TROY — Local welding students received the chance to coordinate with dozens of regional employers on Tuesday as Hobart Institute of Welding Technology hosted its latest job fair event at its campus.
Featuring 51 company vendors from six different states, the job fair marked the largest in the history of the institute. According to the staff at Hobart, job fairs are continuing to grow largely due to a noted skills gap currently rampant within various trades throughout the country.
“For the last three decades, we’ve been pushing our kids to attend four-year universities and it has caused a tremendous skills gap in all of the skilled trades,” said Melinda Jeffery, marketing and career development manager at Hobart. “I drove to Xenia over the weekend, and I can’t tell you how many billboards I saw for companies hiring, and almost all of them were for skilled trades.”
The job board at the institute currently boasts over 700 open jobs across 50 states.
“We have a staff for career development that travels to different schools, and what they’re finding is that enrollments are down,” said Charlie Carpenter, director of skill education at Hobart. “Class sizes are shrinking. Part of that is just due to people having fewer children, but the other part is there’s more focus to pursue a four-year college education. The skilled trade avenues have been less fed into because of that.”
With the average age of professional welders currently at 57, it is estimated that 270,000 job openings will be available for welders alone by 2026, due to a generation of workers reaching retirement.
“The statistics on the skills gap are crazy,” Carpenter said. “We do know the gap is definitely there, because we have 51 employers showing up for a job fair. That alone tells you how difficult it is to hire. The vast majority aren’t hiring one person – they’re hiring 10, 15, or 25 at a time.”
“Every one of these companies are working their welders overtime,” said Karl Sagowitz, engineering technician for GE Aerospace in Beavercreek. “Sixty hours is probably the average for most welders. They just can’t get enough people.”
According to Jeffery and Carpenter, the average age for a student at Hobart Institute is 24, and currently the school boasts an employment rate of over 92 percent for its graduating students.
“That’s huge if you compare it to other schools,” Jeffery said. “Employment rates out of universities for people entering their field aren’t nearly that high. They build up a lot more debt, and don’t make as much money. Right out the door, we’re seeing pretty high salaries, and they’re continuing to rise.”
“There are more open positions now than before,” Sagowitz said, looking to recruit for 100 open tig welder positions at GE. “The new engine programs are coming up with a lot higher volume, so we need people to do the work. They promote up at GE, too. A lot of welders become supervisors, engineering techs, and quality techs.”
“Even though this school is straight welding, there’s different options we can look to fill for students here,” said Brian Case, corporate recruiter for Crown in New Bremen. “We’re always looking for welders. We like this school for lots of reasons, but a big one is that it pulls students from all over the place, and Hobart does a great job at getting companies involved with their students.”
“We focus a lot on our industry relationships,” Carpenter said. “Melinda has done great work reaching out for our job postings. We conduct three fairs a year, and they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Our students have a good rapport with the industry. Once companies hire one or two, they tend to come to more of these, because they like the students they’re getting.”
Jeffery insisted the biggest change that can be made to improve the skills gap involves parents and educators teaching kids to be more open-minded about different career paths.
“When kids are going through high school, a lot of them aren’t sure what they want to do,” Jeffery said. “Many aren’t aware they can go to a trade school for nine-and-a-half months, get out to a really good salary, and never have to worry about having a job again.
“We need to educate parents that university is not the end for every person. Putting that distinction on kids when they’re in high school really pigeon-holes people into things that may not be what they want to do. You can have a 4.0 GPA, and still go to a trade school. It’s a huge disservice to our kids not to expose them to all options.”
For more information on Hobart’s programs, visit www.welding.org.