by Brent Pearson
Employers, particularly in southern Minnesota, have been voicing concern about the supply of welders for several years. Whether that is because of a skills gap in the occupation or due to other factors is uncertain. One thing is clear: with above-average wages and wage offers, strong job demand statewide, and low education requirements, welding is a career worth exploring for people with an interest in making things and working with their hands. Still, employers likely will have to take an active role if they want a trained and prepared workforce to fill future vacancies.
Demand for welders is high. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers ranks 23rd among more than 600 occupations for statewide employer demand. Results from Minnesota’s job vacancy survey indicate that demand has picked up again since the recession, with 159 and 166 vacancies during second quarter 2012 and fourth quarter 2012, respectively. Wage offers for welding job vacancies have varied over the last eight years, in part because of the level of education and experience required by vacancies reported. There is evidence that employers pay a premium for education and experience in this occupation.
The long-term outlook in the field is also good, with projected growth well above average between 2010 and 2020. If there is a mismatch between supply and demand for welders, it is likely to be highest in areas where the concentration for this occupation is greatest.
Although most employed welders have no formal training past high school, requirements are changing quickly. The latest data available show that 89 percent of job vacancies for welders require post-secondary education and 16 percent require a certificate. The majority of vacancies in the field over the past two years have required post-secondary education and some work experience. Most post-secondary education programs in welding last one or two years, and many programs in Minnesota offer a certificate. Programs for welding exist in every region in Minnesota.
While the educational requirements are not extensive and the opportunity to pursue these educational programs is available throughout the state, the fact that the majority of welding job vacancies require work experience is a major barrier to entry into the occupation. There are several apprenticeship programs in welding, but these certainly do not provide sufficient opportunity to train all the welders needed in Minnesota. If employers need experienced welders, they must take a more active role in providing opportunities for apprenticeships, internships, and on-the-job training in this high-demand occupation.
A version of this article appears in the March 2013 issue of Minnesota Economic Trends.