The shortage of skilled workers has been widely reported, but one economist has challenged this notion. Iowa State University Economist Dave Swenson was quoted in the Des Moines Register as being “baloney.” Citing the fact that Iowa has recovered fewer than half of the jobs it lost in the recession, he said, “The lament about work force shortage is not substantiated to the degree that the rhetoric has gotten play.”
That article has since disappeared from the Internet, but Swenson goes on in another article to explain: “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational data for Iowa tells us…that Iowa was employing 6,000 fewer metal workers of all kinds in 2011 than it did in 2008. How, then, do we reconcile the claim that industry cannot find enough skilled metalworkers when it appears there are thousands of previously employed metalworkers still idle? Did they all retire?”
Interestingly, he’s not the only one to notice that there are fewer welders and other skilled workers employed in the past few years than there were prior to the recession. The State Of The Welding Industry notedly reported a projected need for almost 250,000 additional welders by 2019. But the executive summary states outright: “The results of a thorough examination of the labor market needs of the welding industry are somewhat deceptive, as they show a decline in the overall number of welding personnel from the period of 2002-2009. However, during that time there were consistently needs in different regions throughout the U.S. for up to 10% of the overall welding professionals to be replaced, predominantly due to retirements.”
I wanted to take it a step further to ask those who know first-hand. Putting the question out to welding industry professionals in Welding & Gases Today’s LinkedIn group, I asked, “Is there really a welder shortage?”
“I have been involved in welding for over 50 years at every level from entry to president. There has been a chronic shortage of skilled welders that entire time,” says Bryant Reed, partner at Advanced Welding Sales.
Sam Mangialardi at Praxair responds, “Speaking to customers and listening to the lack of ‘qualified welders’ is a concern now. The basic qualifications can be met, but as the jobs become more detailed, the lack of skill learned in the schools limit the welder’s capabilities to perform.”
The overwhelming response from distributors, manufacturers, welders and instructors is that there are not enough welders with the skills needed for current jobs.
Scott Laslo, instructor at Columbus State Community College sums up the situation nicely. “As a Welding educator of 7 years and a ‘welder’ for the past 18, I can say that as a society we are tackling a mountain…As a nation, we need to decide if our kids are allowed to get dirty and be respected for doing it.”
Respondents agree that it will take a village—or at least an industry—to bring about change. What do you see as the role of the welding distributor in this situation?
See the entire discussion and share your opinion in the LinkedIn Group here.