LIMA — When workforce development officials survey local business owners in the manufacturing industry, one thing is resoundingly clear: skilled welders are in high demand.
“The need is big, the pay is great, and the shortage is painful,” said Doug Arthur, program director at Link Lima/Allen County.
Though most if not all career tech schools in the region offer a welding program, Arthur said they are not generating enough talent to fill the void. Gary Cearns, the welding instructor at Lima Senior High School, said he averages between 14 and 17 students a year. Of those students, some never finish the program. Others take the course just their senior year, leaving them behind the curve in a program that is designed to be taken for two years.
While the overall number of students taking welding is minimal, the number of girls who complete the program is even less. Cearns said he averages one female student a year, and the average high school welding program enrolls between 5 and 10 percent of females annually. This leads to low numbers in the professional field as well, he said, with an estimated 5 percent of women in the welding industry.
With such high demand for skilled welders coming out of high school, instructors like Cearns, workforce development officials like Arthur and business owners are trying to pull more girls into welding programs.
The idea is simple: more girls taking welding means the talent pool increases, and employers have a greater chance of landing the skilled workers they need. Not only that, Cearns said girls are often more prepared to enter the workforce straight out of high school than boys.
“Girls seem to be more focused, and they’re a little more professional early in life than males, I think,” Cearns said. “People say girls mature faster than boys, and I see it in here.”
Cearns said in his six years teaching welding at Lima Senior, girls almost always finish in the top three in the class.
“The girls I have come in with a superior attitude, a better work ethic and are willing to ask questions because they want to do it right,” he said. “When they pursue welding, after they come through this course, I know they’re going to be successful. I just wish I would see more.”
The notion that girls who are in welding programs have success was evidenced by last year’s Maker Fest, where three local girls swept the welding competition.
Sierra Mark, Brooke Brown and Tashara Mays — each from a different career tech school — took first, second and third, ahead of their male competitors.
For Brown, the fact she is a female seeking a job in a predominately male-driven field is something she doesn’t think about much.
“People always ask me what it’s like, but I never know what to say because I never think about it that way,” said Brown, a recent graduate of Vantage Career Center in Van Wert. “I’m good at what I do, and I just happen to be a girl.”
Brown said after Maker Fest, she immediately started receiving inquiries from business owners hoping to recruit her to work for them. Though she hasn’t started applying for jobs yet, she is confident she’ll be able to find a job fairly easily. After gaining some experience in the field, she hopes to one day become a welding inspector.
Tashara Mays, a 2016 graduate of Lima Senior’s welding program, said she is also confident that opportunities exist for her.
“There’s some good-paying jobs out there,” Mays said. “There’s jobs here if you want to stay local, and there’s some that allow you to travel.”
Welding jobs are not only in high demand, they also pay well. A high school graduate who has gone through a welding program stands to make between $25,000 and $50,000 for an entry-level position. Furthering your education through apprenticeships and college leads to even higher paying jobs, ranging between $50,000 and $125,000.
To draw an increased number of girls and boys into welding, Arthur feels they need to be more educated on the opportunities that exist for them and how much money they can make.
“There’s also a stigma that all manufacturing work is greasy, dirty and dark,” he said. “There’s a bad reputation from manufacturing in general that keeps moms from sending their daughters or sons into welding. I think the stigma is the biggest part of the problem.”
Arthur said another draw to welding is the fact that they don’t need a college degree. Through a two-year high school welding program, they can receive every certification they need to get a job right out of school.
“By the time they come out of their senior year, they’re ready for a career in welding,” he said. “You’re making great money, and you get to be creative and work with your hands. I honestly can’t find a negative.
“We’ve got a laboratory right here in Lima-Allen County that cultivates some of the best welding talent in the world. We just need to show people that welding and manufacturing work is pretty attractive, and that the opportunities are endless.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima
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