By John Ramos

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — An East Bay school is looking for a new instructor with big shoes to fill for a program that gives their students real-world professional skills.

Kennedy High School in Richmond offers a welding program that – in two years’ time – will graduate students with the hands-on experience to begin a career as a professional welder.

The state-of-the-art metal shop is brand-new and – thanks to a partnership with Chevron – contains everything needed to put young people on a path to a high-paying career.

However, there is one major problem. “What we didn’t expect is, while they were building the lab, that we would lose our long-standing welding teacher,” said Assistant Principal Andrew Brooks.

The welding shop is now named for Cleve Harris, a retired Chevron welder who taught at Kennedy for 15 years but died suddenly before this school term began. The district posted the opening for a welding teacher in June but didn’t get a single response.

“Part of the problem is the two industries don’t align very well,” said Brooks. “People with these skills are making around six figures … and teachers make a half to two-thirds of that.”

Brandyn Willridge understands the problem well. He teaches welding at The Crucible, an industrial art studio in West Oakland. With high demand for experienced welders and many making $100,000-plus, it’s tough to sell a teaching job that starts at $54,000.

“If you want to be a teacher, a welding teacher, you’re not in it for the money,” said Willridge. “You’re in it for the creativity and to show people what they haven’t been able to do.”

This entire semester, the new lab at Kennedy has sat empty and the welding program stalled. But things may now be looking up. For most of the year, the position was advertised only on education job sites. A few weeks ago someone from the community posted the job on Facebook and Twitter, and now nearly a dozen people have inquired about it.

“We’re really thankful,” Principal Felicia Phillips said. “This social media post has resulted in crazy interest. So we’re hopeful.”

Kennedy High is looking for someone with practical, working experience who can begin when the Spring semester starts.

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