Colleges around the country are signing up to help seal the decline in the welding workforce and ensure tens of thousands of new welders join the ranks.

Fifteen colleges have so far taken up new EAL qualifications to help train the next generation of industry workers. It has been estimated that 38,000 new welders will be needed within the next three to five years to meet demand. This follows the loss of 18,000 welders over the last five years, according to the Office of National Statistics, meaning the total workforce now stands at just 58,000.

The Weldability-Sif Foundation and The Welding Institute (TWI) have partnered with EAL, the specialist industry awarding organisation, to tackle the shortfall. Seven level 1 qualifications have been developed – covering tungsten (TIG) and metal inert gas (MIG) welding, manual metal arc (MMA) welding and oxy-acetylene welding, amongst other aspects such as Brazing and Cutting – to introduce learners to the fabrication industry.

The first of the 15 colleges to take up the EAL qualifications – North Hertfordshire College, in Stevenage – has seen around 150 completions so far. A specialist training facility has been set up to give learners first-hand experience of working in a factory setting, as well as other dedicated learning facilities.

Adrian Hawkins, managing director of Weldability-Sif, is a former learner at the college, where he has provided the new facility with welding equipment, specialist bays and a sponsored classroom for theory lessons. He said: “With major build programmes rolling out in the renewable and sustainable energy markets, there are significant fabrication and welding skills challenges to overcome.  The coming energy boom is expected to make the UK self-sufficient for energy from 2020, and this project alone will require some 20,000 trained welders.  When this is combined with a recent decline in the availability of existing welders, we will need at least another 38,000 to satisfy UK demand.

“The Weldability-Sif Foundation Charity was set up to encourage the development of new welder training facilities across the UK, and North Hertfordshire College is the first to inaugurate a specialist training facility.  We have had a great response to the scheme and we are currently working with 15 other learning providers who are offering the new qualifications.  The long term intention is to work with about 50 colleges.”

The seven EAL qualifications are supported by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), allowing colleges to apply for additional funding if they offer them to anyone who is currently out of work and on active benefits.The awards can also lead on to further education and career progression through higher EAL qualifications.

Ann Watson, managing director of EAL, said: “EAL is committed to investing in the industries it serves and the UK welding sector is in need of support to stem the haemorrhaging of qualified workers.  These level 1 qualifications are providing a vital bridge between the tens of thousands who are retiring, leaving a shortage of skills behind them, and the new generation of welding professionals needed to deliver government policy and meet the needs of manufacturers across the UK and beyond.

“Our partnership will not only up-skill thousands of learners but also ensure the UK can provide the trained and qualified workforce needed to meet ambitious engineering and manufacturing projects over the coming years.”

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