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The global welder shortage is a growing and well-known phenomenon, but what is the real cause? Why is it so hard to find skilled welders? We asked for the opinions of specialists in three continents, and here is their insight on welder shortage.
The current welder shortage is nothing new; it has been a crucial issue for years. For example, in the past 12 months, there have been over 100,000 job postings across the U.S. that require the skill of welding (Burning Glass, July 2020). It is also projected that the U.S. will need over 375,000 welding professionals by 2023 to fill job openings. This projection takes into account the factors of economic growth, a retiring workforce, career advancement of the workforce, and technological advancements (Emsi, March 2020).
According to a recent employment outlook survey in Australia, skilled trades workers (such as electricians and welders), engineers (electrical, civil, and mechanical) and technicians are scarce. Similarly, in its most recent report regarding the employment market in the Flanders region of Belgium, the VDAB (Flemish employment office) calls the search for technical personnel “simply problematic.”
What has caused the welder shortage?
According to The American Welding Society (AWS), one of the main reasons behind the current welder shortage is the new industry growth and the associated demand for new talent. In turn, Geoff Crittenden, the CEO of Weld Australia, comments:
“This skills shortage is compounded by a rapidly aging welding workforce; for example, with approximately 30% of Australia’s existing welding workforce aged over 45 years. This heavy proportion of older skilled trade workers, particularly welders, puts into focus the looming issues that industrial sectors are likely to face when baby boomers finally reach retirement age – job positions related to welding will simply become impossible to fill, particularly given the projected increased demand.”
The shortage of welders is leading to an increased need for automating the welding process. Automation is helping to bridge the gap between the welders needed by the industry and the available number of qualified welders. However, according to the Belgian Welding Institute and VDAB, the introduction of robotic welding applications has also created further problems: due to the complexity of the welding robots, even more specific competencies (a combination of in-depth welding knowledge, as well as programming skills) are needed to operate these robots.
Misconceptions and lack of information
There are several misconceptions around the welding industry and welding careers. Manufacturing and welding are considered to be in decline, and the industry is not implementing new technologies to remain competitive. On the other hand, the common misconceptions around welding careers, such as compensation being lower than other industry sectors, the work being repetitive, monotonous, underpaid and involving work in decrepit, dirty environments, and the lack of career growth opportunities are also deterring younger generations. This is one reason why there are so few students in the technical schools for welding.
Many young people do not have enough information on a career in welding when choosing their future profession.
Especially in developed countries, the misconceptions around welding careers are slowly fading. However, many young people do not have enough information on a career in welding when choosing their future profession. They do not know that welding can be creative, technologically advanced, or versatile. What’s more, they do not know that welders are highly appreciated professionals and urgently needed in different industries. A skilled welder can, in many cases, choose the company he or she wants to work for and make good money in the process.
Education is the key
Providing information and educating are at the core of solving the welder shortage. Welding societies and associations worldwide have noticed the importance of education, and support welding-related education programs, organizations, events, and educational institutes to ensure that the welder shortage will be reduced in the future. This support includes both awarding, educating, and general career promotion.
Currently, the AWS sources occupational data through well-established third-party sources that include Weld-Ed, Emsi, and Burning Glass Technologies. Utilizing these sources allows AWS to identify a variety of labor conditions for specific occupations where welding is a primary job function.
The AWS is also growing the talent pipeline by awarding scholarships to students enrolled in welding-related education programs, as well as awarding grants to educational institutions to help them improve and expand their welding programs. They support and educate youth and student organizations through Skills competitions and promote welding career pathways through an expansive digital presence to multiple audiences.
Developments in virtual welding machines have made it a lot easier to enable (even very young) students to get a taste for welding and generate interest for welding educational programs. More technical schools are investing in these virtual machines that are being used as a complementary step to practical welding lessons. In 2019, the Belgian Welding Institute and VDAB even organized a virtual welding championship.
Focus on skills required by the industry
The Belgian Welding Institute and VDAB say that the requirements set by the industry for a welder are constantly growing. To fulfill these demands, it is necessary that both the companies and the welders continue investing in both practical and theoretical life-long learning. In the manufacturing industry, the mindset of continuous learning is still in a development phase compared to other employment markets. There is a strong need for institutes and schools to actively continue investing in training and education and to ensure that the welding programs are adapted to the needs of the industry. The IIW and EWF courses are ideally suited for this, as they are tailored for every different level of the educational program.
Attracting and retaining younger talent through engaging, well-funded training and apprenticeships is a major way to combat the severe skills shortage. Welder training should be transformed from boring theory and textbooks into high-quality interactive experiences that capture the imagination. This introduction of state-of-the-art training technology coupled with an in-depth review of the welding curriculum meets industry demand. Young people need to acquire complex, high-order technical knowledge and skills. They need robust, deep, and transferrable qualifications that provide a strong basis for life-long learning and skills development.
The introduction of state-of-the-art training technology coupled with an in-depth review of the welding curriculum meets industry demand.
According to Weld Australia, welder training in Australia is outdated and underfunded. Given the chronic lack of funding, job cuts, and the dismal, failed policy experiment of marketized delivery, TAFEs (technical and further education units) simply have not had the capacity or capability to upgrade or modernize courses and curricula, or to develop new qualifications designed to capitalize on the emerging needs of advanced manufacturing. As the education does not meet the industry requirements, welders who have recently graduated are not skilled or qualified at the levels needed by the industry. Young welding apprentices enter the workforce without the requisite skills or knowledge.
“Australia’s TAFE system requires a shift in thinking and a focus on the skills that will be essential to the future of industry, such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing processes,” comments Geoff Crittenden.
Arc burns brightly in the future, too
The future of welders on all continents looks bright. Welders are more in demand than ever, and the manufacturing industry will continue being important, or even increase in size, especially in Europe, as there is a shift in companies trying to ensure their supply chain is more local. There are several ways that even more jobs for welders can be created; both with a greater emphasis on local procurement by federal and state governments, as well as major private enterprises.
The Belgian Welding Institute and VDAB emphasize that there is a clear role for everyone active in the welding industry to assist in promoting the image of a career in welding. “The possibilities for continuous learning in welding are not known widely enough. The career options are very broad: from specialization (i.e. in a specific welding process/sector/material), to focusing more on quality and inspection, or towards robotic and automation processes.”
Also, AWS will continue to support, bolster, and expand existing initiatives in the U.S. Ensuring industry success and growth, AWS certification and education initiatives will be critical in preparing the next generation of skilled welding professionals.
The future of welders on all continents looks bright. Welders are more in demand than ever, and the manufacturing industry will continue being important.
Weld Australia has long advocated for federal and state governments to support local welders and fabricators in their procurement processes. This would create thousands of jobs, a solid local supply chain, and an industry equipped to export world-class products all over the world. It would facilitate technology transfer and drive some of the world’s most innovative research and development.
With a long-term procurement commitment from state governments, manufacturers and fabricators would have the confidence to reinvest in their own capabilities, strengthening the industry from within. This type of business innovation strengthens businesses and creates new and better jobs, which together support a move to higher living standards.
“Multinational companies need to understand that they are part of the community and have a social responsibility to support the local industry,” states Geoff Crittenden.
According to a recent report by the Industry Capability Network, every $1 million worth of output in the Australian steel industry generates over $700,000 worth of Gross Value Added in industrial support activities and $225,300 in tax revenue. Plus, for every person employed directly by the steel industry, this creates as many as six full-time jobs in related and downstream industries.
Let’s keep the arc burning and the world running!
The American Welding Society (AWS) was founded in 1919, as a nonprofit organization with a global mission to advance the science, technology and application of welding and allied joining and cutting processes, including brazing, soldering and thermal spraying. AWS strives to move the industry forward in both thought and action, as well as inspire new generations to the exciting career opportunities available throughout the welding industry.
The American Welding Society Foundation supports programs to ensure the growth and development of the welding industry through research and educational opportunities. Every year, the AWS Foundation awards more than $1,800,000 to students, industry professionals, and educational institutions in the form of scholarships and grants.
Belgian Welding Institute is a member institute in Belgium that works for all companies, schools and other relevant parties involved in welding, as well as by VDAB: the Flemish employment office. Both organizations have a long history in the welding industry; the VDAB focusing on the labor market and the available personnel for (re)training, and the Belgian Welding Institute from the side of its industrial members.
Weld Australia represents the welding profession in Australia. Weld Australia’s vision is to facilitate the growth of a world-class welding industry. Its members are made up of individual welding professionals and companies. Weld Australia members are involved in almost every facet of Australian industry and make a significant contribution to the economy. Weld Australia is the Australian representative member of the International Institute of Welding (IIW). Their mission is to create opportunities for their members and promote welding safety policies which protect the Australian public.