Help Wanted: Education & Employment in the Welding Industry

A glut of welders with entry level skills is forming in an industry that desperately needs advanced workers with experience and certifications to replace retiring senior welders. The result is an ever growing and difficult to manage skills gap.

We’ve discussed this skills gap before, and the contradictory impact it has on the labor shortage plaguing the industry. The gap has created a labor shortage in an industry oversaturated with job candidates.

Several schools and state governments across the country are working with the industry to create programs that ensure work for welding students by training them to fill industry needs. You can read more about some of these developments here. However, the results of these programs depend on the dedication of students, and the results aren’t always positive.

Southern Maine Community College, in Portland, Maine, recently eliminated 3 academic programs, including several welding classes. Local employers say these courses have been integral to providing skilled workers for construction and manufacturing jobs. Despite this education-industry cooperation, SMCC still felt as though the courses were ultimately a waste of money.

The reason?

Welding courses at SMCC were taken as part of either a one-year certificate program or a two-year associate’s degree, and most of the students in these two programs did not graduate.

Officials from SMCC told the local Portland Press Herald that from fall 2008 to spring 2012, 80 students entered the welding degree and certificate program. Of those 80 students, only 15 completed either credential within three years.

Students primarily left the program because they struggled with pre-requisite courses, like math and English. The college has its students take these courses in order to round out their education.

The problem is that many students were only interested in learning the welding process. When faced with courses that students not only found difficult, but unnecessary, they began to look for work instead. Students who could find entry level positions without the complete degree left the program in favor of an immediate paycheck.

With the skills gap looming over the industry, it’s hard to understand why students are willingly limiting their career growth by taking entry-level work instead of finishing their programs.  It’s a contradiction that raises a number of questions about the current state of industry education and hiring practices, like:

  • What are the long-term career prospects for these dropouts in the face of the skills gap?
  • How are these students finding work with only entry level skills in a skills-gap job market?
  • How has this skills gap been allowed to come about? Is any particular aspect of the industry, such as workers, employers or educators, actually at fault?What are employers really looking for from new workers?
  • What does the failure of these pre-requisites imply about the way these degree programs are planned?
  • How could schools like SMCC alter their programs to maximize the opportunities of their students and the industry?

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking for answers to these questions as we dive deep into the state of welding education and the industry in order to find exactly what employers are looking for in job candidates and how educators are responding. You can follow this series, and check out our other great online resources including podcasts and online courses, at http://awo.aws.org.

 

5 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Education & Employment in the Welding Industry”

  1. i am a ironworker welder and have worked on everything from submarines and nuclear reactors to power plants and industrial sites all over the country .with over 35 years experience and i cant find or buy a job i am told that i am over qualifed to old or i am offered jobs just over minimum wage so where are these people looking for trained and qualified workers i would love to know ? i keep hearing this then i am turned down for even entry level jobs i have been certified over 200 times by different companies nuclear,pressure vessel,stainless.mig.tig,and stick and yet no jobs …….

  2. As one of the “drop outs” I can tell you, the out of control cost of education is one reason I left my A.S. degree unfinished. I had plenty of credits to earn a Degree but not in the right “areas”, general education IE. Math, English… etc etc. Mathematics being my Achilles heel, and that being said the college made me take tests to determine just how much help I needed in the area of Math, and they decided I needed to take several other courses just to be able to take the required Math course for the A.S. Degree, short story, life goes on and money runs out. As it sits now I got certified in flux core and stick… flux core vertical up on plate, smaw on plate over head and smaw pipe (6g). plan was to get hired at a ship yard, but found out that the welding requirements for union positions (especially boiler makers union) are far more strict than AWS.. ( I dont know how but thats what they said) plus you have to be hire on with the company to be eligible to be a member of the union… so there is one problem within the industry, standards not being the same, IE. military standards not the same as union standards not the same as AWS. So now as life goes on things happen that can take a welder out of the industry for long periods, and when that happens certifications go by the way side, not that the welder does not know how to weld a procedure, but that things have changed… and thusly they have to go back to school for refresher courses in order to renew certs (this is my problem) but then the colleges will only allow a person 2 or three times through the program before they wont allow you to sign up for the particular class, and if you try to get your certs renewed on your own expect to pay upwards of $500.00 or more depending on the number and the types of certs you need. So yes the industry needs welders but the industry is also partially at faulty for the problem, colleges as well bear some of the burden, and employers too. I understand the need for qualified welders having to pass strict tests as peoples lives can and often do depend on the quality of work produced, but when it takes 3 or more years to get the “advanced” training most guys are facing life right in the pie hole and saying I have to get little billy’s teeth fixed I need to take what ever welding job I can AND go do that job. My position is one of I cannot go back to my local college and get my certs renewed, they wont let me take those courses again as I have taken them too many times already (though I am paying for them), so lack of current certs is a problem for me so I started going mobile, going to where people need things welded, and that is just not really cutting it. So the industry needs to, along with colleges and industry employers revamp how things are done. I love to weld, but the job market has been made extremely difficult to even get into, even at an entry level welder position let alone someone who knows how to tig, or some other new process… and please dont get me started on the automated welding .. that too is a job killer, any computer savy geek can press a button on a machine and let the welding machine do its thing.

  3. Many of the people I’ve spoken with who dropped out of vocational programs (not just welding) did so because of the non-vocational courses that were tacked on. These academic courses are typically added to make the program “accredited” for associates degree purposes. This is truly unfortunate. There are many talented people who would make excellent tradesmen, but who have no love for the academic subjects of traditional colleges. This is compounded by employers who require applicants to have an Associates in [whatever]. It would be much better to offer Associates Degrees as an advanced option, but not to require for entry level employment. To accomplish this in vocational schools will require changes in funding that are not tied to completion of a degree. This can largely be accomplished by taking vocational schools out of the sphere of traditional educational institutions, which rely on degree completions for accreditation purposes.

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