Recruiting and retaining welders in an increasingly competitive environment

Best practices for finding and keeping skilled welders.

By Carl Peters, Director of Technical Training, The Lincoln Electric Company

Manufacturers representing a variety of industries, including energy, automotive and construction, continue to be challenged with retaining and recruiting skilled welders. Baby boomers lost to retirement increasingly thin the labor pool, as employers struggle to keep existing talent who perpetually vie for the better opportunities.

Many companies, however, have found success implementing some conventional and creative approaches to retain and recruit. Here’s a quick look at some of the best practices.

Sell welding as a viable career choice

Traditionally, the welding industry has drawn its workforce from high school and technical school graduates. More recently, a new labor source has emerged from experienced workers displaced or disheartened from other careers in shifting and shrinking product trends, such as the automotive industry.

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But welding has been cursed with the image of a dirty, low-tech profession of last resort. As many workers today gravitate to desk jobs, the perception of welding has left students, parents and career counselors to dissuade potential workers elsewhere. 

The untold reality is that welding is a challenging career with great potential for income and mobility. Many high-growth industries rely on welding, such as energy and structural fabrication. Welding is required for construction, maintenance and repair in all of these sectors, and technology lies at the heart of most of them.

Newly trained welders can earn upwards of $41,000 to $62,000 per year. This is on par with a first-year degreed mechanical or civil engineer. As welders gain experience, compensation grows. Specialty welding, like in pipeline construction, where travel is required, can draw significant increases. 

Promoting the positives of a welding career to students, parents and guidance counselors is critical. Trained welders and their employers should become involved with local high schools and trade programs. This exposes students directly to successful and established welders, who can attest to the benefits.

More recently, a new labor source has emerged from experienced workers displaced or disheartened from other careers in shifting and shrinking product trends, such as the automotive industry.

– Carl Peters, Director of Technical Training, The Lincoln Electric Company

For the employers, it provides access to future workers. Companies can educate instructors about opportunities available to their students and the selling points of a particular organization. There is often occasion for corporate involvement on an advisory board or opportunities to speak to classes about a welding career.

There are also numerous local, regional and national welding competitions through organizations such as Skills USA and FFA, which offer opportunities to match recruiters with future welders.

Blending recruitment and retention

Because many welding jobs are passed over for careers dominated by computers and other technology, promoting welding as a high-tech industry makes it more appealing to young people. 

Welding has embraced much of the same level of technology as other professions and can offer similar challenges. Significant advances have been in weld-process control. New power sources include advanced waveforms and digitally controlled displays. And, robotic welding is one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments. 

On the retention side, it is important to provide effective training on new technologies, machines and consumables to a company’s existing workforce to keep employees engaged in their jobs. Employees need to feel they are contributing members to an organization’s success. A firm’s investment in training its employees communicates its commitment to their future and can be considerably more cost effective than recruiting and training new employees.

For employers, workers who view themselves as an integral part of a team are more likely to work harder and produce more. Safety plays a role as well. A workplace that stresses safety as a culture can be more inviting and allows employees to perform at their best. This should include repetitive safety training and regular evaluation of work practices, safety standards and OSHA requirements. Employers should also allow employees to engage in open discussions and to provide suggestions for safe work habits.

Implementing a welding fume-extraction system may be one solution to providing adequate ventilation. It can also communicate a message of employee appreciation, which can contribute to improved recruitment and retention.

All of these practices help ensure a safe, more productive work environment. They help reduce injuries, worker's compensation and lost days.

Conclusion

A company’s goal is to build and sell products that safely and effectively serve its customers, while increasing profitability. A strong workforce is crucial to accomplishing this goal. A strategic recruiting program, coupled with structured retention efforts, go a long way to keep a skilled workforce safe, engaged and productive.

Carl Peters is director of technical training for The Lincoln Electric Company, which is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.

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