'Skilled labor standing right here, willing to relocate!'

February 7, 2012
By: Vicki Bell

The January "Fabricating Update" included statistics and comments from the e-newsletter's recent survey about fabricator concerns. Some of the comments focused on the lack of skilled labor, an oft-cited concern in the fabricating industry and manufacturing as a whole. 

This information garnered even more comments, such as a very thoughtful response from Todd, an Alabama reader whose signature included the aka: Skilled labor standing right here, willing to relocate!

Todd's response chronicles his experience as a skilled craftsman, paints a picture of what is happening in his part of the country, and raises a valid point about why employers might be having such a difficult time attracting qualified workers.

Here's what Todd had to say:

"I enjoyed reading the update as it had a great deal of useful information as to what others are seeing out there. I am a former manufacturing facility owner/operator (had to shut down in 2009), and now I am employed by a large Tier 1 auto supplier. I am their welding/fabrication supervisor, and I wanted to share what I see going on this region.

"To put it simply, there is no shortage of skilled labor in this area. The issue that persists now is the fact that no one is willing to pay for this labor. Reputable and large facilities are attempting to hire individuals to weld carbon steel, stainless, and aluminum, and the typical rate is $10 to $12 an hour.

"The minimum that I would start a qualified candidate off at my facility was $18 an hour, and after a probationary period, they were usually bumped to $20 an hour.

"After 6 to 12 months, I would evaluate their progress, and they could be bumped to as high as $25 an hour. After their second year of service, the rate could continue to go up as long as the work progression was there.

"I realize that I was somewhat of an exception, but the employers in this area are simply expecting something unrealistic. Heck, I was even contacted recently to be a 2nd shift supervisor for a different company and they offered $16 an hour for second shift. No thanks!

"I make a little more than that at my current employer, but it is nowhere near what I am used to making. Five years ago I was making almost $35 an hour doing the same or a little less work. Now, employers in this area expect you to work harder with less (or heavily used) equipment, work more hours, take on more responsibility ... all for less pay. Profit margins are through the roof for most in this area, but they cry about no skilled labor. Well, pay a respectable rate for what you want us to do!

"I can TIG (heavy in this process), MIG, and Stick weld almost any metal in any position, and I am willing to go anywhere on this planet for a better position. I send out 5 to 10 resumes per week (even explaining that I am willing to relocate), and yet there are no calls or replies of any sort.

"I have plenty of management (even ownership), sales, mechanical, and computer experience. I'm even a certified professional tennis instructor. The best that I can get is this $20 an hour job where they expect me and my team to perform miracles, which we often do. But, it is very frustrating.

"I am the only income my family has. I'm in my early 40s; I have a terrific wife (a former architect) that stays home and raises and home schools our four great kids, and I drive 53 miles one way to work every day. I want to work, and I will give my employers everything that I can give them. It's just tough to listen to all this mess about the lack of skilled labor when there are other issues that are not being addressed.

"Didn't mean to get into a rant there. The employers are crying only one side of this. They are not boasting about the ridiculously low pay they are offering. If this kind of work was easy, then everyone would be doing it.

"It takes a skilled individual to be able to read drawings from engineers that have no idea of how to properly fit something together, yet still fit it together correctly and weld it out and make it look like a robot welded it. That is what my team and I do every day.

"Employers want a resolution to their dilemma? Increase your pay rate to something someone can live off of and you will see the skilled labor appear. Once that skilled labor gets in the door, the profits will continue to be there because of the proficiency of that individual.

"For the record, I am not a union member of any sort, nor have I ever been.

 "I hope that puts a different perspective on things for you and I would hope that you would share this with others. I can"t say this is the case for everywhere, but it is for my local area." 

That's Todd's experience with wages for skilled workers. What's yours?

Follow fabcomlady on Twitter.

Become a fan of The Fabricator® on Facebook.
Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

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