There's more to welding than "putting two pieces of metal together," welding instructor Rob Phillips explained at the Loadcraft Industries plant in Early.

Phillips is the plant's quality assurance foreman and safety officer, and also the instructor for a six-week welding class consisting of eight students. The class is a joint project of Loadcraft and Texas State Technical College, and a total of four classes are planned. The goal: producing 32 freshly trained welders who are ready to go to work at Loadcraft and other industries.

Phillips is instructing the first class of eight, and the class just finished its third week.

"It's been a neat experience for most of them," Phillips said. "They're working real hard. (There are) 32 total students that we're trying to train to implement blueprint reading, layout, design, welding, all of the process that go into fabrication of trailers and silos we're working to train these guys so we have fully qualified welders who can come in and contribute on the line immediately.

"My role is to prepare them for everything that they would see on a production line. We can hire guys who can pass a welding test but we need people who, when they come off our welding school our line foremen can hand them a set of blueprints and they can build an assembly, they know how to read the prints, to lay everything out."

There is no cost to students, and in fact students are will be paid for work they do as part of the training $10 an hour for 184 hours.

For the past several months, representatives of industry, training institutions and economic development have said there is a shortage of trained welders in Brown County.

At the June meeting of the Brownwood Economic Development Corp. board, James Simmons vice president of human resources, safety, health and environmental told board members that "business is good. We're starving for welders."

Simmons said then that there were a number of unique approaches to the training, including:

The instructor is a company employee, ensuring that employer-specific techniques and skills are taught.

Training takes place on-site of the company, giving students "a real-world experience and feel for the company's culture and environment."

"Finder's fees" will be paid to company employees for new welders.

There will be a combination of lab and on-the-job training.

Loadcraft and the economic development corporations of Brownwood and Early are contributing toward the $170,000 cost of the program.

Students for the class under way were selected from 250 applicants, Phillips said. Some of the students had some previous welding experience, while others had none.

Colby Adams, a recent Early High School graduate and one of the eight students, said he welded in high school but it had been awhile.

"I really like this," Adams said. "Rob's a good teacher. Loadcraft's a really good company. What they're doing here is great. Paying us to learn? That's awesome. I've learned a lot being here."

First-time welder Alex Delgado, a former 3M and oil field worker, said said welding has been "kind of" a hard skill to learn, but, he said, "I enjoy it. I've always wanted to learn it. They're helping me out a lot here."