When Emily Rothbart was a teen, there wasn’t such a thing as welding camps for youth. So you can imagine her response when asked to be a counsellor during Mind Over Metal’s stop on campus this month.
“Given the opportunity when I was younger, I would have been interested in a camp like this. It would have been amazing to spend two weeks of my summer building stuff,” said Rothbart, who received her welding Red Seal in 2015 and completed her Level A in 2012. “I’ve always been a handy person and have always liked to tinker. I learn a lot more when I can use my hands and do hands-on projects.”
Mind Over Metal is an initiative of the Canadian Welding Association Foundation, which partners with school districts, post-secondary institutions and other organizations to provide a free introductory week of welding. The intent is to expose youth to the trade before they’re eligible to take high school classes. The camp was at TRU for two weeks — July 17-21 and July 24-28 — with the second week being billed as girls only, however a pair of boys were also admitted. The first week was co-ed, though was primarily made up of boys. Both weeks featured TRU faculty members Rebecca Kennedy and Jim McCarthy as lead instructors, with a mix of current welding students and grads serving as the six counsellors.
In mixing theory and safety with hands-on activities, participants transform flat and round metal from something bland into functional pieces like hotdog sticks and military-style dog tags, cowbells or into multi-layered art like a rose and stem. Campers learn to plan their projects, estimate how much metal they’d need, use precision tools like a plasma torch, use high-speed grinders for finishing and removing rough spots and ways to put their personality into their pieces. Projects are a progression of techniques and knowledge while also building up confidence and self esteem.
The CWA Foundation covers most of the costs, with sponsor companies also providing giveaways and merchandise. Upwards of 50 camps will be held across the country this year, and the number of camps offered has tripled in as many years. TRU hosted two camps this year, doubling what was offered last year.
Jayden Wood was among the second-week campers and went in with a basic understanding of the trade. By the end of the first day, she had a greater appreciation.
“You have to have confidence in what you’re doing and you have to trust yourself that you can do it. You can’t go in feeling scared,” she said of the typical welding environment characterized by sparks, red-hot hot metal and equipment that when not handled properly, can cause serious injury.
“I’ve always had an interest in trades, and now I know more about them and the options they give me. This camp gave me more details about welding and there’s (more to it) than I thought there was. Before I thought it was just heating up metal to glue things together.”
Creativity is an important component of the camps, largely for two reasons. First, it keeps things fun and engaging and second, campers come to realize the many paths welders can take — they can fabricate, design products, be builders, work in maintenance, be artists and more.
“We give them the general outline and how they get from the beginning to the end is up to them,” said Rothbart. “If they want to add anything to personalize their project, they’re welcome to do so. The flexibility makes it more fun for the kids. In the first week, one of the guys in my group had his grandma in mind, so he personalized one of his projects for her. Adding the creative component gives them the idea that the trades aren’t just industrial, that there’s an artistic side and there’s flexibility with what can be done with these skills.”