Few employers show up to recruit MATC student welders

April 10, 2013

From jsonline.com: “Few employers show up to recruit MATC students” — Employers who have said there’s a shortage of welders in Wisconsin – and that it’s serious enough to threaten their business prospects – didn’t turn out in large numbers Tuesday for a Milwaukee Area Technical College job fair that could have introduced them to 50 job candidates.

Eight companies attended the event at the college’s campus in Oak Creek, which was intended to help recent and upcoming welding program graduates find employment.


For years, companies have lamented a lack of welders, especially for work that requires a high level of skill and knowledge. In some cases, they’ve said, the shortage has created production bottlenecks at their manufacturing plants.

MATC has ramped up its welding programs to help address the need, and college officials said they expected more businesses to be at the job fair.

“I think there is some fair criticism” for employers who complain about a shortage but didn’t show up for the fair, said David Dull, president and CEO of Allis-Roller LLC, a metal fabricator in Franklin that was at the event.

“It’s easy to complain,” said Dull, who is also a MATC board member.

Some companies have started welding classes in their factories, and some have said MATC’s programs haven’t met their needs for highly specialized and demanding jobs.

“I would say it’s challenging to find skilled help,” Dull said, adding that some companies might be turned off by a job fair that doesn’t have experienced candidates for them.

Area business leaders have said the welder shortage is going to get worse as thousands of older workers retire and there aren’t enough young people willing to take their place.

“Welding is more than just grabbing a stick and going to work. There’s a lot of science and knowledge involved,” said Mike Kuehnl, manager of student employment services at MATC.

“I was hoping for more employers” at the job fair, Kuehnl said. “I can’t speak to the reasons why more didn’t show up. Maybe they don’t need people right now, and it’s quite possible we might be catching up a little bit with the demand.”

Welding has been a sensitive subject at the technical college.

A labor union, for instance, has asked the college to stop training nonunion employees who could step in as replacement workers at Caterpillar Inc.’s South Milwaukee plant in the event of a strike.

Labor officials also have questioned whether there is a welder shortage.

“If there is one, we shouldn’t have to be pulling teeth to get companies at a job fair,” said Michael Rosen, faculty union president at MATC and economics instructor at the college.

“I think some employers want to keep flooding the market with job candidates so they can keep wages down,” Rosen said. “In a market where companies are looking for welders, the only way to attract them is to pay a higher wage.”

Some research, though, suggests these shortages are real and can be expected to worsen.

Wisconsin will have fewer than half the metal manufacturing professionals it needs by 2021, according to a recent report from ManpowerGroup. Demand for these skilled tradesmen will grow by nearly 50%, but the supply will decrease about 12% as the industry gets slapped by a wave of retirements, the report said.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that two-thirds of the fastest-growing occupations from 2012 to 2018 will be in apprentice-based fields. More apprenticeships could help fill some of the skills gap. But many young adults, especially, don’t realize they could earn a good living in a manufacturing career, Dull said.

“More than half of the jobs in the state don’t require a four-year degree, but nearly 100% of the students are being told to go to college. To me, that’s the biggest disconnect,” Dull said.

But Marc Levine, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor of history, economic development and urban studies, says the skills gap is a myth.

“All of the data suggests that companies that have been crying the loudest about a shortage of skilled workers have exaggerated the claims,” said Levine, who last month published a research update titled “The Myth of the Skills Gap in Wisconsin.”

There are about 2,000 unemployed welders in Wisconsin and about 500 job openings here a year for them, according to Levine.

In Wisconsin and surrounding states, there are about 17,000 unemployed welders, he said.

Levine says the only welder shortage he’s aware of is in places like North Dakota and Wyoming, where a boom in the oil and gas industry has resulted in a widespread lack of skilled help.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If there really were a shortage of welders here, you would expect employers to be lining up for them at the MATC job fair,” Levine said.


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