Industry leaders and the education sector could be doing more to promote welding as a rewarding career path for young people and more collaboration is urgently needed to prevent a skills shortage in the future says Colin Kennedy of Air Products.
The problem is that welding is often perceived as a low-paid, low-skill career choice by young people who despite being interested in vocational training, mistakenly believe that welding is not for them. For this reason, training courses for welders around the country are often under-subscribed. And further education colleges are increasingly tempted to replace such courses with more popular ones in order to attract more students.
However, perceptions are beginning to change and awareness is growing among career advisers, and others in front line education that trained welding engineers can pursue highly-rewarding careers in a variety of industry sectors.
Good quality metal fabrication skills are in strong demand across the UK in a range of thriving industries where job prospects are far from limited – the oil & gas and nuclear industries, for example. Some welding novices are also pleased to find that gaining an industry-recognised welding qualification, such as BSEN287-1:2011 / BSEN ISO 9606-1:2013 or ASME IX, can open doors to skilled, contract work overseas too.
For employers here in the UK, however, apprenticeships play an important role by providing a talent pipeline into the business. Headquartered in Staffordshire, Alstom UK runs three-year-long welding apprenticeships and, to date, 20 young apprentices have completed the programme and are now part of the company’s workforce based at sites across the UK. A further five apprentices will be recruited to join the programme this year.
To help promote welding as a career and raise awareness of the company’s apprenticeship programme, each year apprentices are selected to enter SkillWeld, a national competition to find Britain’s most talented trainee welder. Last year, one of the company’s apprentices – Kurt Rodgers – won the competition.
As part of the Government-backed Employee Ownership Pilot (EOP) programme, the company is also taking on more than 30 unskilled school leavers and unemployed individuals for a 27-week-long training course, giving them an opportunity to gain a welding qualification equivalent to NVQ Level 2 and beyond.
Of course, Alstom UK is one of only a handful of companies offering welding apprenticeships in the UK – others include National Grid and Doosan – and more are needed to help to address the current skills shortage and ensure we have enough talent to meet industry demand in the future.
The most common point of entry to a welding career is currently an industrial apprenticeship, most of which are supported by Government funding. The Apprenticeship Grant for Employers scheme (AGE) allows employers who have not had an apprentice in the last 12 months to obtain a £1,500 grant for each of up to ten apprentices they take on, aged between 16 and 24.
To succeed in getting more young people to train for a career in welding, we need to see more businesses taking advantage of such Government-backed training schemes and growing their own talent for the future. We also need to encourage more industry collaboration to help get the message across.
SkillWeld 2014 aims to be an example of such collaboration in action and I hope that it will inspire more employers to invest in welding skills and give careers advisers and young people greater insight into some real engineering careers.
Colin Kennedy is Marketing Associate at Air Products and a member of the SkillWeld 2014 Committee.