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Posts Tagged ‘welder shortage’

Is There Really A Welder Shortage?

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Welding Jobs: Help WantedThe 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.

Can “Dirty Jobs” Clean Up Welding’s Image?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The welder shortage has been well documented within the industry, but does the average American know the opportunities that exist for welders? My guess is far more people know of the need for nurses or for science and math educators. Estimates are that there will be 238,000 new and replacement jobs in welding, welding engineering and related fields by 2019. In 2009, maybe, that seemed a long ways off; but now that it’s 2012, are we any better off?

GAWDA members are doing their part, as evidenced by photos of hundreds of students engaged by distributors in “The Image Of Our Industry.” The challenge that distributors and suppliers face is reaching out beyond the industry—beyond the welding labs and Vo-Techs, where the message has already reached—and reaching students who aren’t sold on welding and other skilled jobs as promising career paths.

Thanks to several sources on Twitter and Facebook, I came across this video of Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe testifying before the U.S. Senate on the need for skilled workers. He points out how disconnected we have become from the trades behind everyday conveniences like indoor plumbing, air conditioning, bridges and so forth. “I believe that we need a national PR campaign for skilled labor,” says Rowe, “something that addresses the widening skills gap head on and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.”

Why care? The livelihood of the gases and welding supply business is only a small part. As you know, the country’s infrastructure—everything from transportation to energy—relies on skilled welders. To illustrate this, Rowe talks about the construction of a power plant that could not move forward due to lack of qualified welders. Some have criticized the rejection of the proposed Keystone XL project, which was projected by TransCanada to create thousands of jobs. But with a shortage of qualified welders across the country, how much pipe welding business would distributors really have had to look forward to?

Short of a national PR campaign, GAWDA members have an opportunity to drive change in their local communities. Distributors and suppliers have access to an incredible network of end-users, schools and manufacturers with resources for change. How can you reach young people about the message of welding? Share by leaving a comment or send me a message on Twitter to @GasWeldEdge.

When you have a few minutes, take a listen to what Mike Rowe had to say. It’s well worth the watch.

Will Games Turn Welding Into A Virtual Market?

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

A screenshot from the game TIG Welder

Virtual welding has seen a great deal of success in sparking interest in welding without the actual sparks. And distributors have played an important role in all this, exposing students and other individuals to virtual welding through events like open houses and welding rodeos (scroll down to Virtual Welding, Real Results). Recently, virtual welding helped reach young people through the Careers in Welding trailer at FABTECH.

In my opinion, virtual welding has a lot of potential particularly for school programs. Not only can it serve as a great recruiting tool, but also a great hands-on way to teach the principles of welding before students try it out on real machines. Gases and welding distributors regularly supply real welding machines and other equipment to schools; have any of you had success introducing virtual equipment?

While not everyone can have access to virtual welding machines, I came across an online form of virtual welding—a game made in New Zealand called “TIG Welder” that is free to play. While not particularly complex, the game serves as a great introduction to the principles of welding, starting with safety. Get students interested in this game, and who knows?

E-learning has proven successful for a wide range of areas—why not welding? Just think: someday soon, gases and welding distributors could be selling software to schools, or even Wii games, complete with welding torch controller add-on. How will you adapt to a virtual market? How are you adapting now?

Check out the TIG Welder game in the video below, then try your hand at the game here. Admittedly, the game is somewhat dire with the line “If you fail, you might die” (if not simply suffering from a poor sense of humor), but then again, people trust their lives with welded structures every day.

With All This Unemployment, Where Are The Workers?

Friday, October 14th, 2011

In the midst of a dismal economy characterized by high unemployment, it seems counterintuitive to hear companies say they are having trouble finding qualified employees. Such is the case for many companies. It’s not that there aren’t workers—it’s simply that there aren’t qualified or skilled workers for these positions.

One area that troubles many distributors in any economy is that of the truck driver. Back in 2010, Welding & Gases Today had an entire issue devoted to drivers in the industry. In “Behind The Wheel,” Barton’s Welding Supply Owner Randa Cannon said, “In a small area, it’s hard to find drivers. People with the qualifications want to drive 18-wheelers.” Along with a clean driving record, distributors say drivers need to be able to pass a drug test, have decent math, written and recordkeeping skills, and be able to pass government background checks.

An interesting story this week touched on a movement that may widen the field of potential drivers. The DOT is considering the approval of deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers for full CDL licenses. Without a full CDL, such drivers cannot partake in interstate commerce. Communication is, without a doubt, important for drivers. Distributors have described their drivers as “the eyes and ears” of their company, since they are in close contact with the customer. Although it might present some challenges, this would be a new field of drivers available for jobs.

In other job-related news, Air Products CEO John McGlade was featured on CBS News discussing the challenge of finding skilled workers. Cuts to vocational programs, he says, are exacerbating the situation. But industry members are not without means to change this situation. Distributors and suppliers play an important role in attracting young people to these skilled jobs.

Question of the Day: What are your staffing challenges? How are you responding to these challenges?

Honoring The Welding Labor Force

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

In honor of Labor Day, I want to pay tribute to America’s labor force. In the original proposal for the holiday, it called for a parade to exhibit the strength and spirit of trade and labor organizations, followed by a festival for workers and their families. These days, the celebration tends to involve football and NASCAR. At least for a moment this weekend, let us remember the spirit of the holiday.

Welders are a very important part of the American work force. Recently, Welding & Gases Today looked at the shortage of welders in the work force in Building The Customer Of The Future. In the article, we looked at how distributors can help bridge that gap by not only recruiting welders, but making sure they have the necessary skills.

Gases and welding distributors are in a very powerful position. Because of their role, distributors have regular access to both manufacturers and end-users. From manufacturers, they can learn about the latest processes and technology. The ability to highlight new technologies shows students that welding is no long all about manual labor. With things like robotic welding, laser welding, virtual welding, friction stir welding, the game has changed—and yet perceptions have not.

On the end-user side, distributors can find out what skills are needed from working with customers. For example, pipeline welding may requires a different set of skills than a welder working in a manufacturing plant. Many distributors already have a hand in helping local schools. Getting involved in curriculum development only makes the distributor that much more of an asset to that school.

With all this combined, distributors are a critical piece of the puzzle in getting the welding work force where it needs to be. Now let’s remember, no white welding gear after labor day.

How To Grow More Customers

Friday, August 27th, 2010

The shortage of skilled welders is a well-known fact, and I think it’s great that many GAWDA members are working with schools and in other avenues to promote the trade. Who, if not you, is going to look out for the profession? These are your customers.  So what can you do to make sure the profession thrives? Are we focusing our energies in the right areas?

I came across a study today which indicated that a stigma around blue-collar jobs is partly to blame for the current blight. That stigma is proliferated by parents and educators who direct children toward college as the only path to a financially secure and fulfilling career, even if this is far from the truth.

Growing up, I was instilled with the notion that a college degree is a minimum requirement for most jobs. At college, I met a lot of people who still had no idea what they wanted to do, but they went to college because they were supposed to. How can we change this attitude?

I am not a welder, but a writer. In seventh grade home ec class, we did a research project on careers we were interested in. My teacher took me aside and told me that I shouldn’t aspire to be a writer because writers don’t make enough money. Still, I pursued writing because I loved it. Much in the same way I could not be deterred, you cannot make someone become a welder. You can only provide opportunities for students to be exposed to the welding trade.

Throughout my schooling, I was never exposed to skilled trades. Whose responsibility is it? You may have a hard time convincing schools to give more weight to skilled trades. But you can work with the schools to make a difference. Expose students to careers in the industry and engage them early. Awe them and inspire them. Get them before they’ve already chosen a career and make sure they see the welding industry as a viable option.

These are your customers. What are you doing to make sure they are plentiful for generations to come?