Welding has a new spark.
The gases and welding industry is creating specific opportunities at a time when many high school and college graduates can’t land a job. Nearly 100 percent of welding school graduates are finding rapid job placement. Many training institutions are at capacity and have to expand to accommodate enrollment, including adding classes that run in the middle of the night. The reason? It’s the growing need in many segments for welders and the lack of skilled welders available to do the work.
As we begin 2010 and examine what we can expect for the future of welding, we see that the industry is exploding with new opportunities, both for those already in the field and for those looking toward a new career path.
Building a Stronger Welding Workforce
For the past few years, the metal fabrication and construction industries have faced a challenge in finding skilled welders. With approximately 500,000 welders in the workforce, the average welder today is in his or her mid-50s and nearing retirement. With welders retiring at twice the pace of new welders coming into the field, it’s anticipated that in the years to come, we will have a significant shortfall of qualified welders. Since welding is the most common way to join metals—which is critical to manufacturing, construction, energy and infrastructure—it is vital to rebuild our welding workforce.
The American Welding Society (AWS) is committed to building the future welding workforce of America. Through various initiatives, AWS is hard at work funding scholarships, creating career guides and giving presentations to teach high school students about the world of welding. Through its Solutions Opportunities Squad (SOS), AWS is also working with local schools, employers, governments, labor unions and economic development agencies to address workforce shortages where they are having the most impact on industry.
A recent New York Post article speaks about the demand for skilled laborers and backs it up with research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose latest job outlook lists pipefitters among the jobs with the highest projected growth. The article also cites how, in Manpower’s 2009 talent shortage survey, skilled trades were number one on the list of jobs with the highest unmet demands.
The urgent need for skilled welders is compounded by the sharp deterioration in the existing infrastructure in the United States. In fact, in 2005, America’s civil engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure a D grade and estimated it would take more than five years for proper upgrades. The government has taken note, as evidenced by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which will support the trend of high demand for skilled welders and other trades professionals. About one-third of President Barack Obama’s $285 billion stimulus package will go to infrastructure, with $30 billion allocated for roads and $10 billion for mass transit and railways. The repair of roads and bridges will take years to complete and will create thousands of jobs for welders nationwide.
|Nearly 100 percent of welding school graduates are finding job placement.|
As the nation focuses on rebuilding its infrastructure, AWS is seeing an increased emphasis on quality, as evidenced by the exponential growth of certification programs like certified welders and certified welding inspectors around the world. In addition, AWS membership has grown close to 60,000, when just a few years ago it was around 47,000. This is a result of growth internationally as well as domestically.
A trend that AWS has seen as membership and certification numbers grow is the need for Spanish-language educational and instructional materials. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the U.S., and with the need for welders becoming a global problem, the demand for Spanish-language materials is increasing.
Aside from the traditional welding industries where there is a shortage of skilled workers, the stimulus plan has also created more of an emphasis on emerging energy technologies such as nuclear and wind power. This growing market showcases another area where welders will be needed. The wind energy market has an aggressive goal to supply 20 percent of U.S. energy by 2030, and the U.S. solar energy industry grew to record levels in 2008. A single wind turbine includes more than 8,000 precision components, and as the demand for wind power grows, so will the manufacturing jobs. The growing industry is already picking up displaced autoworkers and training them for the manufacturing jobs of the future.
Another segment where job opportunities are abundant for welders is automation, which plays an increasingly important role in the global economy. Automation ensures a higher quality weld—often up to 50 percent better than one produced manually—and increases productivity by up to three times. These welding robots need to be programmed by robotic arc welding technicians, and with several hundred thousand arc welding robots in the U.S., there is a high demand for trained personnel in this field. AWS is currently developing certification programs in this area to ensure that welding technicians meet certain qualifications.
Recent rapid development of advanced materials is also creating a demand for skilled welding personnel. Superalloys, composites, modern ceramics and similar materials provide greater strength, lighter weight and improved durability in many critical applications, and all of these beg for reliable joining methods and skilled personnel to do the job.
Looking toward the future, the trends in welding will continue to be the growth of technology in manufacturing and quality, but with it will come the increasing demand to have skilled welders available to do the jobs we need to keep America going. Whether it’s repairing an aging bridge, welding together parts for more effective wind power, or monitoring an arc welding robot, we will continue to realize the importance of attracting personnel and training skilled welders for the future workforce as we move forward.
Ray Shook is executive director of the American Welding Society, headquartered in Miami, Florida, and on the Web at www.aws.org.