Nationwide welder shortage sparks demand for skilled employees
Ryan Lemon arrived at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast’s Welding Networking Event on Feb. 17 with an ambitious agenda: to recruit skilled welders—and as many of them as possible for his nearly 20 vacancies at Novae Corp., a custom hauling trailer and tool storage manufacturer with three northeast Indiana locations.
If the magnitude of his task wasn’t challenging enough for the human resource manager, it wasn’t about to get any easier at the event, where Lemon was surrounded by recruiters from nine other area businesses including Deister Machine, OmniSource, Ottenweller, and Tenneco. Each recruiter shared the same objective for attracting welders from the nearly three dozen students in attendance.
“We’re all fighting for them, given the welder shortage,” Lemon says. “Welding is critical to what we do at Novae. Pieces of steel would never become trailers without welders.”
Among Novae’s approximately 400 associates, Lemon says about one-third of them are welders.
Without doubt, welding has emerged as a hot career opportunity in recent years—so much so it’s almost possible to see the sparks fly, as manufacturing- and construction-based employers, in particular, scramble to attract these in-demand workers.
The manufacturing industry alone has grown faster than the rest of the U.S. economy since the recession ended in June 2009, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Despite this rebound, the American Welding Society (AWS) reports a decline in the number of welders in America from 570,000 in 1988 to fewer than 360,000 in 2012. To underscore this urgent need, the average age of today’s welder is 55.
In manufacturing-heavy northeast Indiana, the Community Research Institute at IPFW projects a 13.8 percent increased need in staffing among three welding-aligned occupations between 2014 and 2024. This anticipated growth slightly exceeds state and national projections for these same occupations during the 10-year time period.
Ivy Tech Northeast is looking to reverse this labor-shortage trend on a regional basis, where employees in welding-related positions currently earn between $13 to $16 an hour, with the potential for more, factoring in overtime, shift differentials, type of experience, and advanced AWS certifications.
For the past 24 years, Assistant Professor of Industrial Technology John Christman has played a significant role in all forms of welding education offered by the College.
He says he considers a strong foundation in math, along with talents in minor equipment repair and blueprint and measurement reading, to be essential skills for welders.
Christman’s current work-study student, Amy Kelham, is graduating in May with an A.A.S. in Industrial Technology with a concentration in structural welding. She says she is drawn to the occupation due to her mechanical inclination and as homage to her welder and ironworker father.
“Welding is a process that’s always about improving,” Kelham says. “Anything can be monotonous if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. But if you enjoy it, the monotony isn’t there.”
In addition to an associate degree, Ivy Tech Northeast also offers a technical certificate and a certificate in structural welding, as well as accelerated study options through Corporate College, the workforce and economic development arm of the institution. Corporate College coordinates both customized on-site employer training and an 80-hour class, primarily for displaced workers referred by WorkOne Northeast.
Joe Nes-Iadicola is one such individual who participated in an 80-hour class this spring, after having been downsized from a sales position with a cell phone carrier in January. Despite his limited knowledge of WorkOne Northeast’s services, he sought job placement and training assistance from the state’s employment agency.
“You can’t be afraid to try something new,” Nes-Iadicola says, “especially when you have a wife and an 8-year-old to support.”
After completing his training, Nes-Iadicola says he wants to pursue an apprenticeship with the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 166 in Fort Wayne.
“I plan to use welding as a career tool,” Nes-Iadicola says. “Whether you’re doing pipefitting, steamfitting, or HVAC work, you will have projects that require welding. Welding is the icing on the cake.”