Most of the time, the internet provides us the info we need quickly and accurately. Unsure of what time the nearby Mexican restaurant opens? No problem. Hoping to compare the MSRP of
mid-size sedans? Can do. Looking for stats on the number of welding professionals needed in the United States in the next few years? Good luck unless you’re intimately familiar with the labyrinth that is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) website.
Since most normal human beings don’t have the time or the know-how to drill into the depths of the BLS, the alternative is sorting through pages and pages of search results that might include outdated data points or worse, erroneous information.
Knowing that the internet can be a wasteland of dubious information blowing by like old tumbleweeds, the American Welding Society (AWS) recently launched weldingworkforcedata.com. In it, website visitors will find information about the number of currently employed welders, the number of welders needed in upcoming years, common job titles where welding is the primary function, workforce demographics, average wages based on job title and workforce distribution by region. There is also a section on the various paths a job seeker can take to achieve welding as a career. Joe Young, the senior manager of workforce development at the AWS Foundation, says the motivation behind developing and launching the site was two-fold: to deliver trusted, accurate workforce data and to put a spotlight on the need for skilled welders.
“The driving factor behind the new site was to bring some cadence and clarity to the real workforce demand,” Young explains. “The American Welding Society is considered an agnostic component of our industry, so we felt like we should be the primary resource for anyone looking to digest or explore that type of data. In doing so, hopefully we can weed out some of that old info in order to give people accurate, actionable information.”
So what’s actionable information and why does it matter that’s it’s accurate? Young says that, for starters, there are plenty of educators and employers around the country that would like their local high schools to bring back welding and manufacturing programs. To petition the school board, they need to present their case in a compelling way. Outlining the economic benefits of a welding program is a good way to do that.
“If you’re an educator that is trying to encourage your local community or school board to explore a trades program, it’s much more convincing when you can say, ‘look, there’s a need for X number of welders out there,” Young says. “Without that data, why would a school be willing to invest in the equipment and staffing required? It needs to make sense from a financial and economic standpoint. If just one person could lay out the numbers and have it result in the formation of a new trades program, I would consider it a win for that community as well as our industry as a whole.”
But the data isn’t just actionable for educators or employers. Job seekers are one of the major benefactors as they’re able to see the number of welders needed in society, the potential earnings and the various paths to take to secure the work.
“No matter who you are – an educator, a student, a parent, a veteran or a typical job seeker – you can navigate the website and get a thorough understanding of what’s going on in the industry and where the opportunities lie,” Young adds. “The site also links to another valuable AWS website, careersinwelding.com, which offers access to job posting information – the actual welding jobs that are in demand in the industry right now. Between the two websites, visitors can get a live pulse of the market and economic conditions.”
In terms of the accuracy of the data, AWS has long relied on EMSI, a trusted labor market data company that developed the software used to populate the careersinwelding.com site, which launched in 2008. The software gathers online job postings, which can be custom filtered. For weldingworkforcedata.com, EMSI software pulls labor market information from the BLS as well as the U.S. Census Bureau.
“They’ve been at this for a very long time,” Young says. “They allow us to explore a breadth of information that would have been difficult to generate on our own.”
The main idea that AWS wants to convey through its new website is that welding professionals are using a skill that is critical in many arenas of society. The main challenge, however, is
accurately pinpointing how many people are using the skill of welding in their daily jobs.
“The way that the labor market is set up makes it difficult to truly understand the prevalence of welding in society,” Young says. “Individuals could be titled something that doesn’t properly indicate that their primary job function is welding. A boilermaker is a good example of that. A boilermaker does a lot of things – from instrumentation and installation to so many other tasks that fall outside of the scope of welding – but we know that they service and repair boilers and bulk boiler tubes, which requires welding as a primary skill. If they didn’t have the skill of welding, they couldn’t complete their day-to-day job function.
“So that’s what makes it difficult; everybody wants that final number, a definitive accounting of how many welders are needed or how many welders are out there currently doing that work,” he continues. “To tackle that challenge, we had to start by breaking the larger data set of ‘welding as an occupation’ into smaller segments.”
To determine the segments, Young and the development team leaned on Monica Pfarr, executive director of the AWS Foundation, who had been working with EMSI and other welding engineering consultants to analyze industry data. Pfarr’s collaborations over the years resulted in the formation of six welding occupation segments: boilermakers; sheet metal workers; structural iron and steel workers; structural metal fabricators and fitters; welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators and tenders; and welders, cutters, solders and brazers. These subsets made pinpointing the number of welders needed a much more manageable task.
“It’s all about trying to map out the workforce information that’s available, funneling it down by occupation and just creating a little bit of understanding,” Young says. “It’s important to understand that if you learn the skill of welding, you might not be under the hood welding in a manufacturing plant all day; you could be an ironworker putting together buildings or you could be an inspector for the aerospace industry. And that’s the goal – to help individuals understand what counts as a welding professional, how the profession is segmented and then other occupations that fall into those six segments.”
Beyond the goal to better define where the skill of welding can take an individual in the workforce or differentiating between one occupation title or another, weldingworkforcedata.com also aims to give job seekers an idea of where to get started. There is a section on the site that offers four standard career paths, positioning them as an investment and displaying the 10-year return on investment.
The comparison is based on the average cost to earn a four-year degree versus the average cost to attend a vocational school coupled with the cost of getting certified and then the typical salaries that could be attained taking those separate routes. As a welder himself and someone that is a visual learner, Young appreciates the side-by-side comparison. He stresses, however, that AWS does not recommend one path over another.
“If you want to become an engineer and get a four-year education, we, by all means, will celebrate that,” he says. “That type of career is in huge demand, too. But, if you want to learn the skill of welding and start cutting your teeth within 18 months, you could do that and have a pretty good high-paying job, as well.”
Overall, AWS wanted to take a proactive approach in sharing the full scope of opportunities that are available within the skilled trades. As they say, knowledge is power.
“The ultimate goals are to disseminate accurate and up-to-date workforce data and share the range of opportunities that are available for anyone interested in pursuing welding as a career,” Young says. “With that information in hand, future welders can be confident in their career choice. On top of that, there’s a great community of people that want to share their knowledge with the next generation, including AWS. If we can help by giving them the tools they need to navigate those opportunities, that’s a success in our mind.”