Five Welding Growth Areas

As we emerge from the global recession of the past two years, welding technologies and personnel will play a crucial role in keeping the economy on track. At AWS, we continue to believe that this is a great time to be in the welding industry. The following are some highlights we see for 2011:

Agricultural Equipment With the growing U.S. population and expanding self-reliance in food production, the need for tractors and automated agricultural equipment will expand. Beyond our own needs, more food exports to feed an ever-increasing world population will also fuel growth in the farming sector. Agriculture involves a significant amount of welding, with strong requirements for welding power sources and consumables.

Highway Infrastructure The North American highway system, much of which was built more than 60 years ago, is in critical need of repair, upgrade and expansion. Particularly in the area of steel-supported highway bridges, there will be extensive work to ensure safety and fitness-for-purpose. In the aftermath of the 2007 collapse of Minnesota’s I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, bridges all over the country are being carefully examined for wear and damage, and upgraded as necessary. President Obama’s Stimulus Package includes funding for such work. There is also significant funding for mass transport, such as the planned rapid transit system that will link Orlando and Tampa, Florida.

Rail Transport  Movement of goods by rail will continue to grow, driven by high fuel costs, taxes, tolls and timetables faced by competing road carriers. Rail offers a multitude of economies in transporting heavy bulk materials and manufactured goods. This means more maintenance and expansion of rail lines, in addition to increased production of railcars—all relying heavily on welding.

Energy Production A growing population coupled with the highest per capita energy use in the world will drive refurbishment and expansion of our nationwide energy grid of fossil-fueled and nuclear power plants. The importance of welding is paramount here. In addition, increasing reliance on green technologies for energy production will ramp up production of wind power farms, solar energy systems and other natural energy sources.

Petrochemical Industry  Pressure to rely on domestic sources of fuel products will spur growth in oil exploration, extraction and refinement activities in North America. This is coupled with the need for more efficient means of transporting fuel products using pipelines, marine tankers, and rail and road carriers. All of these technologies are heavily dependent on welding and will see continued growth.

The Greatest Need: Skilled Welding Personnel The present and increasing need for more welders, welding technicians and welding inspectors is well-documented. A recent report released by the National Center for Welding Education and Training (Weld-Ed) in cooperation with AWS predicts a need for nearly 240,000 new and replacement welding professionals between 2009 and 2019. Further, despite recent economic declines, the Stimulus Package provided hope for the welding industry. According to Weld-Ed, “It was estimated that there was up to $311 billion in funds…available under the stimulus initiatives that could have resulted in welding or welding-related employment with many of the projects being infrastructure related.”

The Weld-Ed report also predicts that the U.S. economy is not poised for a slow recovery, as in the last recession, but a more rapid recovery. This strength was reflected in a gross national product estimate for the last quarter of 2009 with an annual growth rate of 5.7%. Following this, in March 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that, while the entire economy lost 20,000 jobs, manufacturing employment grew by 11,000 jobs, the first jump of this magnitude in three years. We can only expect more of the same in 2011 as the economy rebounds more fully. View the entire State of the Welding Industry Report: Executive Summary at www.weld-ed.org.

While 2011 presents some economic challenges to North American industry and construction, primarily in the area of personnel training and development, the future is bright for those involved in welding occupations. The need for welding technology is growing in many fields, and opportunities abound for those with the needed skill sets.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
Ray Shook is executive director of the American Welding Society, headquartered in Miami, Florida, and on the Web at www.aws.org.