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HCC Working to Help Meet National Welder Shortage

According to figures released by the American Welding Society (AWS), the country is now enduring a welder shortage that will intensify for years to come. By 2010, it is estimated that there will be a shortage of more than 200,000 skilled welders in the workforce. Currently, there are more than 500,000 welders employed in the U.S.

Halifax Community College is attempting to fill some of those vacancies with skilled, certified welders. As HCC Welding Department Head/Instructor Jason Shotwell recently explained, power plants, infrastructure and construction projects all need welders. Due to retirements and not having enough younger people to fill those vacancies, welders are in short supply. As a consequence, all types of projects, from pipelines to skyscrapers to propane/natural gas line projects will progress slowly and much of the infrastructure that is needed will not be created.

Shotwell is even seeing a shortage on the local level. Construction agencies are having difficulty finding good, certified welders. Steel mills, paper mills and production shops have an adequate number of welders for the time being, but as he explained, once retirees start to go out, those organizations may see a shortage, too.

Most of Shotwell’s students finish the program with certification. Since the majority of the objects on Earth are made of metal and most things break, said Shotwell, welders are needed. “You just can’t put a bolt in it sometimes and it will hold. You have to put a weld on it. If you want certain codes and standards, you need welders,” he continued.

There are currently 11 students in the day certificate program, and due to over-enrollment, a night certification program has been added. There are five students enrolled in the night program. Also, there are six students enrolled in the high school Huskins welding class now, which started this fall.

While in class, students learn how to fabricate, cut steel, weld aluminum, carbon steel and stainless, plasma cut and much more. Graduates are able to go out and be a cutter, welder, fabricator, blueprint reader, and depending on skill level and prior work experience, a foreman. At the end of the program, Shotwell evaluates student work and certifies those who meet the AWS standards for certification.

“You don’t have to be certified to get a job, but it helps to get your foot in the door,” he explained. “When students come in, they need to have a mindset to be a hard worker.” The welding environment is loud, there are sparks going everywhere and there is heat. Welding, as Shotwell explained, is not a sit-down job.

The welding program has an 80% job placement rate and graduates can make anywhere from $10-18 per hour for production work; $18-28 per hour for construction jobs. Those who work on emergency shutdowns can make more plus $150 per diem each day while traveling. “There is large demand for welders and you can make lots of money,” Shotwell added.

Job seekers should be willing to travel, but if they would like to stay closer to home, jobs are available in the surrounding communities of Weldon, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Emporia, Garner, Raleigh, and Greenville, just to name a few. Welding repair shops need helpers, welders and fabricators.

Some have suggested that using robots could be a possible solution for the shortage. To that, Shotwell responded that robots can do some things, but not all. “You won’t find a robot on the top of a skyscraper,” he explained. In his opinion, more recruitment is needed to attract people to the field and community colleges are a good way to learn the trade. They offer extensive training and convenient times, are affordable, plus offer the equipment and supplies needed to learn the skills, he said. A certificate in welding will take about eight months to earn, a diploma can take about one year. Afterwards, graduates should be able to find employment without difficulty.