Engaging the workforce of the future in the skills-gap era

Manufacturers face a growing gap between requirements for the talent they need to grow their business and qualified candidates actually available.

By Carl Peters, The Lincoln Electric Company September 18, 2013

Anyone who interfaces with the manufacturing sector knows all too well that we need more skilled people on our plant floors, and we need them now.

Finding, hiring, and retaining qualified talent in the skilled-labor pool poses a great challenge for today’s employers. Manufacturers face a significant and growing gap between their requirements for the talent they need to grow their business and the qualified candidates actually available to them.

The American Welding Society estimates that 140,000 new welders will be needed by 2019. This is a perplexing figure to ponder, particularly in a still-recovering economy where many remain unemployed.

It’s obvious that jobs are available, at least in the manufacturing sector. The solution comes down to finding the right people to fill these positions immediately and keep them filled well into the future. The demand for highly skilled workers is becoming more acute as older skilled workers approach retirement age and much of the incoming generation of workers lack the skills and technical knowledge that U.S. manufacturers need. 

Creative, engaging methods

The question is, “How do we, the manufacturers, attract new talent to the skilled trades?” The answer is by cultivating awareness early in the teen years by showing students that skilled trades, such as welding, are relevant and fun. It also comes down to changing the image of skilled trades as being dirty or routine. For example, we stress that a career pathway in welding can be fun and involves working with ever-changing technologies, science, and robotics. It’s truly a career pathway that pays well.

At Lincoln Electric, educating and developing the skills of both the future workforce and those seeking jobs in welding today has been an integral part of our company’s mission. Over the years, we have consistently recognized the challenges the industry faces regarding productivity, quality, safety, and workforce development. We have responded with innovative programs and solutions for high school vocational programs, community and technical colleges, universities, skilled trades, military, and industry to address these challenges—from awards programs and textbooks to equipment and specialized consulting services.

Our approach to education isn’t just limited to young students attending career and technical education programs or degree programs at two- or four-year higher-ed institutions. We believe in the concept of lifelong learning and realize it’s crucial to understand all sides of industry’s needs and challenges in order to help bridge the skills gap from students learning the trade to the employers that hire them.

To this end, we offer targeted support to companies seeking to train new hires or refresh the skills of existing workers—through curriculum development, custom-designed “train-the-trainer” education sessions, on-site training, technical support, and more.

But even so, we are well aware that today’s youth is tomorrow’s workforce and have accepted the challenge to get these students engaged and excited about pursuing possible careers in manufacturing by learning about welding. We want to show them where a welding career can take them in life—from a manufacturing floor to a construction site to an engineering firm or metallurgical lab—even if they still are young and not quite ready to start formal career training. 

Building relationships

Lincoln Electric’s involvement with the Boy Scouts of America Welding Merit Badge is one such example. The Boy Scouts created the Welding Merit Badge, which debuted in February 2012, in close collaboration with the American Welding Society and industrial partners, including Lincoln Electric.

To earn the badge, Scouts must learn welding safety requirements, demonstrate first aid procedures that may be needed in the welding environment, demonstrate proficiency in skill sets related to the welding of joints, and learn about careers in various industries that employ welding skills. This great program gives 800,000 Scouts a chance to get excited about careers in welding, engineering, and manufacturing, and allows them to learn a valuable technical skill.

Earlier this year, we hosted three local councils of Ohio Scouts—roughly 100 kids—at our Cleveland headquarters to spend a Saturday undergoing hands-on welding training. We also had teams of Lincoln Electric personnel participating in welding events in July at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and have sponsored other events with the Scouts across the country, including train-the-trainer sessions with troop leaders, counselors, and other representatives.

Our participation in workforce-development efforts continues beyond merit badges and into the classrooms where students make tangible career decisions. Lincoln Electric has developed strong relationships with the institutions that train students for careers in manufacturing and welding—both in career and technical education centers and in higher education institutions, working with welding educators on specialized curriculum development and equipment needs.

When it comes to getting the latest welding-equipment technology into the hands of aspiring welders, or even experienced operators looking to expand and broaden skills, we offer complete educational-equipment solutions for career and technical education centers, colleges, and workforce-training initiatives. 

Providing tools for training success

Our welding equipment for the education sector runs the gamut from power sources, welding booths, and whole-facility fume extraction systems to cutting systems and robotic education cells.  Educators also can request our informational DVDs, posters, and literature on welding and shop floor safety. These tools cover such things as personal protection equipment, basic safety considerations, and even hazardous materials considerations. We also offer innovative virtual reality welding training solutions for the education sector, as well as those doing training in manufacturing facilities.

All of these comprehensive solutions give students a full-scale welding-industry experience—one they can take straight from the classroom lab into the real world with the hands-on skills and know-how they need for on-the-job success.

What’s more, we have developed a “Teacher Observer Program” that allows weld instructors from across the country to come to Lincoln Electric’s welding school in Cleveland to participate in a free, one-week course each year to brush up on skills, learn new techniques, and constantly find new ways to engage and excite the future workforce.

From detailed educational materials to “train the trainer” support, and from curriculum development to all the necessary equipment needed to run a comprehensive welding education and training program, Lincoln Electric is working hard to help the manufacturing industry eliminate the skilled-labor shortage and help tomorrow’s workers establish lasting careers.

All of us in manufacturing know it’s a challenge to continually capture the attention of tomorrow’s workforce and keep them interested in what careers our sector has to offer. We need to work together to make that happen. None of us can handle such a task alone.