Where are the welders?

Date posted: April 28, 2014

One of your cousins recently retired from a career as a welder. He told his children not to follow in his footsteps as a welder, arguing it was very hard work and was a dying occupation, says host Mary Walden to her husband, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden. She then asks, “Is he correct?”

Mike Walden: Well, certainly in terms of the hard work part he is. He was correct: It’s a hard job. You’re outside. You’re crawling around on structures. You’re out there in heat. You’re out there in the cold. You’re wearing a lot of heavy protective equipment. Very tough job.  Now, on his point about it being a dying occupation, yes and no. If you look at the last decade, actually the last 25 years, yes. We had 600,000 welders nationwide 25 years ago.  Today, that’s down to about 360,000. A lot of that is tied to the slowdown and dismantling of a lot of manufacturing firms in the country. But, and here’s the change, there is some evidence that the demand for welders is coming back. Part of that is tied to the rebound in manufacturing we have seen over the last five to 10 years. Also, it’s tied to the fact that a lot of the existing welders like my cousin who retired are aging out and retiring.  There hasn’t been a new pipeline of welders developed. Now, we’re probably never going to get back to those 600,000 welders that we use to have. A lot of the welding work has now been automated. It’s been outsourced. The new welders are going into what’s called high-quality custom work, made-to-order work, where you can’t develop those welding materials in a factory; you have to have folks on site. But there is evidence that the number of welders is indeed coming back.

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