Meridian News
Ditch Witch Graduates First Class of Welders in Collaboration with Meridian Business and Industry Services
October 16, 2018

With a low national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find skilled workers, particularly in manufacturing. With plans to increase production and a goal of filling 30 newly-created positions, Ditch Witch in Perry turned to Meridian Technology Center to partner in a new training initiative.

That initiative – a new Training Academy – was aimed at filling jobs in five manufacturing areas: material handling, machining, welding, painting and assembly. This month, eight employees graduated from the Ditch Witch Training Academy with a focus in welding. Meridian Technology Center’s Business and Industry Services team worked with Ditch Witch to develop the customized nine-week program.

“The development of the training curriculum, delivery and outcomes for the Training Academy was truly a collaborative project among the team at Meridian,” said Rebecca Eastham, Meridian’s Executive Director of Business and Industry Services.

“Our team developed the curriculum, identified qualified instructors, monitored the trainees’ progress and evaluated the effectiveness of the training throughout the nine weeks. The Academy curriculum includes training in manufacturing fundamentals, welding and other technical skills, safety, computer skills, teamwork and communication skills,” she added.

During the program, the trainees were hired on as full-time employees and given a salary and benefits. The primary requirements for getting hired were “a steady work history and a desire to work in manufacturing,” said Matt Barnes, a Ditch Witch recruiter and one of the major drivers behind the program. “Very few of the [students] had welded before.”

Student Kyle Shaw, for example, was a former car salesman in California who moved to Oklahoma in search of a more viable cost of living. “I’m excited to have a full-blown career and to work with my hands,” said Shaw.

The students who completed the program learned manufacturing fundamentals and received their OSHA 10; forklift; and CPR, first aid and National Career Readiness certifications.

Retired Ditch Witch employees shared their expertise on topics such as blueprint reading and developing an understanding of the company’s specific safety culture and procedures. “We wanted to show them the ‘why’ behind the job,” said Barnes. “This is an opportunity for a career, more than just a job.”

Meridian was able to help Ditch Witch offset some of the training costs by bringing in strategic partners. “The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technical Education is a key partner in the program. They supported the academy through what’s known as state Training for Industry Program funding,” said Eastham. “We also connected Ditch Witch with the Western Oklahoma Workforce Development Board to access federal On-the-Job Training funds.”

Ditch Witch is hoping to train 45 people each year with the next training set to begin in January 2019. Those interested in applying can contact Matt Barnes at or 580.572.2343.

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