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Training organizations work to cover increasing demand for welding skills

By , - Last modified: August 17, 2012 at 10:58 AM

The number of employers seeking welders and the number of students who want to acquire the skills both seem to have increased this summer, with the labor supply lagging behind demand, an official with Harrisburg Area Community College said.

More people are becoming interested in learning welding skills because jobs are available in the field, said Daniel Wagner, managing director of workforce training.

Typically, a firm will contact HACC looking for welders, and the college will put out the word through partners such as the South Central Workforce Investment Board and PA CareerLink, he said.

In many cases, funding can be available to help cover the costs of training, so potential students should not be scared away initially if they do not have money on hand, Wagner said.

Job seekers also should not be dissuaded from pursuing a welding career because of the stereotype it shares with manufacturing in general for offering only hot, dirty or boring jobs, he said.

A lot of other kinds of work are involved, particularly in high-tech fields, Wagner said.

"There is a wide range of what they might be doing," he said.

Placement from HACC's classes has been pretty good, Wagner said.

An instructor of a recent class arranged for five students to test with an area employer, with all of them passing and three accepting jobs, he said.

Many employers seek soft skills such as being on time, and the program stresses those soft skills, Wagner said. Also, there seems to be a slight increase in demand for people skilled as pipe welders, likely because of Marcellus Shale drilling, he said.

Welding is an increasingly important skill set among the millwrights and carpenters of the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters, which supplies trained union workers to contractors, said Michael Platt, Southeast regional manager.

Its signatory contractors require that welders be available when needed, he said.

"We see the need for welders more and more every year," Platt said.

Each millwright trained at the council's facility in Lebanon County receives welding certification during the four-year apprenticeship process, and the school provides journeymen training to stay up to date, he said.

Contractors are asking for specific types of certifications, and the council makes sure it has people trained in the specialties to provide workers with the needed skill sets, Platt said.

On the construction side, for example, welders are in demand to place studs on the outside of steel buildings for a curtain wall, he said. On the millwright side, welding skills are in demand for setting up machinery within manufacturers' operations.

Another big source is the demand for welders at Allentown-based PPL Corp.'s expansion of its Holtwood hydroelectric power plant in Lancaster County, he said.

A person with a diversified skill set has an advantage over others, Platt said.

"They are more employed if they are a welder," he said.

Having a carpenter or millwright with welding skills on site is advantageous because it does not require a contractor to put in another order for more workers if welding is needed, said Bob Zukovich, Lebanon training center coordinator.

"Welding is another tool you can have in your arsenal or your toolbox," Zukovich said.

Students coming out of high school with welding skills also are in demand, said John Boyer, instructor for the welding technology program at Lancaster County Career & Technology Center.

His full-day program for about 25 students is full every year, starting out slightly overbooked and usually ending the school year with around 23 students completing the work during their senior years, Boyer said.

Before the recession, the program had full job placement, but the rate dropped off in the worst of the

recession. However, it quickly climbed back up to exceed a 70 percent rate, he said.

During the recently completed school year, every student either got a job or decided to go on to post-secondary schooling.

The center also has increased its adult education efforts, he said. There is a Monday-through-Friday program that started at the beginning of this year.

"The industry itself is in very high demand," he said.

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