"A few years ago, two Morris companies which rely heavily on welders realized they might never be able to recruit enough of them from area training programs.
So Superior Industries and Westmor Industries started their own welding school.
They started by training a few prospects from within the companies in a corner of one of Superior's buildings on Highway 28.
Today, the companies' welding program trains and provides updates for hundreds of welders who see the ubiquitous skill as a path to a well-paying, long-term career.
"I never thought it would be this busy," said Dave Dybdal, a Weld Instructor and Consultant for the training program.
Fighting for welders
When Superior had Dybdal start the program in June 2007, the average age of welders was 53. Just three years later, the age has risen to 56, and the American Welding Society predicts there will be a shortage of 200,000 welders nationwide this year. The AWS cites U.S. Department of Labor statistics that predict there will be 450,000 welding jobs available in the U.S. by 2014.
"Everybody was fighting for welders," said Stan Wulf, Superior's Director of Continuous Improvement. "Finally, it hits you: We're in this for the long haul and we're going to have to train our own."
Part of the shortage can be attributed to the stereotype of welding as a dark, dirty industry with little upward career growth potential -- welding was beset by the 3 Ds: Dark, dirty and dangerous. Today, the industry refers to the 3 Ss: Secure, Safe, and Satisfying.
Welding’s all around us
Welding is evident in almost every facet of American life and industry, as Dybdal said, from the chairs people sit in to the equipment they use to do their own jobs everyday. Welders work in various industries and often find it lucrative financially.
Because of the shortage of welders in the U.S., Superior Industries started its own welding school. Dybdal and the two or three students he trained worked with two welders and one grinding booth.
Now, Superior and Westmor have a spacious training facility in the Morris Industrial Park, complete with welding area -- and nine welders and a host of other equipment and materials -- plus classrooms, film room, office space and break room. About 30 percent of the training is classroom work and 70 percent is spent in the welding lab.
Now, more than 325 people have been through the training program from Superior and Westmor. The training facility also can be used by workers from other companies that don't compete with Superior or Westmor. Dybdal does welding training at Superior's facility in Arizona, and he also works as a sub instructor at Alexandria Technical College.
Dybdal also is qualified to train and certify welders in all processes.
"Everything we do requires certification," Dybdal said. "So you either hire someone to come in and train and certify your people, or you do it yourself."
The students are trained in Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) and some Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW). A number of Westmor's projects require Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW). and Sub-Arc Welding (SAW)
Since Superior bought Westmor, that company's work with high-pressure tanks requires welders to be certified in American Society of Mechanical Engineers regulations for welding on pressure vessels. The training facility is equipped for it, Dybdal said. Superior Welders are certified to AWS D1.1 (American Welding Society.)
"Welders in the industry now aren't getting any younger," Dybdal said. "But with all the doom-and-gloom, there are a lot of opportunities in welding. You can make a good living doing it."
Interest grows at MAHS
Morris Area Industrial Technology teacher Shane Tappe recently brought a group of students to the training facility. The classroom was packed. It seems the students are catching on to the benefits of industrial careers.
"When I got here, we had six of eight kids in welding," said Tappe, now in his third year at MAHS. "Now, I've got 30 kids in 9th grade welding and 18 in advanced metals. We're turning kids away because there aren't enough teachers to teach kids. It's unbelievable."
Once exposed to welding, "the kids love it," Tappe said. "We're committed to providing opportunities for these kids."
That's the key, Dybdal said.
"If people have the passion to do it, that's great," he said. "I can teach the skill but I can't teach the desire to do it."
Varied career options
But Superior, Westmor and other manufacturers can generate an interest to find out more about careers in welding. Dybdal said he's encouraged by Tappe's experiences with the growing number of industrial tech students.
The industry isn't limited to two-year degrees and a life-long job behind a helmet. There are four-year degree programs, graduate and Ph.D programs in Welding Engineering, and jobs in research and development, construction, skilled trades, manufacturing, inspection, education and technical sales.
"We're trying to create interest among people that you can have a very successful career in the welding industry," Dybdal said. "We couldn't do a whole lot in this country without welding. We're lucky enough here to have the resources and training to stay on top of what's happening in the industry."