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Reports are surfacing about a possible shortage of welding jobs in the U.S., and administrators at schools with welding programs need more students to meet the demand. Could a welding career be the right next step for you?

Is Welding the Next Career Boom?

The surge in extraction and production of shale oil and gas has changed in the job market in several ways, and a return to growth in certain manufacturing careers is one of them. Welding careers -- an area that has been experiencing drawdown in employment opportunities for decades -- are one of the occupations where the change is being felt in a big way.

Welding jobs in today's economy

Welders are professional metalworkers. They specialize in using heat, generated electrically or by a gas torch, to permanently join metal parts to one another. The strength of joints made by welding makes it a highly desirable skill in multiple industries, namely shipbuilding, aerospace, construction and automobile manufacturing.

Three particular areas of need for welding -- construction of power plants, assembly of refining equipment and joining of high-volume pipeline -- are driving the welding resurgence since the shale gas boom. In fact, so many companies are finding themselves in need of these services that they're often scrambling to find enough skilled labor to bring their projects to fruition.

Some analysts predict that the discrepancy between the high demand for work and the low worker supply may lead to a shortage of welders in the next several years. To help fill the skills gap, vocational and technical schools are working hard to ensure that a new force of skilled welders makes their way to the job market in time to strike while the iron's hot.

What you learn in welding programs

Institutions that offer welding programs may each take their own approach to instructing their students, but the core concepts taught in most programs tend to pop up in most welding classes:

  • Blueprint reading
  • Pipe fitting
  • Oxyacetylene welding and cutting
  • Shielded metal arc welding
  • Flux core arc welding
  • Metal inert gas (MIG) welding
  • Tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding
  • Production fabrication
  • Trigonometry

The American Welding Society also offers welding certifications that can be earned after education is complete, which include but aren't limited to the following:

  • Certified Welder (CW)
  • Certified Welding Fabricator (CWF)
  • Certified Welding Inspector (CWI)
  • Certified Welding Engineer (CWE)
  • Certified Robotic Arc Welding (CRAW)
  • Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS)

Welding certifications can help candidates demonstrate their expertise and commitment to employers. In fact, certain positions may require experience with certain difficult techniques or materials, and certifications are a handy way to prove that experience.

Career information for welders

Numbers calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that employment of welders, cutters, solderers and brazers is forecast to increase at six times the rate of other production occupations between 2012 and 2022. What's more, according to the American Welding Association, the industrial job market will need more than 216,000 newly trained professionals to fill welding jobs that open up before 2020.

Here are the industries where the largest numbers of welders found employment in 2013:

  1. Architectural and structural metals manufacturing
  2. Agriculture, construction and mining machinery manufacturing
  3. Motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing
  4. Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment repair and maintenance
  5. General purpose machinery manufacturing

Aspiring welders can expect the strongest job gains in these industries, as well as in the energy industry and the manufacture of heavy freight transportation equipment. Certain regions may experience denser job growth than others, as well, particularly if they contain areas of industrial concentration in high-demand industries. Here are the states that employed the highest number of welders per thousand jobs in 2013:

  1. Wyoming
  2. Louisiana
  3. South Dakota
  4. North Dakota
  5. Oklahoma

The state of Texas employed the most welders overall in 2013, with total employment of 47,040 workers.

Welding jobs in the energy industry offered the highest salaries in the field as of 2013, with the natural gas distribution companies paying a mean annual wage of $62,130 and electric power generation and transmission firms paying a yearly mean of $66,550. The highest paying states for welders were Alaska ($68,750), Hawaii ($62,750), Wyoming ($49,070) and North Dakota ($48,960).

What a welder shortage could mean for you

Labor shortage in the welding trade can mean, among other things, that those who act fast to get trained for a career as a welder might find themselves faced with a broad spectrum of opportunity for welding careers. If these trends keep up, welders with the right credentials and education may expect to earn a comfortable living in a growing market for many years to come.

The possibility of a welder shortage does hinge on some potentially fickle variables, but American manufacturing has been threatening to make a comeback and the shale gas boom does seem to show no signs of slowing down. If you're looking for a hot career in a growing field, learn more about welding schools and programs in your area.

Sources:

  1. "American Welding Society Encourages Community College Welding Programs to Seek TAACCCT Grant Funding," American Welding Society, April 21, 2014, http://www.aws.org/pr/20140421.pdf
  2. "Labor Shortage Threatens to Bust the Shale Boom," Bloomberg, Isaac Arnsdorf, Dan Murtaugh ad Jack Kaskey, April 16, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-17/midnight-welding-picks-up-slack-that-imperils-shale-boom.html
  3. "Welders, America Needs You," Bloomberg Businessweek, Matthew Philips, March 20, 2014, www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-20/skilled-welder-shortage-looms-in-u-dot-s-dot-with-many-near-retirement#p1
  4. Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/welders-cutters-solderers-and-brazers.htm#tab-4
  5. Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes514121.htm
  6. Welding, Anne Arundel Community College, https://www.aacc.edu/welding/file/WeldingCourses_4_Pages_SU14.pdf
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