A news item that ran in the November 9th issue of the IH MagEzine caused me to start thinking about job opportunities in our industry. The story said that there is an acute shortage of welders in Louisiana and throughout the country. While I am aware that there is a bit of a shortage of qualified metallurgists and materials engineers entering the field, I was surprised by and concerned about the impact of a shortage of welders.

....A shortage exists because there is a growing need for welders, and not only are there fewer people entering the field than is needed for growth, retirements in the next decade will result in a significant shortfall. One of the reasons this is a potential problem in our industry is the long apprenticeship required by people in this field. Many of our plants require at least one, if not several, welders, and this shortage may impact some of us significantly.

If welders are needed, I wondered how many other skilled tradesmen (plumbers/pipefitters, electricians, masons and machinists) might also be required in the coming years. A little research revealed that, although statistics vary by occupation and by area of the country, similar trends could be seen for these jobs as well. This is primarily because about two-thirds of this century’s workforce will be skilled or technical positions, but post-secondary education still focuses on training for professional careers, resulting in a deficit of qualified, skilled tradespeople.

Like welders, plumbers, electricians and masons have apprenticeships that average four years with ongoing classroom training of 100+ hours per year. These fields all require education/training in areas such as applied physics, materials science, trigonometry and/or geometry, and the specific codes for the field and geographical area.

The shortage of people in these fields and the long apprenticeship required should get everyone thinking about replacing people who may be retiring sometime in the coming decade. Bringing someone on board early and training them in the requirements of your particular work environment is something you should be considering.

For those of you thinking about a career path that might not include a four-year college degree, you should consider a career as a welder, plumber or electrician. We have already established that there is a need for skilled tradespeople (particularly welders). On average, these careers pay quite well. As of the latest data (2004), average annual salaries in these fields range between $35,000 and $45,000 per year (before overtime). Obviously you will not make as much during your apprenticeship, but figures show that the top earners in these fields are making $55,000 to $70,000. While salary should not determine your career choice, it is helpful to know that any of these fields will provide the skilled candidate a comfortable living wage.

Hopefully some of you have been encouraged to consider pursuing one of the skilled fields discussed or to recommend one of these fields to someone who may be considering their career vocation. The future of our industry and many others depends on the skill and dedication of welders, pipefitters, electricians, masons and many others with a trained skill-set.