Welding, in one form or another, has been an integral part of the work performed by the United Association for nearly 100 years. While the technology of welding has evolved dramatically during that period of time, the need for skilled welders in our industry is greater than ever.
Today's welder must be proficient in multiple welding processes. At the very minimum, he or she must be able to weld all manner of piping using the manual SMAW and GTAW processes, but the necessary skills sets do not stop there.
Training for welders should include a variety of automatic and semi-automatic orbital welding processes. These are necessary skills for meeting the stringent demands of the high-purity piping industry. High purity is an industry within our industry developing out of the manufacture of computer chip and pharmaceutical products. Orbital processes are becoming the preferred method of welding on pipelines, heavy industrial plants such as chemical and refining operations, and also nuclear and conventional power production plants.
It is becoming commonplace for welders to operate semi-automatic welding equipment remotely. This is done through the use of modern fiber-optic cameras allowing the welder to watch the welding operation on a video monitor. As an example, this process is used in nuclear plants during intensive welding operations during steam generator change-outs, or for re-piping projects in highly radioactive areas. The remote operation of the welding equipment limits exposure to radiation.
A Skilled Labor Shortage
Today's need for highly trained welders is compounded by the fact that the construction industry is experiencing a skilled worker shortage — and predictions reveal it may get worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the average construction worker is 47 years old, and as aging Baby Boomers retire or leave the industry, they take much-needed skills with them.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the construction field will need to attract 240,000 workers each year to replace those leaving the workforce, while still allowing for industry growth. BLS statistics also reveal that 450,000 welders will be needed nationwide by 2014.
To find enough individuals to fill that tall order, the construction industry must turn its attention to recruitment and extensive training. The recruitment process must examine and reach out to those segments of our country's population which have experienced alarmingly high levels of unemployment. There are many thousands of Americans who have not yet found careers that match their talents or meet their needs. They look forward to the day when they can find fulfilling employment that will enable them to earn a decent living. It's all a matter of connecting the right people with the right jobs — and the right training.
Recently, the United Association has been recruiting and training members of two different segments of society that have been experiencing employment difficulties.
In 2008, the UA reached out to Native American communities across the country to provide them with employment training. Unemployment is a major problem for many Native Americans.
For example, the unemployment rate in the Navajo Nation is currently 50 percent — twice America's 25 percent rate in 1933 during the Great Depression. Training programs for Native Americans, which include an accelerated welding program, are already underway in Illinois and Arizona. The welding program helps Native Americans to enter the workforce quickly, with skills that are in great demand.
Additionally, the UA has initiated a training program for veterans returning from military service.
According to U.S. Marine Corps' Major General (Ret.) Matt Caulfield, the unemployment rate of U.S. armed services veterans, aged 22-24, has reached as high as three times the rate of non-veterans in the same age group.
The Veterans In Piping (VIP) Program was launched in the state of Washington in late 2008 with the support of Major General Caulfield and America's military forces. This new program includes a transitioning component to help returning military personnel to adjust to civilian life. The accelerated welding program is also a part of this program. Helping the veterans to re-enter the civilian world is another level of training that cannot be overlooked. Currently, the UA is setting up the program at Camp Pendleton in California.
Anyone involved in construction trade education will agree that the training of pipe welders takes longer and is more expensive than any other discipline of our trade. But, in today's complex world, that training is an absolute necessity. And, because technology is continuously changing and advancing, quality welding training will always be an ongoing process requiring regular updates, so that today's welders will be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow.