Baby Boomers are retiring, and they’re taking with them decades of hands-on experience in skilled trades. As employers scramble to find qualified replacements, high schools and community colleges are stepping up to fill the skills gap.
Where have all the welders gone?
The current lack of skilled-trade workers isn’t only a result of baby boomers entering retirement. It’s coupled by a steady decline in trade school attendance and apprenticeships among young people over the previous few decades.
Some blame this on a bias favoring four-year university degrees, while others cite the younger generation’s lack of interest in skilled trades. In a 2011 report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, a survey of 18- to 24-year-olds found that manufacturing ranked last among industries in which they would choose to start their careers.
Whatever the cause—likely several mitigating factors—there’s no debate that the number of skilled-trade workers has diminished in recent decades. The New York Times reports that there were 550,000 welders nationwide during the 1980s, but just 343,000 in 2013. In 2012, EMSI found that 53 percent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were aged 45 or older, a concerning statistic for employers hoping not only to sustain but grow their businesses into the future.
Vocation, vocation, vocation
With demand for skilled welders at an all-time high, high schools and community colleges across the country have risen to the challenge. Manufacturers are forming close partnerships with local technical colleges and there’s been a rise in trade school enrollment, according to the New York Times.
Here in the greater Puget Sound region, several welding programs aimed at young adults have emerged in recent years, including:
The Harbor Island Training Center, a partnership between South Seattle College and Vigor Shipyard that trains high school graduates in the highly sought-after skill of marine welding.
The Northwest Career and Technical Academy, which holds welding courses at a Meridian High School in Bellingham. The course is available for teens throughout Whatcom County and counts as high school credit.
New welding programs through the state-sponsored Running Start program, which gives juniors and seniors at public high schools the chance to leave campus and earn high school and/or college credit at local technical colleges.
With the American Welding Society predicting a 10-percent rise in welding jobs over the next decade, new training programs aren’t just a welcome sight for manufacturers, but also for young people eager to secure a prosperous career early on.