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Where Have All the Welders Gone? Ivy Tech professor says businesses are in need

GOSHEN — As Donald Trump’s presidential administration puts an increasing emphasis on bringing manufacturing back to the United States, the welding industry has found itself with a shortage of steady hands on the stick.

From stick welding to mig and tig, the country is feeling the pinch of a welder shortage, according to Ivy Tech Welding instructor and Certified Welding Inspector Edward Sexton, who said the problem is multi-layered.

The reasons why not as many people are going into welding as a profession relate to money, stigma and the trend in what a career job is in the United States, he said.

“The industry has as a shortage because all the kids are now going to school to get a job on a computer,” said Sexton. “It’s quick, easy money to be able to get into that no problem.”

He added that most people don’t see welding — a traditionally “blue collar” job — as a lucrative career. When one thinks of high-paying professions, suit-and-tie professions come to mind much more readily than a job in which one works with one’s hands.

But Sexton said the money available to a trained welder can easily rival any profession a “white collar” job can provide, the only difference being welding is physical and hands-on.

“They don’t see it as a big money-making opportunity, but in reality it is if you get into the right fields of welding,” he said.

Speaking on the amount of money a newly-certified welder can make, Sexton said today’s companies will likely hire a welder fresh from training at a range anywhere from $13 to $16 an hour, and the shortage of skilled hands available to companies often leads to those companies sending newly-trained welders back to school on the company dime to learn more in their field.

Sexton himself focused his career ambitions elsewhere in the beginning, but fell back on welding when budget cuts under the first Bush administration gutted his former industry.

Now, as a Certified Welding Inspector and welding instructor, he makes a good living fusing metals, even being offered the opportunity to work for the U.S. military as a contracted welder in Iraq, which he said could pay up to $300,000 per year.

And although he didn’t take the job overseas largely because it required a nine-month stay in the Middle East, Sexton says that kind of money in the welding trade is not unheard of.

“You’ve just got to want to do it,” he said. “The money is there.”

Pay rates aside, Sexton said the country needs welders as much as wants them.

He said infrastructure in the US is largely dependent on those who can weld, specifically citing the condition of many bridges across the nation, which have been found to be sorely lacking in upkeep due to a shortage of people qualified to work on the vast metal structures.

Colleges have also been suffering as far as welding is concerned.

With a lack of young people interested in the trade, colleges like Ivy Tech have seen struggles in trying to get students to sign on for programs which teach welding.

“Colleges are hurting for people to take welding because they see it as a dirty job, and they don’t want to get into that,” he said. “Or they have no interest at all.”

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