While most of Marana High School sits quiet because of summer break, an open door in the northern corner of school property yields screeching noises and red sparks in every direction.

The dimly lit lab, equipped with heavy machinery and several work stations, is crowded by teenagers in baggy, blackening work shirts, goggles and helmets. They are each at their posts with their attentions focused on their tasks, whether it’s cutting metal or wielding buzzing tools in his or her hands.

These are juniors, seniors and fresh graduates of Marana and Tucson high schools, taking part in a two-week welding boot camp hosted by Marana High School.

Some of these 15 students could walk away this week with American Welding Society certifications, which are recognized by the industry in most of the world.

“We’re training quality kids and putting them out into the work force,” said Kenton Webb, welding instructor at Marana High.

All the training at the boot camp are things taught by welding programs at both Marana and Tucson high schools. These technical classes may be classified as electives, but Webb said they’re more than that.

The boot camp is a good way to get the students certified and send them on their way to jobs out of high school, he said.

An inspector from the American Welding Society is here on a Friday to examine the students’ work. During the first week, the students were tested for shielded metal arc welding, otherwise known as stick welding. In the second week, they would be tested for gas metal arc welding, or MIG welding.

The philosophy of the industry is very much “Don’t tell me. Show me,” said Curtis Casey, the inspector, who has worked with public schools for 15 years.

The state requires welders to take written exams, but what companies really want are workers who can demonstrate good skills, he said.

The welding industry is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, he said. Programs like these are beneficial to both the industry and the students who want to work for them.

For the industry, it means they could get skilled workers without having to invest in training them, he said. For students, it’s a chance at getting jobs.

Kitaj Wilder, 18, just graduated from Marana High. The Marana native said he wants to take welding jobs to help pay for his education. He’s planning on attending Pima Community College, where he will take care of some general education courses before he moves on to the University of Arizona.

After that, he might want to major in nursing, but he hasn’t decided.

But whatever he does next, Wilder, who won second place in a Tucson-area high school welding competition, said welding would continue to be a part of his life.

“I just have a good time welding,” he said.

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For Shania Pablo, 18, welding would hopefully be a lifetime career. She said she started taking welding classes during her sophomore year and quickly realized that she might have a knack for this.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is an edge, she said. Female welders are known to have great attention to detail. “There are specific elements of welding that require details,” she added.

Pablo’s dream used to be to become a professional soccer player, but when she took up welding, she said she was having too much fun and spending too much time in the welding lab at Tucson High, where she just graduated. Naturally, soccer went on the back burner.

“I realized that welding can get me where I want to go and provide me the steady lifestyle,” she said.

Now, she is planning on attending the welding program at Pima. From there, she hopes to move onto the welding engineering program at Ohio State University.

Maybe not all of them will walk away with certifications, because this is an intense process, said Tucson High welding instructor David Goodkin. But it’s not just about passing the tests at this boot camp, he added.

“Really, we want them to experience the whole process,” he said.

The instructors are hoping to continue the boot camp next year and beyond.

“This is something we want to see grow and we hope that more kids get involved,” he said.

Contact reporter Yoohyun Jung at 520-573-4243 or yjung@tucson.com.

Data reporter

Data reporter on the investigative team for the Arizona Daily Star