Skilled-trade labor shortage looming

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David A. King

I found Garry Kranz’s article [March issue, “Building a pipeline of skilled workers”] very interesting and informative. I was originally drawn to it by the title in which I saw the words “skilled workers.” After further reading I saw that it was more geared towards college-educated students of science, math and engineering. 

This wasn’t quite what I expected to read about from the title in which skilled workers was the focus. I expected to read about the even more dire situation of the aging skilled labor for the trades that we are facing. While I agree that the industry needs more students of science, math and engineering, I do find from both professional and personal experience that today’s young folks are far more apt to attend a two- or four-year college rather than learn the trades. I thought your article was going to be more about that subject.

According to the American Welding Society (AWS) statistics, the average age of America’s welders is 54. The view of the AWS is that within the next 10 years, our welding work force will diminish by over 70 percent! That is a disturbing percentage considering the close proximity of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, not to mention Liebherr Mining Equipment just up the street. Howmet Castings is also a large employer of welders.  With this news, it would be interesting to see if Tom Harned of the Virginia Economic Developers Association has an interest in trying to backfill these critical positions.  I am all for expanding the work force with college-educated folks in math, science and engineering. However, the more imminent threat is at the skilled-trades level. 

Understanding the crucial needs to backfill the aging welding work force, our company is in the process of establishing an internal welder training and qualification school. Our interests are not only to fulfill our needs but also the needs of our community. Our work is primarily for the aerospace industry. However, we intend to train and qualify shipyard welders as well as welders for the heavy equipment industry.

Being that we have taken an interest in supporting our industry’s profession and needs, it would sure be nice to have those with influence assist us with grants and support, too. As I stated, I am all for promoting the needs for college-educated young people. My three children all attend college. Of course, I am very proud of them. I just hope there are still enough skilled persons in the trades for my children to supervise and design for in the very near future.

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