With welders in high demand in a variety of industries across the country, the shortage of qualified welders becomes more acute with each passing year. Several educational and government programs are aimed at addressing the problem of finding people to enter the field while also training welding students at a speedier rate to produce more qualified welders quickly.
One way to fill open positions faster is to “have the right skills for the right job at the right time,” says Jason Scales, business manager, education, The Lincoln Electric Co. “When you talk about training today compared to 10 or even five years ago, what is different is the welding industry itself is becoming specialized. Those in education need to start considering that you can’t just train a vanilla welder and expect them to have the skills to go into any industry segment. Whether it’s pipeline, shipbuilding, heavy fabrication, manufacturing or high-end automation, the manner in which the welding is actually performed and the skills needed for each segment can vary. Unfortunately, that’s an issue that’s not really being discussed a lot right now.”
As part of the solution, Lincoln Electric is dedicated to developing a certification pathway that provides welders with specialized and advanced training that should be of major interest to employers in a variety of industries. That development includes Lincoln Electric’s new partnership with the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), a nonprofit network of education providers and corporations focused on bridging the gap between education and industry workforce needs.
The partnership authorizes NC3 to administer Lincoln Electric’s Education Partnerships Schools (LEEPS) program and offer new certifications to provide community colleges, technical schools and other trade schools with portable, stackable national welding certifications. Lincoln Electric will ensure the certifications are in alignment with standards set by the American Welding Society (AWS).
“When a potential hire presents these new welding certifications that highlight the knowledge- and skills-based competencies for specific welding processes, employers can be confident in the candidate’s capabilities,” Scales says. “But more than that, it allows schools and training facilities to go to their local industry partners and ask what specific skills employees need to have to be successful at their companies.
“Our goal is to create a pathway of certifications where one employer might say, ‘I need welders with certificates A, B and C to be employed in my shop,’ while 10 miles down the road, another employer might say, ‘I need welders with certificates X, Y and Z,’” he continues. “The certificate can recognize that the student earned an AWS certification for this one weld, but it will also say they successfully welded all of these other weld joints beyond that and they took a mastery test to exhibit their knowledge about that process.”
Shift in focus
Scales believes that the environment is right for a fundamental shift in welding education at the community and technical college level. This shift will help address the immediate and long-term needs of the welding industry.
“Traditionally, the challenge for community colleges is that portions of their funding have been tied to graduation numbers,” he says. “There’s such a need for welders that employers are saying they need them immediately while the colleges are saying they need to have the welders complete the full class and graduate so the school can maintain its good standing and funding. The challenge is that the classes are based on an academic semester time frame, meaning there’s no way to finish a class early.”
With a short-term certification program, however, students can receive specific welding training and education, become certified and be ready for employment in less time. Scales says that state and federal agencies are recognizing the benefits of short-term certification programs, which will have a big impact on the welding workforce.
Raising welding education standards is another aspect of Lincoln Electric’s commitment to training that got a major boost four years ago with the company’s U/Linc program. The program was established to help welding educators find detailed curriculum resources for teaching welding at every level. Developed by many welding instructors across the United States, U/Linc provides resources that connect welding theory, practice and knowledge all in one place.
In another partnership announcement, Lincoln Electric is working with Tooling U-SME, a training solutions provider, to make U/Linc even more accessible to welding instructors and educational institutions. Tooling U-SME helps to prepare the incumbent and next-generation workforce by providing an industry-driven curriculum. The new partnership gives Tooling U-SME the authority to administer U/Linc and leverages the company’s access to industry and academia as well as its competency-based learning and development solutions.
In addition to imparting process skills, part of training the future workforce of welders involves a focus on today’s technology. And that’s why cutting-edge training equipment and tools is so important.
With that in mind, Lincoln Electric offers a whole suite of Vrtex virtual reality welding simulation trainers that allow students to practice welding techniques in a safe virtual reality environment that offers the tools, settings, materials, visuals and sounds of the welding process.
“The young people entering welding education programs today expect that kind of engagement,” Scales says. “They interact with technology in a different way. It’s almost an expectation of young people that they will interact with technology to learn the skills and competency that will take them further in life.”
Virtual reality welding is used in many ways. It can help teach students about welding and how it really works. The teacher and students can talk about what they see and how it should look. Also, it can be a great tool for skills development. Students learning to weld or working on their technique receive immediate feedback.
“With that immediate feedback, they know exactly what they have to work on, so after they’ve honed in on that one aspect related to technique or travel speed or whatever it may be, they can get right back to the welding booth,” Scales says. “It really helps develop those skills to perform those welds at a higher standard and higher speed.”
He cautions, however, that virtual reality welding is just one of many tools to help people gain their welding skills faster. “It does not replace the welding booth for the tactile, hands-on welding that has to be performed to learn the trade. There are some misnomers out there that aren’t true about using virtual reality to train welders. It’s a tool to be used, but it’s not the only tool.”
Other training tools that Lincoln Electric offers include RealWeld trainers that give welding students the opportunity to practice real arc welding in a controlled environment with the aid of an audio coach for guidance and the ClassMate Robotic Trainer that provides welding educators with a complete advanced manufacturing solution for robotic welding training.
Still other welding training resources include welding videos, instructional articles and safety information, which can all be found on the Lincoln Electric website. It’s important to Lincoln that everyone has access to safety information on how to properly protect themselves while welding.
While all of these tools can help with the welding training challenges of today, they can’t solve the workforce issue.
“We have to take the workforce of today and train them,” Scales concludes. “We need to take available people, whether they are veterans, disadvantaged or disabled, and train them. We’re only graduating so many students with the welding programs across the United States. The welding community has to consider other types of people with the right potential.
“In addition to community colleges and technical schools building the welding talent pipeline, manufacturers must provide training, as well. Manufacturers have to take on the task of training people within their plants so they can start to grow their own pipeline of welding talent that they need.”