If you haven't checked the recent blog post by Vicki Bell, thefabricator.com's Web content manager, you are missing some good conversation.
She referenced an e-mail from a fabricator who was responding to an article in the January 2012 "Fabricating Update" e-newsletter. In the response, the fabricator said manufacturing companies could find skilled labor if they were willing to pay for the talent they were seeking: "To put it simply, there is no shortage of skilled labor in this area. The issue that persists now is the fact that no one is willing to pay for this labor. Reputable and large facilities are attempting to hire individuals to weld carbon steel, stainless, and aluminum, and the typical rate is $10 to $12 an hour."
The ensuing comments went back and forth between people who said they truly can't find the right fit for their fabricating operations, even when good wages are offered, and others said they believed manufacturers have helped create this situation by not paying livable wages and must now deal with the consequences. The conversation was civil and enlightening.
But it should be stressed that there is an opportunity to make money in metal fabricating, even if wages may seem very low in the beginning.
Take this listing of "Surprising Jobs with $100K Salaries—After Only a Two-Year Degree." Sheet metal workers are No. 5 on this list, with the top 10 percent in the field earning $122,000 or more. (Of course, this only takes into account workers with at least five years of experience and all of the bonuses, commissions, or profit sharing associated with the job.) That's impressive earnings, even if you realize that an executive pastry chef (really?) is getting paid more than you as you weld some metal in 100-degree heat.
And that's with a two-year degree. Students leaving school with an industrial technology or related degree have less debt to worry about and can start earning money sooner than their counterparts in four-year institutions. Also, if they want to go back to school and pursue a degree in one of those more traditional universities, they'll have the real-world experience that others in the classroom won't have.
The other thing to take into account when it comes to wages in the metal fabricating industry is that everything is location, location, location. A welder in one state, in Alaska, for example, will make more than his or her counterpart in another, such as Georgia, which ranks on the very low end for wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (If you scroll down on this site, you can get a good idea what the top-paying states are for welders.)
The real hurdle in finding these well-paying jobs in other states is the realization that some people can't afford to move. Whether it's because a family can't sell a house in this poor real estate market or maybe a spouse can't afford to give up his or her own well-paying job, some people are stuck in their current location. In this situation, the local opportunities are the only real opportunities.
In the end, every employee wants to feel valued. For some, that means earning a wage or salary that is close to what they believe they should be paid.