More than 50 percent of all man-made products require some type of welding. Thus, despite a steady increase in automated jobs, industries still need the knowledge and hands-on skills of trained and experienced welders. Yet the nation finds itself desperately short of welders.

According to the American Welding Society (AWS), the U.S. welder shortage will reach a deficit of 400,000 workers by 2024, while other industry watchers worry it will climb even higher.

Researchers at AWS point to several different factors behind the shortage of welders.

“The urgent need for more welders and higher skill levels among welding personnel is widely known and accepted in the U.S. manufacturing industry,” said Monica Pfarr, executive director of the AWS Foundation. “However, this need is not so widely recognized among graduating secondary school students, their parents, and others such as career counselors who influence career choices.”

“The shortage is due to attrition, whether it’s retirements, people leaving the industry, or people moving and advancing,” said Pfarr. “It’s also due to a negative public perception of welding,” she added.

Pfarr noted that thousands of older welders are reaching retirement age, and younger welders aren’t replacing them fast enough. In fact, the average age of today’s welders is 55, and fewer than 20 percent are under the age of 35.

“There’s a widespread belief that everybody needs a four-year degree if they’re going to be successful, and that’s just not the case,” said Pfarr, who also suggested that too few high schools are exposing students to the possibility of enrolling in trade schools.

“Unless they have someone in their family as a role model, they have no idea that that’s even a possible career for them,” she said.

Access to a skilled workforce has never been more important. Welders are needed in virtually every type of manufacturing, and especially in the automotive, aviation and aerospace industries. As the nation’s infrastructure continues to age, construction contractors will require skilled welders to rebuild structures, bridges and roadways. They also are needed in the alternative energy, petrochemical, and oil and gas industries.

The National Tooling and Machining Association reports that 40 percent of its member companies are turning away business because they’re experiencing a lack of skilled welders.

Stable, good-paying jobs

“Advanced welding is a growing field across Appalachia, and this training program will provide hard-working West Virginians with the skills they need to fill the stable, good-paying jobs in the manufacturing industry,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “This is a great partnership between two of our federal partners in the region, and I am pleased by the ARC and NETL investment in our people and will continue to work with RCBI to bring more training programs to the Mountain State.”

“People across West Virginia are no stranger to hard work,” Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said. “The Advanced Welding Workforce Initiative gives people across West Virginia and Appalachia the chance to develop a trait, forge a life for themselves and their family, and contribute to their communities. Partnerships like this are essential to the future of our state, and I thank ARC and NETL for continuing to invest into the people of West Virginia.”

In addition to offering training for new welders, RCBI also directly meets the growing needs of companies, providing skills training to enhance the abilities of their employees.

Scott Straub, president of Huntington-based Wilson Welding Co., said the RCBI initiative will benefit companies such as his by providing a reliable talent pipeline.

“To meet the needs of our customers across the country, we offer very sophisticated welding of all types that require TIG applications,” Straub explained. “We now can turn to RCBI to help us fill multiple welding positions we anticipate having in the near future, and this initiative also presents an opportunity for our existing employees to advance their careers by gaining additional training through RCBI.”

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Credit: James E. Casto | Daily Mail WV | Thousands of new welders needed to bolster shrinking workforce