Thoughts About Welding
Thoughts About Welding
Michael Vallez, P.E., MBA - Chairman,
Global Faith Partners
I would like to share some thoughts about welding for you to ponder as it relates to our mission with the School to Work Program. These thoughts are shaped by my life experiences with welding and welders throughout my professional career. I have managed many projects with welders and welded structural components across a variety of industries. I have managed projects with and overseen the work of thousands of skilled tradespeople. Early in my career, I designed a variety of steel structures as an engineer in training.
During the oil crises of the 1970’s, the Engineering News Record magazine had a cover story with a photo of a large offshore oil platform, typical of many facilities being built in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, I was working as a project engineer for Atlantic Richfield Petroleum (ARCO) on one of their underground mining projects in Utah, the Carr Fork Mine. I was taking SCUBA lessons and became intrigued by the idea of becoming an underwater welder / engineer working in the Gulf of Mexico on oil and gas development. The thought occurred to me that I might become among the only structural engineers who was also an underwater welder. I passed up this idea due to the lack of time required for the welding courses I would need to take.
Since then, I have learned a lot about welding and many welders have worked on projects I have managed. These have included Navajo Indians, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, men, and women. Welding is a unique arena where one’s nationality, skin color, or gender is far less important than skill and ability. Welds and welders are usually under the continuous eye of inspectors and subject to quality assurance tests to assure weld quality and performance. Intrinsically, welding is a trade that has a leveling effect for someone who might not have been born in the right family or have the means to go to college. If you know how to do your job well, little else matters. Welders come on the job, and perform their work under a hood, peering through special glass, with the technical skill and hand-eye coordination required of a surgeon.
Welding is a trade skill with international demand. It is one of those trades where projects are often staffed with expats from other countries outside of the host country of a project.
When a welder shows up on the job, he or she needs to be able to perform his work with proficiency. On-the-job training as an apprentice is not typically available in the welding trade. Becoming a welder requires months of practice under the watchful eye of a caring and patient instructor. During this time, the welding student is not earning any pay, like a paid apprentice can in the other trades. The money to pay for schooling and supplies is flowing out from the welding student, instead of flowing in, as with an apprentice job in other trades.
A welder’s tools and equipment cannot fit on a tool belt as with most other trades. Welding machines cost thousands of dollars, whereas an electrician or plumber or carpenter can carry most tools on a tool belt. Establishing a welding school requires a high level of capital investment in complex machines and equipment. Because this equipment has to be acquired on the international market, the relative cost of this equipment in local currencies can be extremely high depending on the value of the local currency.
The American Welding Society is already predicting that the U.S. alone will be short 400,000 welders by 2024. In my opinion, the coming demand for skilled industrial welders in Tanzania and greater Africa will soon outstrip the supply of welders if nothing is done to address this challenge. This raises welder training to the level of national and international priority in the coming years.
Global Faith Partners has assembled a welding training advisory team that is second to none. These experts have accepted the difficult task of addressing this challenging priority with us. Please consider joining us in this mission in any way that you can.