Where Have All the Good Welders Gone?

May 2024

“Joe, good hands are hard to find. If you know of anyone decent who might be looking for welding work, send them my way, would ya?” Local Wyoming employers have often said a variation of this sentence to me. Now, for those unfamiliar with this type of Midwest jargon from my neck of the woods, this translates to “Where have all the skilled welders gone?”

I have certainly heard this statement a lot lately, and not only from a handful of local employers but also from many others from coast to coast. After a while, it began to pique my curiosity and made me wonder: What happened to all the skilled welders? Did they hang up the hood and retire? Have they changed careers? Are they all inspectors now? Or are they still out there?

I was green when breaking out as a young welder almost two decades ago. Looking back, I was fortunate to have been trained, taught, and influenced by several genuine craftspeople throughout the early years of my career. They were phenomenal welders, inspectors, fabricators, and educators who carried themselves with unmatched grace and professionalism. I always admired how talented they were and aspired to be as skilled as them one day, striving for that vast understanding of welding and learning all the tricks of the trade. Being a novice among these seasoned golden arms who would outweld and outwork the youth was empowering and impressive. I flourished in this environment. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my early work experience was an informal model of mentoring, where these craftspeople left a piece of their legacy with me. 

The need for welders has remained elevated for years, and that is an industry norm we collectively continue to address. However, the emerging narrative of “we don’t just need more welders, we need more good welders” continues to grow. What is the criteria to be considered a good welder, and why aren’t there supposedly more of them? Are the schools at fault? Are we just being picky? Being a former welding educator, I am frustrated to hear this emerging narrative. As an educator, I enjoyed molding the next generation of welders, and like those mentors who did right by me, I, too, made it a priority to ensure my students were equipped with a solid set of skills and, most importantly, a great attitude. I hoped I was a positive influence on the graduates, and when they hit the workforce and were asked by colleagues where they went to school or who taught them, I was proud my name could be a part of that conversation. This is the legacy I, and many other instructors, want to create. 

While being an educator can be tough at times, those who are in the trenches teaching will tell you it is the most rewarding and gratifying job there is. Instructors have an incredibly tough task to accomplish: Prepare an individual who may have little or no experience to successfully enter the workforce in six months to a year or two. These instructors are tasked to produce students who are good welders, which the industry desperately needs, and it appears the entire dilemma is on the shoulders of welding education. That doesn’t seem right. Could it be that the good welders, inspectors, engineers, fabricators, and many other craftspeople in the welding industry haven’t disappeared but have forgotten about their potential protégés entering the workforce? 

It is National Welding Month, and the welding community is always excited to amplify the message of its importance and impact in today’s world, so I’ll get right to brass tacks. I call on you to do right by the green hands and our welding educators. Let’s all continue to invest in molding the next generation of good welders we dearly need and step up to be mentors. Our protégés are waiting, and I look forward to expanding their journey, skills, and knowledge as well as the high standards of our craft together.

WD Apr 24 - Where Have All the Good Welders Gone?
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Joe Young, senior manager, workforce development, AWS Foundation


This article was written by Joe Young (senior manager, workforce development, AWS Foundation) for the American Welding Society.