Relo or no?

April 9, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Last week's Welding Wire e-newsletter addressed the skilled welder shortage and asked subscribers to e-mail us any welding programs they were aware of in their areas. is interested in compiling a list of programs that can be used by both those interested in welding careers and employers looking for skilled welders. Several subscribers responded with program information, and we hope to obtain more over the coming weeks.

This post isn"t about those programs. It's inspired by another response we received that addressed the dichotomy of the labor situation: Employers can't find skilled labor; skilled laborers can't find jobs. What's keeping them apart?

A subscriber from a Grand Rapids, Mich., shop wrote, "You keep mentioning companies that are concerned about a skilled labor shortage. We ran one ad on a Sunday for an apprentice machine builder and got over 200 resumes. More than half are from seasoned veterans who have 10 to 30 years' experience. Electricians, machinists, machine builders, toolmakers, welders, and designers & you name it. Tell [those looking for skilled labor] to advertise in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana in the local papers."

Seems simple enough, until you think about it. Suppose you're a welder who lives in Ohio and you're out of work. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor"s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (May 2006), the median annual wage for a welder in Ohio is $33,350. You've looked high and low in your area for a job and have extended your search to anywhere within reasonable commuting distance. No luck. Should you think about moving? Possibly.

If you're single, have no dependents, and aren't tied to a mortgage, perhaps moving to a region that has more job opportunities is the right move for you. If you're married, have children, and/or a mortgage, can you afford to go where the jobs are, especially with the housing market in a downturn? Can you relocate on your own dime? That's the question I posed in my response to the Grand Rapids subscriber. How many welders can afford to relocate at their own expense?

Let's say that the unemployed Ohio welder, who hails from Cleveland, learns that jobs are plentiful in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for a welder in Texas is $30,530. Less money, but the cost of living in the Houston area is less than Cleveland.'s cost-of-living calculator determined that a $29,945.44 salary in Houston is comparable to a $33,350 salary in Cleveland. Groceries will cost 22.607 percent less; housing, 21.108 percent less; utilities, 4.096 percent less; and healthcare, 0.237 percent less. Transportation in Houston costs 0.32 percent more than in Cleveland. So on the surface, moving might not seem such a bad idea.

What about moving costs? The single welder with no family and mortgage who can load his or her belongings in a U-Haul and move will incur minimal costs. Leaving the Cleveland snow in the U-Haul's exhaust might be just the ticket for this individual. But if you have a family and/or mortgage, does it make sense to make the move? I don't think so, unless you anticipate receiving compensation much greater than the Texas median. The last time I checked, few employers were covering relocation for jobs in the $30,000 range. That's not to say that employers don't cover relocation for factory workers. I remember what was then the Green Giant plant in Belvidere, Ill., bringing factory workers in by the busloads from Texas (or was it Mexico?) in the 60s and housing them in dormitories. Many settled in the area, so I suppose that qualifies as relocation.

Bottom line, if you've exhausted the job search in your area and are thinking of relocating, do your homework. Make sure that the move really is in your best interests before putting the for sale sign in the yard or calling the movers. You might be better served to see if there isn"t another career that suits your capabilities. Be creative, flexible, and adaptable. There are even fewer guarantees in the workplace these days than there are employers willing to pay relocation costs. Many nonfactory workers also are facing limited job opportunities.

By the way, if you are aware of welding programs in your area, please e-mail the program name and contact information to

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209