The heavy steel fabrication industry has been plagued by a shortage of skilled welders for a number of years. Millennials and Generation Z (or even Generation Alpha) do not have a very positive view of working in this sector, and the rise of the service industry which offered high renumeration in a comfortable job environment meant that there was a feasible alternative towards working in production or manual jobs. Also, with experienced welders edging close to retirement or embarking on entirely new careers, there is likely to be a vacuum of welding experts in the near future. How can this problem be addressed? Technology is likely to be an enabler in this regard and this blog will delve deeper in this topic.
Older Welders’ Attitude Towards Technology
Experienced and weathered welders may be skeptical about advanced technologies, such as traditional robotic welding systems or new welding cobots. The sheer fear of losing control over their jobs is real, as is apprehension about being fired as a metal fabrication business relies more and more on robotic automation. In this regard, it may be worth expanding on the true benefits that technology can bring to the table. A conversation with welders can commence by telling then that welding robots will handle all the mundane and repetitive jobs. A follow-up conversation can be envisioned explaining that they can work on more complex, important, and strategic tasks. It may take them a bit of time at first to accept these details, however by involving traditional welders in Industry 4.0 project right from the start and investing in training, an earlier adoption of technology can be possible.
Enticing Tech-First Welding Employees
It is estimated that Generation Z – people born between mid-1990s and 2000s – will make up about 27% of the workforce by 2025. The priorities of Gen Z are less with regard to salary and more with alignment of their values to an organization which also fosters a healthy work/life balance. Technology is an inherent aspect of their lives and they focus on being up to date on the latest technology that makes their lives easier. Hence, to boost the curb appeal of open welder positions, pipe fabrication shops and manufacturers inevitably need to invest in technologies that can upskill welders and tap into their curiosity and creativity.
New solutions like welding cobots and dedicated apps democratize technology and lower the barrier of entry. These solutions can be adapted to the trade and to all business sizes. For instance, traditional welding robots are difficult to set up, require a lot of time to program, and are not suited for companies that deal with high-mix/low-volume production. However, welding cobots, especially those using dedicated apps, require no robotics knowledge. They not only leverage the expertise of current welders but also alleviate some of the gripes they have with their jobs. These new automated welding systems are designed for fast onboarding and minimal programming. The end result is that younger welders feel the companies they work for actually invest in their potential and contribute to advancing their careers.
In the current labor market where it is tough to find qualified and dedicated welders, businesses will have no choice but to adopt new work methods and equipment to transform welding from a manual and dangerous job into a cognitive career that is valued and highly coveted. On these lines, companies like BOC have opened Application Technology Centres in Australia to showcase state-of-the art welding processes. New technologies, such as welding robots and cobots, are providing highly compelling growth opportunities for welders of all generations. Hence, despite the staffing doom and gloom, strategies exist that can help welding or manufacturing teams looking to hire skilled welders or the few-and-far-between newcomers to the art of welding!