Welder shortage threatens infrastructure

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Reported by: Michelle Linn
Updated: 2/14 6:55 pm Published: 2/14 1:06 pm

TULSA, Okla. - Maverick Fisher is a high school senior.

He and his family traveled from southern Illinois to Green Country to check out Tulsa Welding School.

Right now he does welding, part time, in his uncle's shop.

"At work, we get started on something, welding, and at the end of the day, when you go home, you say, 'Hey, I built this.' There's a lot of pride," Fisher said.

But, FOX23 is finding out there aren't enough high school seniors like Fisher.

"Welders are very difficult to find. We have to travel all over the United States because there's a shortage," said David Cobb of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Cobb is in Tulsa to recruit welders for his company.

FOX23 found out it's a huge company that builds and maintains ships for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Huntington Ingalls Industries employs about 37,000 people across the country.

Welders build and maintain ships. They also build and repair bridges, overpasses, pipelines, and buildings.

Industry experts tell us baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day. It's not a matter of what will happen if there aren't enough welders. The shortage is already here.

"The call it massive, detrimental," said Tiffany Jordan, of Tulsa Welding School.

Eighty percent of the industry today says they can't stay competitive because they can't get good qualified welders; Forty percent says they have to turn work away because they can't get good qualified welders," said Cobb.

FOX23 asked Cobb if our nation's infrastructure will crumble, if there are no welders to repair and maintain our country's bridges, overpasses, buildings and pipelines.

"I wouldn't say it will crumble, but I will say it's gonna be challenged," said Cobb.

"It's a critical time. We're really trying to re-educate society and let them know that not everyone is meant to get a four-year degree. Post-secondary education is what's important here," said Jordan.

FOX23 found out 900 students a day are being trained as welders here at Tulsa Welding School.

We discovered they have other campuses to train skilled trade workers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz.

The demand is growing so quickly, Tulsa Welding School plans to open another campus, in Houston, Texas, in the fall.

But even training thousands of skilled workers a day won't put a dent in the nationwide shortage.

It will take $17,000 and about seven months to be trained at Tulsa Welding School, as a welder.

FOX23 watched as Mack Dixon, a 23-year-old father of three from Idabell, Okla., who just graduated from the welding program, tested for a job with Huntington Ingalls.

"Hopefully in the next 20 minutes I will get offered to go to Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi and start my career. (Building) Navy ships. I'm very excited. I've never even been on a ship before, so I can't wait to get on one," said Dixon.

He tells FOX23 the program and the test were not easy.

"When it came down to test time, I knew I had to set my nerves aside. I was doing this for me and my kids, so I had to stick with it and do it," said Dixon.

Dixon passed his test, and visited with an Ingalls human resource representative for an interview.

Industry experts tell us welding jobs pay between $16 and $18 per hour. But they say welders don't work 40-hour weeks. With overtime, they say welders can easily make an annual salary of more than $80,000.

Tulsa Welding School tells us 84 percent of graduates of their welding program are employed six months after completing the program.

Not only is the industry dealing with millions of baby boomers retiring each year, experts tell FOX23 that as public schools lose funding, electives like shop class and welding are the first to get cut, so young people are not even learning about careers in welding.

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