(Dallas) – People who work in the welding industry like to say that half the world is held together by the work they do.
Indeed, the American Welding Society estimates (http://awsweldlink.org/businesses/) that 50 percent of all manufactured goods and structures require some type of weld to keep them from falling apart. From electronics to automobiles, from appliances to pipelines, and from bridges to ships as well – the list of products that are welded is almost endless, all of which creates opportunities for skilled welders.
El Centro College welding students, who are housed at the Dallas County Community College District’s Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development, hope to capitalize on that demand for trained welders. Byron Zarrabi, their welding instructor, said just about every industry uses welding, and that fact makes the trade “recession resistant.”
Zarrabi explained that if one sector of the economy which uses welders slows down, those workers can move to another area that can use them. “If we have a slowdown in pipeline welding, for example, those welders can go work in a refinery or a power plant that needs to shut down for maintenance,” he said.
Ron Henderson, a welding faculty member at Mountain View College, said demand for welders is so high that employers in the industry ask him whether he has students who are ready to join the workforce. “We try to keep the students in school and tell them they should finish their degree. Sometimes we have a hard time keeping them here,” he said. “Many of them have family obligations, and they want to start making money. But a lot of them come back in two or three years to finish their degrees.”
Welding: Not just for men
The welding industry traditionally has been dominated by men, and statistics suggest that’s true: only about two percent of welders are women. But the face of welding could be changing.
Henderson said about 20 percent of his students are female. He added that women make good welders because they have good hand-eye coordination, attention to detail and generally are more patient than men.
“If you don’t have patience, you’re in the wrong trade,” he said.
Jamie Valenzuela is one of those women in Henderson’s classes. She said her father was a welder for most of his working career, and she visited his workplace a few times and found his work “fascinating.”
“I was going to get an associate degree in business, but I didn’t like it. I was always in the classroom, and I got bored,” said Valenzuela. “I felt like I needed to be doing something. But here, I don’t get bored. I try to make every weld and every bead perfect, every time. I feel special being here.”
Jessica McLemore said she already has a degree in web design from Brookhaven College, but she wanted to get an outdoor job, so she went to Mountain View to earn an associate degree in welding. She said women “shy away from welding because they don’t like to deal with the way they’re thought about. They have to be twice as good to get half as much recognition.
“But to me, it’s not a big deal that I’m a woman. There should be more of us because we pay more attention to detail,” she added with a smile.
Alexis Johnson, a 30-year old welding student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said she started welding in 2013 and is now training at El Centro to become a welder. She said she hopes to run her own welding business in the future. “When I first started out, I got in it for the money, but the more I did it, the more I liked it,” she said.
Demand for welders is growing
Welding is a $34 billion industry and employs almost 400,000 people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But many of those welders are retiring and will need to be replaced by capable personnel.
According to AWS, more than 200,000 (http://awsweldlink.org/careers) welding-related jobs will open up over the next few years. Zarrabi said the U.S. as a whole stopped teaching welding skills in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to the current shortage of skilled welders.
According to the Texas Workforce Commission, welding jobs in the North Texas region will grow by 16 percent through the year 2024. In addition, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that the national median wages for a welder is $38,150 per year, or about $18.34 per hour, which is slightly better than the median wages for all occupations.
A varied skillset is necessary
Zarrabi added that welding offers a wide variety of career areas in the industry. “There’s a whole industry within the welding world, and the field is starving for people to come in: welding inspectors, welding salespeople, fabrication welders,” he said. “We teach them a specialty, but we want them to be diverse.”
Armando Diaz, like Mountain View’s Valenzuela, said he got into welding to follow in his father’s footsteps. The 18-year-old is a student at El Centro and said he loves welding. “I’m really enjoying learning all the different areas of welding,” he said, adding that he loves a variety of welding options. “I want to be a pipe welder because they make a lot of money, but I also want to work with aluminum so that I can work on engines.”
Tim Lane, who just started his training at El Centro, said he wants to work on oil rigs and pipelines, and eventually to become an underwater welder. “That’s the hardest one, but it pays a lot,” he said.
King Salazar said he also wants to become an underwater welder. He said he learned the fundamentals of welding in high school and now wants to earn a degree. “I want to work in fabrication or out in the field. There are plenty of opportunities that pay well,” he said.
Credentials for a brighter future
San Awng, a refugee from the Asian country of Myanmar, has been studying at El Centro for almost a year. He said he works in construction and wanted to learn a skill. “Once I found I was good at welding, I came to this school for my education. I was a refugee, and I didn’t have a degree,” he said. “It’s a great skill to learn!”
Zarrabi said his welding students can earn welding certificates for three different levels: basic, intermediate and advanced, and each course takes about 11 weeks to complete. “Students can get jobs after each level, but the pay goes higher with every level they complete, and they’re more likely to get a job and stay on the job with each level because their skillsets grow,” he stated.
Zarrabi added that El Centro’s program at the Bill J. Priest Institute is one of only five places in Texas that is an Accredited Testing Facility(http://www.aws.org/library/doclib/atf-domestic-listing.pdf) listed on the American Welding Society’s website. That certification is very valuable when a welder applies for a job, he added.
Mountain View offers an associate in applied science degree, and classes fill up very quickly every semester. Henderson said students benefit by earning their degree. “We tell the students: If you’re not a rounded person and don’t know how to speak, listen, read, write and do math, you’re not going to beat the guy who can,” he said.
“Welding is a science,” Henderson added. “In the past, you could put a stick in the welding gun and press the button. It’s not like that anymore. Now you have to know metallurgy, math, and how to read blueprints and layouts.”
Zarrabi said welders need to know what they’re doing, or the job could be dangerous. “Bridges can fall, buildings can fall.” he explained. “If a carpenter comes to your facility, he or she can do some damage. But an untrained welder could blow up the place.”
For more information about the welding program at El Centro, send an email to Zarrabi at email@example.com; for details about the welding program at Mountain View, contact Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.