April 8, 2015
Few trades suffer such great a shortage.
A consistent theme of my blogs is that skilled trade workers are in short supply in a number of industries. Few trades have a shortage as desperate as that of welders.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than half a million qualified welders in the U.S. (550,000) in the 1980s, but by 2013 there were just 343,000. Automation may have reduced the demand for welders to some extent during the ensuring decades, but not as much as the decline in numbers. What’s more, demand for welders is now increasing rather dramatically thanks in large measure to our country’s burgeoning energy industry.
Welders are needed to help build pipelines, refineries and other major industrial projects related to energy and also to a resurgent manufacturing economy in the U.S. The American Welding Society recently estimated the need for at least 10% more welders over the next decade.
Pipefitting is a trade for which welding is an essential skill. Pipefitting is an offshoot of the plumbing trade. As their name suggests, pipefitters specialize in joining pipes for heavy-duty industrial processes that involve not only water, but often corrosive chemicals and gases under high pressures and temperatures. These pipes must be joined by welding rather than mechanical linkage. Welders must acquire special certifications to work on the most critical applications, such as nuclear power plants, oil refineries and chemical processing plants, where a ruptured pipeline could be catastrophic.
As this New York Times article details, some of the nation’s largest construction companies are funding welding courses in community colleges and trade schools, especially in the Gulf Coast area where so much of the nation’s energy infrastructure is being built. You can also learn how to weld through various apprenticeship programs around the country operated by both union and nonunion mechanical contractor organizations.
Welding requires a great degree of manual dexterity, concentration and hand-eye coordination, as well as sharp vision able to perceive intricate details in the metals being welded. A professional welder increases his/her value by acquiring the ability to work with a variety of different welding methods, including arc welding, oxy-fuel, flux core arc, and gas tungsten arc welding.
Besides physical skills, welders must be able to read blueprints, have basic knowledge various metals and their properties, and know how to use various types of welding tools and equipment while adhering to strict safety standards.
Many of today’s best welders are able to command six-figure incomes due to high demand for the skills they provide, coupled with a severe shortage of skilled welders. This is a trade worth investigating if you want to earn good money and be selective about who you work for and where.