Bridging the Skills Gap

The welding industry currently faces a workforce crisis. Although there is a steady flow of applicants seeking work, few employers are finding what they actually need: workers with the right specializations and certifications to perform the skills that are missing on job sites.

Welding instructor, Randy Emery, suggests that greater interaction between employers and industry educators, as well as better cooperation within the welding and machining industry, are the solutions to this growing skills gap.

His school, College of the Sequoias in Tulare, California, is currently using an internship placement program to offer students practical experience in welding before they join the workforce.

From Emery’s perspective, industry heads can help by providing instructors with a list of skills that they value in new applicants. By doing so, educators can then provide them with the proper foundation for future employers to build upon.”

The key to beginning this communication is a change in the current industry culture and management style. As it stands, employers consider the development and improvement of frontline workers a very low priority.

According to Emery, managers think that when new employees are required, experienced tradesmen and tradeswomen will be immediately available for their needs. The opposite is actually true. Applicants with entry-level skills are pouring into the industry while the available pool of skilled-workers remains stagnant. This makes the skills gap wider and wider.

In light of the present distribution of skills, Emery maintains that, in order to see sustainable growth within the worlds of welding and manufacturing, industry stakeholders must collaborate with each other and with educators in order to ensure that educational needs are being met. If management and both skilled and entry-level workers collaborate with teachers, then the skills gap can be successfully bridged.

He recommends that this collaboration take the form of a constant, intensive dialogue between employers and training institutes, coupled with employer participation in the development and standardization of training institute curriculums. Emery also urges training institutes not to push trainees into outdated or ill-suited training programs that are not vetted by regional industrial partners. After all, those regional partners are the most viable future employers of their students.

Emery cites facets of the modern German education system as a model for creating an industrial training system that is more efficient and successful.

In Germany, children are trained for careers based on their particular aptitudes from a young age. By doing so, they are fully prepared for the workforce once they leave high school. This process starts at about the age of 10.

Emery isn’t suggesting that welder and machinist training begin at such an early age. He does, however, recommend that a similar philosophy of pre-planning and cooperation should exist between industry representatives and educators. This allows entry-level applicants to enter the work force with more than just entry-level skills and experience.

It’s clear that the skills gap puts a strain on the industry, but Emery says it’s not yet clear whether the industry has reached a point where everyone must either collaborate or stay stagnant, or worse, die. Only time will tell.

However, Emery recommends that industry stakeholders be proactive in dealing with the skills gap. He suggests that they consider the following questions and possible answers when discussing the crisis.

1. What are the biggest challenges that employers face when seeking to fill welder and fabricator positions?

When filling welder and fabricator positions, employers are faced with the brunt of the skills gap. Entry level applicants need additional training, and current employer supervision has no time to mentor new hires. The existing workforce is not trained to develop new hires either. This means that the growing number of entry level applicants outman the existing pool of specialists, whose skills become increasingly valuable as the skilled worker shortage continues. Thus, employers face the additional struggle of skilled applicants requesting very high pay scales for what could otherwise be a more affordable skill with the help of industry-education cooperation.

2. Why are recent welding school graduates unprepared to become part of the workforce?

Most recent welding school graduates only have entry-level trade skills, limiting their usefulness on a job site. These graduates tend to be weak in key foundational skills like reading, math and communication. Without a strong basis in these essential skills, there is an inherent restriction on just how far these employees can be developed once they’ve entered into the work force. Overcoming this restriction would require a significant investment of time and money from their employers. Additionally, Emery says that many current graduates have a poor work ethic and lack good self-management skills.

3. What type of employer will attract the best welding and manufacturing talent?

The best welding applicants will most likely be attracted to an employer that has a standard of professionalism towards their tradesmen and tradeswomen. For example, an employer that accepts critical-input from their frontline workers, promotes professional development for all employees, and, most importantly, respects and values the need for employees to balance their life and their work, is more likely to draw ideal applicants from competing employers.

4. Why should national industrial training standards be commonly used by training institutes?

National industrial standards save employers and applicants time and money by eliminating redundant skills testing. In order to avoid liability, companies will often retest welders who have only been certified by other employers in order to ensure that their skills meet with the quality standards of the new employer. Utilizing national standards, such as those offered by AWS, would make credentials portable. National standards developed in conjunction with members of the industry ensure that no matter what institute a welder comes from, their standards will match their new employer’s. Additionally, employers who wish to develop their employees with supplementary training will know the exact level of their new employees and can create more efficient, effective training programs.

5. What steps could stakeholders take to fix the broken industrial talent pipeline?

Ultimately, communication is the key to improving the broken talent pipeline in the industry. By developing engaging partnerships between employers and educators, programs can be created specifically to address the skills gap. Such programs would be beneficial to all involved. Eliminating the fear of cultural change in the work place would also encourage skilled workers to invest time in self-development. If industry stakeholders work together to form, and stay focused on, unified long-term education goals, then a steady flow of skilled employees can finally begin to form.

16 thoughts on “Bridging the Skills Gap”

  1. I agree with everything that is stated in this article. I lived in Germany and worked in Germany, they have a really nice educational system for teaching the trades. I have been welding since the age of 10 and I am now 47. I have a degree in welding from the Pennsylvania College of Technology. I am currently teaching welding at both the high school and college levels. Motivation is a big problem with high school students and even some college students. The other problem I am seeing globally is the lack of quality in craftsmanship. New people coming into industry and even some that have been in industry do not have the commitment to perfection as they should. That is a problem a crossed the states, our standard of quality has gone down. The long and short of it is, I believe we are in a crisis, with the shortage of qualified welders and it is only going to get worse. The last thing is, I agree with the fact that industry needs to get involved with the schools and colleges as far as training.

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