculum. With a shortage of skilled welders in the area, local companies have expressed a continuing need for welders.

A virtual welder allows students the opportunity to train in a highly sought-after field without the risk of injury. In addition, the use of a virtual welder would mean the school would not be incurring a materials cost for the metal and wire involved using live welding equipment. The machine rates the skill level of the welder and helps identify areas needing improvement as well as identifies strengths the student already exhibits.

The welder, priced at $18,500, would act as a training simulator for the students, who would be required to apply knowledge of the welding process by entering the settings into the machine, including material type, gas flow and wire feed settings. The hands-on practice in welding will allow students an opportunity to graduate with a working knowledge of the welding process and a leg up when applying for jobs.

“It looks like they are actually welding,” said school board member Lindsey Falk. A similar machine was brought in by NIACC during the recent career night event, giving parents and students alike an opportunity to try it out.

Grant writing for the welder was done by Cory Christensen, 7-12 Industrial Tech. teacher. A $10,000 grant was received from the Saints Legacy fund, and an additional $1,500 grant was awarded by shop on state.

“We will be the only one in the area that has one right now,” said board member Steve Groth.

The school board voted unanimously to purchase the welder, with a cost to the district of $7,000, though further grant writing is planned to offset that $7,000 balance.