Beyond the Numbers: Looking Inside America’s Welding Industry Struggles
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an estimated 2.7 million baby boomers working in manufacturing will soon retire, and another 700,000 job openings will be created due to economic expansion. While that sounds like excellent news, it’s not something manufacturers are celebrating. This is due in large part to the fact that almost 2.4 million of those baby boomer jobs will be left unfilled because of a vast skills gap.
The biggest challenge facing manufacturers who need to fill these positions is education. Unfortunately, the welding skills needed just 10 or 15 years ago simply may not be adequate. The level of technology has advanced rapidly in just a short time. Now, non magnetic tools, purge monitors, vertical plate lifting clamps, and other tools surrounding the practice have reached new heights. Will the newest generation of potential welders be able to stack up?
The majority of manufacturers are looking to take education out of the equation, instead preferring “ready-now” welders with specific skill sets that make them capable of handling specialized technology immediately. While knowledge based in experience has been the traditional model for welding employees, it’s now giving way to applicants with specific technological education and degrees.
And students are beginning to notice. In fact, the Pennsylvania College of Technology is actually facing an issue because of this. There are so many students in their welding program that the school simply can’t fit them all.
According to Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, welding continues to be one of the school’s top picks for a major. It was the first major to fill up this year, with students left and right wanting to learn about non magnetic tools and non sparking tools. In response to the huge influx of students, the school’s board of trustees unanimously voted to accept a $2 million grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA).
More than 50% of products in the U.S. require welding, and while there may be a shortage of welders now, it’s clear that there are people willing to fill those positions. The only issue then will be struggling with the gap between completing a welding education and getting into the field.