6 Ideas for Overcoming the Welding Skills Gap

By 2020, manufacturers in the United States will need 291,000 new and replacement welders, according to the American Welding Society. But finding enough welders to fill the need is already a challenge today.

May 5 2014 by Lynn Russo Whylly


From the oil and gas industries to high technology, automotive and even wrought iron fencing, companies ranging from Fortune 1000s to small family-owned businesses are struggling to find employees with the right talent, skills and work ethic to fill their welding positions.

On the Gulf Coast, the need for welders is so high, in fact, that Peter Huntsman, chief executive officer of chemical maker Huntsman Corp. told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that if every citizen between ages 5 and 85 in in the St. Charles Bay area of Texas were trained in welding, it still wouldn’t be enough.

If your company is having difficulty finding welders or other skilled laborers, or has a high turnover rate for these types of positions, there are several ways to find the right workers, improve employee retention and reduce training costs.

1. Partner with local schools to tailor their welding programs. Hundreds of high school and higher ed institutions are launching welding programs to meet the growing need. By partnering with area schools, you can tailor their welding programs to fit your specific sector and product line. This will shorten the on-the-job learning curve, reduce your training costs and allow you to personally pick the best candidates for your positions.

2. Offer a work-study program. Real-world experience provides a richer learning environment than class/shop work alone. DIS-TRAN Steel, for example, which builds utility substation structures, is working with the Louisiana Technical Community College to create a work-study program where students study welding and then work at the firm on a part-time basis.

3. Be a known face in the community. Spearhead your HR team’s educational training efforts by meeting with school and community leaders to show that your commitment is a top-down approach. Personally work with institutions to ensure they have the equipment and materials they need to provide your firm with the best workers.

4. Start communicating early. Consultant Mark Oster, with audit and tax advisory firm GrantThornton, says that cultivating college seniors is too late. Ensure that your marketing team is launching the student relationship in the freshman year.

5. Offer tuition reimbursement and other incentives. Consider all the ways you can be more competitive than other companies in your area. For instance, high school students who are accepted for employment at DIS-TRAN get their tuition reimbursed after working at the company for a designated length of time.

6. Have a long-term vision for your welders’ future with the company. Perhaps your HR exec has hired the requisite number of welders needed and placed them in the care of their supervisors. But the job of molding and keeping great employees doesn’t end there. Ensure that your welders and other skilled laborers are being continually trained on new technology and manufacturing methods.

Additional reading:

7 Ways to Nurture Graduate Outcomes

The future of the oil business is in the hands of welders

Labor Shortage Threatens to Bust the Shale Boom

DIS-TRAN, CLTCC work together to resolve welder shortage