If you didn't see the story about the Boy Scouts now offering a welding merit badge, you can learn more about it here. The story's author ties it into the overall need for a new generation of welders, which sort of makes sense. Frankly, I was amazed the Boy Scouts didn't already offer such a merit badge; I guess they are always prepared when it comes to wooden soap box racers—not metal ones.
I'm not going to jump on my soapbox and spread the news about manufacturing's need for welders. The American Welding Society says that the average age of this country's 450,000 welders is 55 and fewer than 20 percent are under 35 years old. That about sums up the challenge that lies ahead.
No. I'd rather talk about the changing definition of a welder. For many in the metal fabricating world, welder means a production welder. I'll let the quote from one teenager highlighted in the MSNBC story sum up that job: "Welding would be a great side job. But it gets real boring, real fast." He left out the part about working in extremely hot conditions with bulky clothing, but he nailed it.
If employers want to expand their potential labor pool to include the Boy Scouts of the world, they need to sell a career path, not a job. The initial job as a production welder might include a specified time period for boring beads and the grind of grinding, but the pathways from that start are almost limitless. Welders can become specialized in several different competencies, such as pipe welding, or become a welding inspector or instructor. Beyond the welding department, a one-time welder can become a machine operator, estimator, production supervisor, or quality inspector. If they have the entrepreneurial streak, these welders can strike out on their own—which typically is the case with many readers of The FABRICATOR.
If that welder is left there to lay down bead after bead, day after day, with no cross-training or changeup in fabricating activities, then you've got someone who is likely going to be looking elsewhere for more interesting work. And those who stay might become disengaged from the manufacturing activity and are just going through the motions to get the job done. Is that what a modern manufacturer needs to stay competitive?
I'd argue that a Boy Scout would be better off earning a merit badge in fabricating, rather than just welding, because he could actually build something rather than just joining pieces of metal together. Manufacturing would benefit as well from a new generation who see the excitement of tackling new projects each and every day.