Welding: A diversifying skill

Monday, August 09, 2021

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Chris Nimtz joined the Olympic College Welding Program after his 4-year university closed for in person classes during his junior year. He joined the program because he knows it is a large industry with lots of opportunities. Nimtz has now been getting a more interactive experience welding for almost a year now. “There is a lot of prep, practicing, learning and testing to get into it,” says Nimtz going into welding jobs. He says, “there is a lack of workers with the right skills for specific jobs, there is different certifications, knowledge, skills and types of metal in welding, so it makes it harder to find the right people for jobs.”

A steady increase in the median age of Mason County’s population has its workforce aging. Those baby boomers who went to work in blue collar jobs are reaching the age of retirement. These workers have years of experience and skills in their trade. This makes them difficult to replace.

During the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns Ron Keeling of Olympic College Welding Program pushed for his students to return to the classroom as soon as possible. The welding program only missed one quarter last spring in the shop. “Luckily, that’s one of the things the governor deemed essential was the welding program because right now there is a shortage of welders,” said Keeling.

That spring semester was supposed to be the last semester for several of Keeling’s students, many of them got a job instead of finishing their degree. Cayden Mayes was one of those students. Mayes was working at his family's coffee shop and started his own welding business to pay his way through the program. The shutdowns forced his family to close the business, so he was out of a steady income to pay tuition. Mayes said, “I already had my business, and I had some tools and when Covid hit I kind of dove deep into that.” 

Mayes learned to weld in high school when his auto shop teacher gave him a project to weld. “I loved doing it and I got excited every single time I got to do it. My love for welding spiraled from there. He knew that if he was a good welder, he could always find work. He went to Olympic College to gain more experience.

Mayes has since moved to Eastern Washington. “The day I moved out here I took 4 or 5 welding tests and had job interviews. I got job offers from 4 people in the same day. I got to pick and choose which company I wanted to work for.” Mayes spends the morning working for another business and the afternoon working for himself doing agricultural repairs.

Keeling says his biggest concern is, “did I give them (his students) the skill set that they can go out there and get a job.”

According to Pacific Mountain Workforce, there is approximately 500 welders employed in the five-county region that includes Grays Harbor, Pacific, Lewis, Thurston, and Mason Counties. This number only includes jobs where welding is the entire job. Not jobs that require welding experience. In this region, the projected openings for welding jobs are 76 jobs yearly through 2023.

Each year, 186 welding certifications are awarded in the region. So where is this idea of a shortage of welders coming from? 209 additional job postings have required the ability to weld. You might be asking yourself what this means and how it is different from those other 76 job openings.

Like many other regions, the work force in our region has diversified. Employers are requiring more skills from their employees. If we treat welding as a skill and not a job, there is an unmet demand of welders. These jobs require more flexibility in the employee’s job description besides just welding. This is arguably caused by the workforce aging and more positions need to be filled by less individuals.

Mason County is aware of this shift in the workforce. Diversifying skills and experience in individuals are something the county works on starting with the youth. Dana Rosenbach of North Mason School District said, “We are preparing kids for a world where they will change their careers, not just jobs, at least 6 times. Knowing how to be a lifelong learner is an important skill kids will have to have.”  

In the last twelve months there has been a drop in the job postings for welders, but that is expected to change as our region has reopened.

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