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.
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.