North Montco students Joel Henschel and Trevor Harrison have been building skills that will prepare them for a rewarding career. For the past year Harrison, a junior, has been developing his skills while enrolled in the full-time Pennsylvania Youth Apprenticeship Program (PYAP) at NMTCC.
His participation in PYAP apprenticeship set him up nicely for a full-time job this summer at San Felice in Norristown. “I like the experience of getting paid while learning,” says Harrison, adding “I get more experience using torches, welding, grinding, and using plasma.” Henschel, a recent graduate who has made the most of his career training, feels the same. “I learned a lot in the past two years in the welding program,” he says.
During his experience at NMTCC he also had the opportunity to work at Gouldey Welding in Souderton. At Gouldey, he gained valuable welding experience working on trucks and heavy equipment (fabrication). Henschel will continue his studies at Penn College of Technology. Henschel’s opportunities for advancement will be bright as there is plenty of room for growth as a skilled welder. The U.S. Labor and Industry projects about a 9.2% growth rate for welders through 2026. While certain industries may require welders with specific skills, these tradespeople enjoy a number of job prospects and opportunities for growth.
Experience and trade certifications create an even better dynamic for seasoned workers, with salaries averaging over $60,000. Welding training is available at NMTCC for high school students or adults through continuing education classes. To learn more about the industry, I asked several local welders to respond to some questions about this field:
Many trades are in need of skilled workers. Is the welding industry in a crunch?
“Yes, our industry has been suffering to find younger, skilled workers. It’s been that way for the past 5 or 10 years,” says Matt Dodge, Welding Repair and Services Assistant Manager at Skippack Welding. Dodge believes that this shortage may be in part due to conversations with young people being centered on getting a college education rather than a discussion about a possible trade. Sam Hirlehey, who also works in the welding supply industry, agrees, “Often times people might think that a business degree is the answer to a career, and that’s not always true. Hirlehey adds that as a result, “several articles that I’ve read report that retirement alone will bring labor shortages in the tens of thousands.” Shortages of this sort can have a big impact on business, as industries are eagerly looking for a specific skill set that fits their industry.
Dave Tretter, of Tretter Manufacturing, explains how difficult it is to find workers with the right skill set. “Our problem is finding a strong TIG alloy welder. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people with this experience, time, or training.” Rocco Sexton, NMTCC’s welding instructor, gets requests for welders every day. Sexton says, “A welding career can take you down a number of paths. These skills are invaluable anywhere they go to work, as they put you on a shortlist of people who can weld. There are more people out there that don’t weld than do.” He adds, “career pathways for welders may include Certified Welding Inspector (CWI), research and development, foreman, or other leadership roles in a company.”
Different Businesses Require Different areas of Expertise
“If you think about it, most industries have a need for skilled welders, medical, aerospace, pipeline, petro-chemical, and structural (civil)” says Sexton. Welding processes vary according to the application or the product being manufactured. Dodge works for Henkels and McCoy, a local civil construction business, which repairs and provides preventative maintenance to heavy equipment. Welders in this industry use flux core or stick. Welders using this process learn to gauge their work through a careful visual inspection. Tretter Manufacturing, a specialty valve Manufacturing Company for the chemical industry, uses flux core and TIG to weld metal up to 3 inches thick. The quality of these welds would be evaluated through non-destructive testing (NDT), a process that can check quality without damaging the weld. Examples of NDT are x-ray, magnetic particle testing, dye penetrate testing, as well as visual inspection.
What about women in welding?
There are no boundaries today for women in the trades. Welding careers offer the same career paths as it does for men. Casey Stanley, a part-time welding instructor at North Montco. works full-time welding custom exhaust systems. She started her North Montco education as a Cosmetology student as a freshman. “While a sophomore, I realized it was not for me. I looked into the welding program and kept thinking about it, and since I had the advantage to be here for free, I wanted to take advantage of it.” Her advice to other women thinking about the trades, “Don’t let a male dominated field intimidate you. This kind of training is a good investment in yourself, especially if you have the opportunity while in high school. It’s also a field where you can get recognized for your hard work.”
What kind of job candidates get your attention?
In order to make the bottom line, businesses need to hire the best candidate for the job. Welders usually have some level of technical education and may take advantage of apprenticeships, mentorships, additional classes or earn nationally recognized certifications. Many companies will continue training a welder who shows promise and is a team player; however, a candidate’s skill level was the top priority of companies asked.
Being a supplier, Hirleyhey says he looks for people that understand the metals industry and have good working knowledge of the tools of the trade. Depending on the industry and the type of work being done, certifications may be required. For example, Dodge explained that civil construction businesses may look to hire welders with an American Welding Society (AWS) certificate in structural steel. The AWS, a nationally recognized welding organization, can test for competencies in specific areas to ensure that products meet specifications.
Being in the specialty valve business, Tretter strongly advises that in addition to skills, an applicant needs to be able to articulate their experience. “Applicants should be able to discuss their skills, what they do and what they want to do with employers …each person needs to speak to their background.” At North Montco students have the opportunity to learn a number of different processes needed in the industry and the certifications that are attractive to employers.
Interests of Welders
In general, welders can be pretty industrious both at work and during their time off. It’s not uncommon to see those in the trades creating and problem solving in their spare time. Dodge says, “racing RC cars, woodworking, and repairing equipment are some of the things I enjoy. The bigger the problem, the more fun the job is. North Montco Technical Career Center can help you achieve your career goals in welding or another technical field of interest.
If you are interested in learning more please check or website at www.nmtcc.org or contact Denise Collins, Continuing Education Capacity Coordinator, at (215) 368-1177, ext. 303 for more information.