As the skilled labor shortage in the U.S. slowly continues to worsen, and the number of manufacturing professionals lessens, the AWS works toward a solution to close the gap.
Need for Skilled Labor Grows as Baby Boomers Age
The skilled labor shortage in the United States slowly continues to worsen. The National Center for Welding Education and Training (Weld-ED) projects from now throughout 2019 that nearly 240,000 total new and replacement welding professionals will be needed in the workforce. This staggering number includes the labor needed for new positions and to replace the aging baby boomers that make up nearly half of manufacturing jobs today.
A Retiring Workforce
It’s not an easy problem to solve - today’s average welder is 55 years old, and veterans are retiring at twice the rate of new welders coming into the field. Additionally, stereotypes have previously stigmatized the welding industry with preconceived notions that it’s a dirty job with minimal opportunity for growth. “About five years ago when the economy took a turn for the worse, business professionals started looking into other ways to earn an income and started attending vocational and trade schools to fill welding positions,” said Cindy Weihl, a Miami-based spokesperson for the American Welding Society (AWS). This trend helped the industry temporarily stem the bleeding, but the fix wasn’t permanent. As the economy strengthens, many of these welders are leaving the field to return to other work. But the baby boomers continue to age, and now vocational and trade schools simply can’t train enough welders to close the gap.
“The fact is a career in welding can be extremely lucrative as a large part of the U.S. economy is dependent on welding” -Cindy Weihl Spokesperson for the American Welding Society (AWS)
Working Towards a Solution
To help solve the welding labor shortage, the AWS began working with several companies that rely heavily upon welding alongside representatives from several community and technical colleges in the U.S. Together, they created the National Center for Welding Education, which came online in 2007. Further, in 2010, a national skill panel (NSP) was created to explore and confirm the urgent needs for welding technicians. The NSP was composed of welding industry leaders, the National Association of Manufacturers, AWS members, community-college leaders and government representatives. Industry leaders are also taking it upon themselves to help close the labor gap. Industry stalwart Westinghouse Electric developed a series of training programs, and began planning projects years in advance to begin a gradual training effort to motivate the labor force that would eventually be needed to complete projects. This has enabled Westinghouse to create its own workforce in-house, with training fulfilled onsite that requires students to commit to staying with the company until the planned projects are complete. The AWS is currently focusing efforts working with community colleges and vocational schools to ensure students realize the importance of welding. Students are slowly becoming interested in the welding industry, particularly focused on becoming certified welding inspectors – responsible for inspecting welds made, evaluating quality and productivity and making recommendations to improve productivity. “The skills required in many manufacturing jobs have also become more sophisticated,” said Weihl. “That requires more education and training to meet the job requirements.”
Welding Labor Shortage Projections
- According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be nearly 450,000 welding jobs available in 2014
- According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers will need as many as 14 million new skilled workers by 2020
- According to the National Tooling and Machining Association, 40 percent of member companies are turning away business due to lack of skilled welders
Ways to Combat the Labor Shortage
- AWS – Workforce Development – Launched the AWS Careers in Welding Trailer in November 2011. Created to educate the public and build awareness for the welding profession, the trailer travels the country and contains five simulators and interactive exhibits designed to virtually simulate the act of making a weld. The program is aimed to excite young adults about careers in welding.
- The Welding Merit Badge was introduced in February 2012 by the Boy Scouts of America. The merit badge targets 11-to 17-year-old Scouts to learn hands-on how to join metals using welding techniques.
- AWS created American Welding Online (AWO), an online university offering courses advancing the art and science of welding through a modern learning platform. Students are able to earn credits that will assist in building their welder certification through www.awo.aws.org.
- Scholarships – The American Welding Society has awarded over $5.5 million in scholarships over the past 22 years.
Nancy Cole, the 2013 AWS president, is building awareness for women to become more involved in welding. Currently two AWS scholarships target women. “The AWS is really hopeful. We have seen a lot of younger people in their late teens and early twenties getting excited about the welding industry,” said AWS spokesperson Cindy Wiehl.