In general, all over the world, in every country, not just in Greece, a large shortage of welders becomes very apparent and this situation becomes constantly aggravated, at the same time reflecting the peculiarities of every particular place.
This shortage of welders leads to the demise of a large number of factories and organizations, all of those being involved in the welding field.
The main reasons, for this situation, are considered to be the following :
A) Lack of youth interest in technical vocations.
It has been noticed that world -wide the number of young people dealing with technical skills is rapidly being reduced and as a result of this phenomenon the number of welders is constantly reduced. The more advanced a country is, the more acute the problem becomes.
The vocation of a joiner is a very ancient one one and it seems that it never had any problem existing in the past. This is rather strange as our current civilization is vastly based on metals and metallic structures. In ancient Greece the social, as well as professional status of a joiner enjoyed very high respect.
The presence of the God Hephaestus on Mount Olympus signifies the value of an artisan in spite of the fact that Hephaestus was the ugliest, dirtiest and a handicapped malformed person. Without him Mount Olympus could not function properly.
Today, more than ever before, it is impossible to imagine a structure without the existence of a welded joint. This is applicable for structures floating in the depths of the oceans up to those flying in space, including a tiny microchip up to a gigantic aircraft carrier.
All those require jointing.
The scope of work that a welder can deal with is really huge and the number of welding processes that he/she can use is enormous.
He/she can work as a freelancer or as an employee in many different fields.
He/she can work as a trainee or as a professional welder in metallic structures, in micro welding (for instance medical tools/equipment) in the maintenance field, as an inspector in a welding quality assurance organization, as a salesperson dealing with welding/cutting technology and so on.
In 2007 a relevant AWS article stated that in the USA alone there are 500,000 welders in that country alone, with an average age of 60 years old, at that time, with a need for at least another 200,00 welders in order to cover their needs. In a more recent article AWS states that by 2024 the shortage of welders in the USA will be around 400,000.
In Australia, by the year 1998, the number of welders was reduced by 37% and the average age of those was over 55 years old. Similar problems are faced in all industrialized nations. In Canada for instance they are obliged to look for welders from the African continent. In Japan the crisis is becoming really acute, adding to their demographic problem, as its population is expected to be reduced by 25% by the year 2050. In one of the fastest developing countries, India, the shortage in the number of welders, by 2022, is expected to be around 1,2 million. Many industries are forced to attempt to solve this problem by means of using robotized/automated welding systems, however, the cost of these solutions tends to be rather high and additionally a number of industries found that this solution is not always effective orefficient.
These automated systems are productive only in applications which require large volumes of repetitive work and they incur a very high initial purchasing cost, as well as maintenance cost and expensive spare parts.
However, the well embedded fear of many welders that they will be replaced by robots is not justifiable, at least for the foreseen future. It is not possible to perform automated/robotized welding without having sound welding knowledge and nowadays it is unthinkable for a welder to not be able to adjust the working parameters of an electronic welding system.
It has to be noted that by utilizing welding wire instead of electrodes, welding productivity has risen more than 40%. In spite of all the above the shortage in welders, world-wide, has increased disproportionately creating an acute problem in the welding domain.
It has also to be factored in that manual welding cannot be replaced totally by automation as many interventions -in awkward places-require human involvement.
Many times the welding activity is one of the very last activities and the human hand is the very last means in the rectification of many quality problems.
The lack of welding personnel unfortunately leads to the liquidation of many industrial organizations, as well as companies which provide products and services relevant to welding; such as welding consumables/machines manufacturers, maintenance and construction companies, quality assurance/NDT companies, companies providing Health & Safety-Protection Equipment etc.
Another false concept is that many people wrongly believe that welding is a man’s job. During both world wars many women replaced men in the entire spectrum of the industrial activity, utilizing equipment much heavier andawkward than the ones used today.
B) Social and Professional status of the welder in the Society.
One of the main reasons that many young people do not become welders nowadays is that they wrongly believe that it is a poorly paid profession.In the USA alone the average yearly wage of an inexperienced welder is $ 40,000 and it certainly reaches a much higher rate for experienced/certified welders according to their competence level. There is a very high fluctuation, as far as rates are concerned and a lot depends on the company, area etc. For high quality/productivitydemands the rate can be higher than $100,00 per year. In Australia high technical demand welding jobs might reach 200,000 Australian Dollars per year whereas pipeline welding might even reach 300,00 Australian Dollars per year.
Similar high payments exist in many advanced nations and the interested individual is advised to perform a thorough market search as many companies provide further incentives well beyond the yearly wages.
We must never forget that the welding process requires skills and knowledge. In order to obtain those, personal training and extended practise is an imperative. A successful welder, further to the required skill, must have some basic knowledge of metallurgy, mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, chemistry, first aid etc.
In addition to the above a welder must possess other important traits such as:consistent behaviour, ethical attitude, cooperative approach, hard working attitude and it is also required to show interest in his/her job.
Young welders must not only care solely about their wages but also they must care about the acquisition of further knowledge and experience/skills, as well as to try to consolidate their position in the welding trade.
Another major reason why young people opt out of the welding trade is the false belief that welding is an unimportant profession. At this point it has to be understood that no “second class” profession really exists, all professions are useful, for instance,no top class surgeon would exist if there was no top class artisan tomake his precision instruments.
It is probably no exaggeration to state that the Allied Forces would never have won World War II if welding did not exist. In the 1940s, the USA fleet lost a large number of its battleships in Pearl Harbour, without welding and with just riveting they would never have managed in their war against Japan. Also, they would never have managed to produce all their Liberty ships, enabling them to deploy their troops and hardware to Europe.
The same applies for the construction of pipelines transferring oil from Mexico to the USA.
Similarly, was the situation with the Soviet Red Army during the German tank-led attack in Russia.The solution to their predicament was provided by the Ukrainian engineer Eugen Patton of the Institute of Electrical Welding. Heprovided the solution of Mechanized Submerged Arc Welding enabling the fast production of 84,000 R-34 armour vehicles, something that theGerman forces could not deal with.
C) Professional Orientation and Training.
One of the major reasons for the decline of the welding trade, at least here in Greece, is that many people do not even know about the existence of this profession. The professional orientation, if this exists, is confined to very narrow paths and is mostly dominated by media projections and from people that have vested interests.
So how can one be trained to become a welder?
The welder’s training is a rather expensive undertaking as it requires equipment, consumables, energy etc as well as time. Today, unfortunately, many of the state owned welding schools, as well as the shipyards training centers do not exist, mostly due to a lackof interest as well as capital.
However, as far as the private sector is concerned Greece is in a rather good position, as far as the welding training is concerned, by utilizing two main training sources.
The first one is focused on new welders or slightly more experienced ones seeking to improve their skills and to acquire, in most cases, an internationally recognized certification. The trainee follows a number of practical and theoretical lectures and extensive practice eventually obtaining a certification of international recognition.
The second source is the provision of training by means of experienced trainers, on the premises of organizations, organisations that are usually faced with quality and productivity problems.
The experienced instructors are visiting the sites so there is no need for personnel relocation.In this way major quality and productivity gains can be achieved inthe actual working environment, utilizing the actual company’sequipment and material.Likewise many hidden problems or latent conditions find theirsolutions and at the same time systems, personnel and equipment can beofficially certified as appropriate.
Even if the cost of welding training is, relatively speaking, high if one considers the cost and time required for a young person to study at a college or university it becomes apparent that the abovementioned cost is not that high and also the employable ability of anindustrially trained person is much higher than the one of auniversity graduate who quite often after obtaining his/her degreebecomes a waiter or just a food delivery person.
There is a well-rooted impression that welding is a dangerous and unhealthy occupation taking place in contaminated environments.
However, all occupations face a certain degree of danger and if the appropriate precautions are taken and the correct protective equipment is used the possibility of incidents is reduced considerably.
Health and Safety norms, systems and equipment are improved continuously minimizing, in this way, the possibility of any accident. It has to be understood that recurring accidents mean violation of safety norms and systems and most of the time this factor iscontrolled by the working person himself/herself.
For instance there are unfortunately individuals that instead of cleaning the working surface, by means of a cloth or similar, they use compressed air, creating in this way, a breathable air contaminated environment saturated with minute, dangerous airborne particles.
On the other hand one can often find very clean working places, in metallic structures, and very dirty offices smelling of cigarette smoke or other obnoxious/dangerous smells.
One point that we must always keep in mind is that welding is not just electrode, wire or tungsten needle but it consists of a wide large number of advanced processes in which a welder can become an expert such as laser welding, electromagnetic welding, pulsating welding, electron beam welding and many others yet to be discovered.
There are welders wearing white laboratory coats, using joysticks, wearing advanced working masks and so on. Some of the above might sound like science fiction but when you startyour journey you never know where you might end up.
Many welders when they started their careers in the 70s, thought that they were very advanced simply because they were using a MIG-MAG machine, never thinking that they might end up using pulsedwelding, plasma welding, laser welding and so on.
The welder’s profession is a very advanced technological profession, a well paid one and currently in high demand world -wide.
Certainly, problems exist, like every other profession but, those are solved with the advancement of modern technology and science.
In our country, problems related to welding must be solved with positive attitudes, we must recognize/understand these problems andseek effective solutions.
The way the welding qualifications are issued, the way the construction companies and certification organizations deal with welding, the way that legislation relevant to welding is followed and a myriad of other things that are very important as far as welding technology is concerned.
John Oreopoulos Welding Consultant