Shortage of Welders Means a Hot Career for Those With the Right Skills The Buzz


Skilled welders are hot. And not just in the sense that they use extreme temperatures to permanently fuse metal.

"Unless things change, there's no end to it," says Jim Greer of the opportunities available to welders. Greer is the vice-president of the American Welding Society. "The future is very bright."

Many workers in the field are retiring. And fewer people are choosing to get training in the trades.

"Kids are being streamed into university, without the opportunity of going into trades," says John Levi. He is the executive director of a welding association.

Greer says oddly enough, many people who have had careers in trades want their children to go to university instead. "These people make big money in trades, live the American dream, and say, 'I'd never let my kid go into trades.'

"The biggest problem is in the schools themselves," he says. "The administrators don't understand what we do. They have no knowledge, therefore they have no respect."

He says that lack of respect leads schools to channel people away from trades programs. The lack of students then leads the programs themselves to be closed.

That means the industry is headed for a worker shortage -- and the opportunities are wide open.

Levi says welding is the ideal trade. "There's lots of opportunity, it requires a high level of skill, it's well paying, with a lot of job satisfaction."

Greer adds that welding is a career that can be used in almost any field. Almost every industry has welders among their maintenance and support workers.

"Preventative maintenance can save millions of dollars," he says. "Every union has welders, from newspapers to movie set construction."

Welding also has excellent earning potential. Greer says highly skilled welders in Chicago are making $33 an hour.

"At 2,000 hours a year, they're making big dough," he says. "This is American-dream type stuff." He adds that even low-skill welding jobs can pay $12 to $17 per hour.

Greer also points out that welding is a constantly changing field. New variations, such as laser and electron beam welding, as well as new technologies, such as robots that can see, constantly provide new challenges.

"When Russia went into outer space, their first experiment was to weld," he says. Such cutting-edge work also has the highest pay. "Defense, NASA -- that's really high-end, big money work."

Change has also been occurring in the public's perception of what a welder looks like. More women are now entering what was once a very male-dominated field.

Harvey Lueke is a welding instructor. "We have quite a number of women in our programs now, and they are doing very, very well," he says.

"More and more exposure means that women are more aware of all the trades, and that they can function very well in the workplace."

He adds that the notion of welding as physically demanding doesn't always hold true.

"Welding is an art and a science," he says. "There are hundreds and thousands of jobs with a need for hand-eye coordination. Some jobs may be physically demanding, some may require being able to work with heights and some are not very physically demanding at all."

Education is important. Greer says there is more than one way to pursue a career in welding, but the most important thing is to start with a good work ethic.

"Load up on technology and science courses," he says. "Take that as far as you can go."

Lueke says the first step is to finish high school. "With the ever-increasing technological advances in equipment and procedures, a good grounding in math and physics are a benefit."

Lueke also recommends entering an apprenticeship program after high school. Some programs even allow students to work in the field during their summer breaks.

"It allows you to get a feel for the welding trade," he says.

"Go into the technical area, learn the basics and learn them well," advises Greer. "Then branch off and learn higher technical skills."

Links

American Welding Society
A nonprofit organization with a goal to advance the science, technology and application of welding

Welding and Metalworking Career Guide
Offers descriptions of dozens of welding and metalworking careers