To quote from the article  what could be accessed via the link provided on this page,
"As Andy recalled, “In the middle of the meeting, the president of the company walked into the room and said, ‘Let’s talk about welding.’ He said they had a number of welders who are all aging. They were struggling to recruit new ones, and they weren’t able to scale the company because of it".
End of quote
I hear this all the time.
Note, the speaker didn’t say, “I can’t find any welders”. He struggles to recruit them. This is a prevalent problem in the welding market in general, NAVSEA in particular.
The firm has attempted to use automation in an effort to scale the business and had less than desirable results. Now, according to the article they will try a “different” kind of automation. They don’t get it. I tell my students all the time, you can teach a monkey to program a robot, but you can’t teach that (insert your own expletive here) how to weld. The ROI they sought from automation could have easily been gained from an age-old solution. Having no relationship to the history of manufacturing, and engineering management, they won’t get it.
The article is called "When a welding robot has a brain" and it is about the growing potential of autonomous welding in the fabrication shop. This is a separate topic, mainly about future and eventually we will get there after we will deal with the present.
Manufacturers won’t develop the labor pool they require. They require years of experience, several competencies and offer very little. The welding workforce entering the retirement age is likely between 60- 65 years old. The fact that employers have failed to anticipate their future labor needs, until it has become a crisis, is part and parcel to that failure. The welders of old were often apprenticed into the trade.
a) Translation: someone groomed them into the required organizations methods and paid them to learn at the entry level. They were developed into stellar and productive laborers. The industry giants do this on a large scale. In Newport News, VA, Huntington Ingalls has taken scale to the highest levels with The Apprenticeship School (see  for more information). Even having the forethought to take in an apprentice every two or three years will yield better results than the mad scramble method, once all the welders at a given enterprise get old.
b) One would however, need to be able to, understand the value in, and have an interest in training them. Most manufacturers cannot and do not. The late great engineer of the industrial revolution, Frederick Winslow Taylor addressed this issue over one hundred years ago.
Anyone in manufacturing who is not familiar with his work, is likely, a laggard. In his book, The Principles of Scientific Management  he bemoans a dearth of skilled tradesmen (100 years ago no less) just as we do now. Here is his assessment and solution:
"What we are all looking for, however, is the readymade, competent man; the man whom someone else has trained. It is only when we fully realize our duty, as well as our opportunity, lies in systematically cooperating to train and to make this competent man, instead of in hunting for a man whom someone else has trained, that we shall be on the road to national efficiency" (Taylor, 1911).
I teach students the welding trade at a community college in western Washington USA. They are typically employed at Amazon, DoorDash, a given department store, etc. It is rare that their future employers come here to court them. They are likely, easily lured away from their menial jobs. They are here waiting, while you are looking for robots, coaxing your board of directors for the five hundred thousand to ten-million-dollar capital investment, and lying with straight faces about the 5 to 7-year ROI.
Ephron - The welder
The site of VA, Huntington Ingalls Apprenticeship School, Newport News
 Taylor. F. W. (1911) – The Principles of Scientific Management
Photo by Aman Jakhar on Unsplash
Photo by Sidney Pearce on Unsplash
Cover of the book Taylor. F. W. (1911) – The Principles of Scientific Management, a public domain book
Self-portrait picture provided by Ephron
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