Employer Engagement: A Welding Instructor’s Viewpoint

There are many factors that affect our local employers’ level of engagement when it comes to addressing the “Skills Gap”. In this blog post I will share my honest observations and opinions about some of these complicated issues. I will also offer some very well thought out suggestions and ideas for further consideration and discussion.

The first issue concerns the possibility that a cultural and management style change is desperately needed. I have found many cases where industrial management teams seem to place the development and improvement of front line workers very low on their priority list.

These managers appear to believe that when new employees are needed, experienced tradesmen and tradeswomen will be available to fill their needs. This is not the reality of our current situation. The industry is at the beginning of a glut of entry level skilled employees, for the welding and manufacturing industries.

To combat this situation, collaboration is the only possible way forward to sustainable growth in the welding and manufacturing world. This collaboration must involve all stakeholders to include employers, training institutions, current industrial management, existing workers and new apprentices/trainees.

This collaboration must start with the realization and acceptance by the stakeholders that it will require everyone’s participation. This effort should obviously start with intense communication between employers and training institutions. The employer involvement must include the participation in detailed development of standardized training curriculum. In regards to curriculum development, training institutions must stop trying to push trainees into outdated or inappropriate training that is not contributed to by regional industrial partners.

Is this call for collaboration “Collaborate or Die”, or is it “Collaborate or stay stagnate” and be left behind? Only time will tell how our industrial work world will develop into the future.

To stimulate discussion of our topic I wanted to present the following questions and possible answers.

1. What are the biggest challenges that employers face when seeking to fill welder/fabricator positions?
• Applicants with the desired skill set request a “High pay scale”.
• Entry level applicants need additional training.
• Current employer supervision has no time to mentor new hires.
• Existing workforce is not trained to develop new hires.

2. Why are recent welding school graduates unprepared to become part of the workforce?
• Graduates have limited entry level trade skills.
• Graduates have limited “basic skills” (reading, math, communication etc.).
• Graduates have a poor work ethic.
• Graduates lack good self-management skills.

3. What type of employer will attract the best welding and manufacturing talent?
• The employer that has a culture of professionalism for their tradesmen and women.
• The employer that accepts critical input for their front line workers.
• The employer that promotes professional development for all employees.
• The employer that will value a life / work balance.

4. Why should national industrial training standards be commonly used by training institutes?
• Because such training standards have been developed in partnership with industry.
• Employers will be able to easily identify the skills taught during such training.
• This would allow interested employers to develop supplementary training for new hires from such a program.
• Such training standards give “portability” to the certification earned.

5. What steps could stakeholders take to work toward fixing the broken industrial talent pipeline?
• Develop engaging partnerships with one another.
• Eliminate the fear of cultural change with in the workplace.
• Reach out to others for “Best Practices”.
• Adopt dedication to lifelong learning and continuous improvement.

By: Randy Emery

Randy Emery is a welding instructor at the College of the Sequoias and AWS Fresno Section Vice Chairman.

6 thoughts on “Employer Engagement: A Welding Instructor’s Viewpoint”

  1. whatever we learn in welding school is limited, so when the employer need the high skill from us , is sometimes hard to meet, the skill could be achieved by practise and practise and it need time, so please open the opportunity for us to experience in real world, it’d prove whether we have blood as welder etc , or we will find other interesting profession cause we can’t develop the skill

  2. i have over 35 years of welding experience and cannot find a job ..they either want to start me at minimun wage or they say i am over qualified ,i have been certified over 200 times in every thing from nuclear reactors.submarines,stainless steel pressure vessels ,mig ,tig and stick as well as arc gouging.but i am over 50 years old and have owned 4 construction companies..now days they want someone with no skill that they can train their way…..

  3. Good post,coming out of trade school i feel like i am lacking the hands on experience and other skills related to welding, like fitting and use of other tools. Finding an apprenticeship is basically impossible.. I have been looking for almost 2 years now.

  4. The idea of “Entry Level” skills can vary widely among industries. Not every welder needs to understand the a 3/4/5 triangle nor does every metal fabricator need to have the ability to put a sound open root in a piece of plate using a 6010. However both of those are entry level skills.

    Many people are under the misconception that 6-12 weeks of welding school will automatically qualify you for a high paying job. If it did, community colleges would be out of business.

    I also see advertisements for instructors with as little as 2 years of experience. The educational institutions seem to really be manning up with adjunct instructors in preparation to ride the wave of go ferment training money. Of course I can’t complain as I one however the realization that education is a for profit business can help us realize why we may be where we are.

    Gerald Austin

  5. We, indeed, have a cultural problem within the “hard skills” community. We have the expectations of 18th century tradesmen, but lack appropriate training programs. Back then, a shop took on apprentices as long-term “contractual” obligations (enforceable in court). Apprentices developed a work ethic and learned shop procedures, as well as the actual techniques of their trade. At the end of the apprenticeship, the journeyman could enter a shop as a hired man to work for wages. Before being hired, a shop owner would test him to ensure he was, in fact, at the journeyman level of expertise. If he was, the shop owner could assume a great many things (work ethic, general business knowledge, etc.) that cannot be assumed nowadays. Consequently, in today’s shops (especially small ones), employers must assume every new hire to be at entry level until proven to be a good worker (instead of merely a proficient welder). In the case of older applicants with a lot of “experience” on paper, he must be particularly careful, since a long resume may be an indication of poor work habits, resulting in the “proficient” welder being the first to be laid off. The business owners I know ALL say that the greatest factor in employee success is just showing up … on time. This tells me that the problem is journeymen who never learned the lessons of the apprentice.

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