Finding A Way

In the business world, there are constant fluctuations. Boom periods are often followed by downturns, and downturns always have a recovery. Obviously, 2009 would be classified as a significant downturn in the economy as sales have slowed in all sectors of the gases and welding industry. While it would be easy to batten down the hatches and just try to ride things out, that’s not how a strong business should operate.

Now is the time to be on the lookout for new ways to grab business. Sure, the way that you’ve been doing things has worked for the last 20 years, but now you have to figure out how to gather more sales from existing customers. You can go out and pick up new customers, but it’s more costeffective to find a new way to reach existing customers. It was in this spirit that in April 2009 Earlbeck Gases & Technologies became an American Welding Society accredited testing facility (AWS-ATF).

Building on a Good Thing
Welder training is nothing new for our company; we’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. We offer everything from beginner MIG welding courses to advanced SMAW classes. Our goal is to produce trained, professional welders who are ready to do their job at a high level, and that’s what we’ve always done. We have an experienced staff of trainers, including several Young Executives, who deliver our customized lesson plans to attendees. The training program has always been a big tool as far as improving our revenue and our reputation. Becoming accredited was a way to supplement that.

Welding Training Center
Earlbeck Gases & Technologies earns 10 percent of its revenues in part from certifications, which welders receive through testing at the company’s built-in welding training center.

Why Get Certified?
As I’m sure most of you know, in the welding industry, each individual employer is responsible for the certification of its own welders. That means that each time a Earlbeck Gases & Technologies earns 10 percent of its revenues in part from certifications, which welders receive through testing at the company’s built-in welding training center. welder switches employers, they have to get recertified. That is, of course, unless the welder receives certification through an AWS-ATF. Welders with ATF certification can jump from employer to employer without recertification, which is a huge boost when looking for a job. Obviously, all things being equal, an employer would likely hire a certified welder over someone that has to be trained.

What makes this accreditation even more valuable for our company is that recently, the Maryland Department of Transportation mandated that its contractors use AWS-ATF-certified welders on all state projects. Historically, states would certify their own welders because they didn’t trust independent, nonaccredited test facilities. Now, states are looking to throw that cost off of their shoulders and are allowing ATFs to handle the training. If you’re a contractor looking to build a bridge for the state of Maryland, the state is going to mandate that the welder that shows up on the job site has taken his test in an AWS-ATF.

Where Training and Certification Meet
Customers in need of certification come from two main sources. The first is the ones who find us. As mentioned earlier, many welders are mandated by the government to be accredited. They use the AWS Web site to find us, and since there are only about 80 ATFs in the country, we’re not hard to find.

The second group is our existing customers. When people come to us for welder training, we sell them on an upgraded package that includes the certification. It’s a real bonus for welders because once they get AWS-ATF certification for that particular skill, they are added to the AWS’s National Register of Certified Welders. This is an invaluable advantage for a welder who is looking for work. It’s similar to what everyone in wholesale distribution tries to do: When a guy says “I want a contact tip,” you’re going to offer him a nozzle with it. The ATF certification allows us to do this with our training programs. Other times, it works the opposite way. There have been several instances where a welder has failed the certification test and then come to us for remedial training. It’s a great position for the welder to be in.

Doing What Needs to be Done
Becoming an AWS-ATF is not a simple process. Your company has to jump through numerous hoops to become accredited. You have to write a detailed quality manual that meets AWS specifications on everything from procurement of materials to quality control during testing. Once your manual is complete, the entire process has to be audited and documented by AWS—all at your own expense. Our company invested hundreds of man hours before we certified a single welder.

However, we believe it’s a price worth paying. The last 12 months have been a sobering reminder of why companies and their employees need to be constantly searching for ways to grow business. Maybe becoming an AWS-ATF isn’t the answer for every company, but in this industry, you have to constantly be looking for new ways to reach current and prospective customers. If you can find a way to accomplish this, and it dovetails with your existing services, that’s a great situation.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Jim Earlbeck Meet the Authors
Jim Earlbeck (left) is President of Earlbeck Gases & Technology in Baltimore, MD, and on the Web at www.earlbeck.com. Jesse Mayne is a welding engineer and runs the welder certification for the Baltimore-based distributor.