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Training & Education

Time to talk

By Gretchen Salois

Career advisors offer tips to link employers with qualified welders

May 2012 - Type “welding jobs” into Google and a long list of career and job sites pops up, some listing lucrative salaries. Yet, mentoring and educational programs are having difficulty meeting industry needs despite what seems to be an incredible demand in areas around the United States, according to Todd Kiel, apprenticeship manager, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Green Bay, Wis.

“Challenges for the employers generally revolve around getting the right combination of skills for their particular industry,” Kiel says. “We have everything from the Navy contract at Marinette Marine to Oshkosh Truck to Manitowoc Crane and Burger Boat” in need of qualified welders. Kiel believes an integral component to linking welders to jobs is “getting the right people involved in the discussion,” he says.

“We try very hard to make sure all of the programs we run are industry-driven. It’s all about what [the industry wants] and how to pull it together.” The college started a state-run Welder/Fabricator apprenticeship program through the Department of Workforce Development between Wisconsin and industry employers, using the technical college as the training agent. According to Kiel, if people available for jobs do not quite have the skills, the college works with the state to provide the guidance and education needed, which often is related to math, metallurgy and some welding skills.

The unique process holds the employer responsible for paying for related learning, about 7,600 hours on the job. “We take care of the rest,” Kiel says, noting with 440 hours at the school, participants are still paid their normal eight hours a day just like on the job. “We run classes every other week. In the case of welders, it is every other Friday. This way, for every 80 hours of pay, there is 72 hours at work and eight hours at school the apprentice is being paid for,” he adds.

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Beyond “help wanted”
Sometimes it is difficult for employers to reach the people who embody the necessary qualifications. “A help-wanted ad will reach several people but it will more than likely not reach your target audience,” says Scott Ulrich, welding instructor at Davis Hart Career Center in Mexico, Mo., which offers classes to welders and fabricators.

“Whether it is welding or auto tech, we are always interested in talking with professionals in our field on the topic of making students more employable,” Ulrich continues. “Human resource personnel are a huge asset to both industry and education—a 15-minute presentation covering what they [are looking] for, require and frown upon can lay the ground work for a more qualified workforce and prepare the students better.

“We are a steady supplier of qualified welders, but if the industry doesn’t let us know what skills they are looking for or positions they need to fill, we can’t help them fill their needs,” he says.

According to Ulrich, the Midwest region and shipyards are most in need of qualified welders. “Fossil fuels and wind turbines in the Midwest and the need for more efficient and larger cargo ships” could use qualified welders to fill positions. While there seem to be welders available for hire, Ulrich says oftentimes, finding qualified welders is a major challenge. For every qualified welder, there are 100 “people that have jumped into the field without solid formal training during the glut of ethanol plants being built,” Ulrich says. “There is no shortage of welders, but trained, knowledgeable welders are few and far between.”

Being an intermediary between manufacturers and public and private sources is how the Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), a non-profit organization promoting manufacturing throughout northeast and northern Ohio, links welders with employers. Dr. Judith Crocker, director of manufacturing education affairs, agrees many times job seekers have some welding experience but “lack validation of that experience or they have been exposed to welding skills but are very limited in the specific knowledge and skills needed to function as a welder,” Crocker says.

By providing partnerships between career centers and community colleges, welders are exposed to internships and other opportunities to connect with potential employers. Challenges include ensuring individuals can participate in welding training as well as maintaining and expanding education as technology advances. Crocker says another challenge is the need for employers to define their needs clearly and anticipate future education.

Lack of funding
At the Jackson, Mich.-based Academy for Manufacturing Careers, the agency works with the Michigan Works Agency “to not only train individuals to meet the skills shortage but also to help keep them employed,” says Annette Norris, director. The Academy involves potential employers “on the front-end of the training” by conducting focus-group interviews to find what types of welding processes should be mandatory. The academy works with youth and parents, starting at the kindergarten level to promote manufacturing and engineering and have a full K-12 educational pipeline for youth, Norris says.

Before the conclusion of training, the academy holds a Reverse Job Fair where students showcase pieces they have welded as examples of their skills. “Potential employers are able to meet and talk to each person,” allowing potential candidates to discuss their skills while employers review the person’s work, she says.

“Employers are then able to make recommendations back to the students on the areas that they would like them to perfect in order to be hired,” Norris says. Employers often tell the academy business is impacted negatively by lack of skilled employees, leaving them unable to expand operations, she says.

“People with the right skills are simply not available,” Norris says. “The funding for training for the unemployed has been almost eliminated. Employers tell us there are plenty of people to interview but they cannot find skilled employees. Many do not have the basic ... math and computer skills to operate the equipment.”

“I believe the key lies in working together,” Kiel says. “With input from area employers, we build stronger, more in-demand programs, and the employers are confident our students will fill their needs.” FFJ

Sources

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