Employee Retention: Best Practices for Keeping Welders Engaged
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
The welding industry, like many others, is challenged by a labor shortage — and one that is growing. By 2023, the American Welding Society (AWS) anticipates the welder shortage to reach approximately 375,000, as an increasing number of experienced welders reach retirement age and leave the field. With those statistics in mind, it’s more important than ever for companies to take steps to retain the welders they have.
Employee retention is critical for several reasons. It helps support quality and productivity initiatives, which in turn makes it easier to meet customer demands. It also prevents overworking welders — an issue that can lead to low morale and a poor company culture. In addition, retaining welders helps maintain the bottom line. Turnover can cost companies significantly in terms of recruiting and retraining new welders, as well as for downtime in production due to lack of a full workforce. 
Fortunately, there are some best practices that can help companies create a positive environment and keep welders interested in the job.
Provide proper welder training
Empowering welders is important to instill a sense of interest and pride in the job —and that process should start from the very beginning. It’s reported that strong onboarding and training can help companies retain 82% of new hires. 
With proper training, welders can feel confident in their ability to do the job and help train new welders. Start with establishing good welding habits and creating a familiarity with the welding process. This includes training new welders on how to set up their power source accurately and safely and on what welding parameters to use. Equally important is providing guidance on the best technique for the process and application to minimize weld defects. Establishing a comfort level with following welding procedures is also a valuable part of welder training. 
For more experienced welders, offering more advanced training opportunities can help keep them engaged. This could include training to weld on more complicated applications or complex parts, robotic welding programming and more.
Create a clean, safe environment
Along with providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as helmets, gloves, safety glasses and jackets, it is also important that the environment is safe. That means ensuring the welding cell and surrounding areas are free of clutter and any tripping hazards. It also entails proper ventilation. Companies can achieve that by removing weld fume at the source with a fume extraction gun, or with a mobile, wall-mounted system or a centralized fume extraction system. A clean, safe welding environment is more appealing for welders to work in — and it can provide an edge over competitive companies when it comes to employee retention. Additionally, be certain to train employees on all company safety protocols and welding equipment manufacturer’s safety precautions. Doing so can help create a culture of safety in which everyone is contributing. 
Offer easy-to-use welding equipment
Complicated equipment can be difficult to use, especially for inexperienced welders, leading to frustration about errors and downtime. This holds true not only for power sources, but also MIG guns and consumables: contact tips, nozzles, gas diffusers and liners. Liners, in particular, can be troublesome to install since it’s easy to trim them too long or too short, the latter of which happens more often. When the liner is too short, it can cause burnbacks, an erratic arc and poor wire feeding. Look for a consumable system that offers error-proof liner replacement for easier installation. This leaves welders more time to hone their welding skills while spending less time on troubleshooting. In automated welding operations, it is important to have equipment that is easy and intuitive to maintain and program after the proper training. This includes teach pendants with easy-to-use controls for inputting new parameters and requirements for the application.
Provide growth and advancement opportunities
Offering welders a chance to advance and learn new skills can be a good way to retain those who are interested in those opportunities. Growth can take many forms, whether it’s stepping into a new role or shouldering additional responsibilities within a current position. Certifications are another avenue for growth. The American Welding Society (AWS) offers its AWS Certified Welder performance-based program so welders can expand their knowledge and technique — from plate to pipe welding with a variety of processes. There are additional programs that support advancement, including one for a certified welding supervisor. 
Along with these best practices, keeping open lines of communication with welders is key — as it is in any work environment. Staying involved and creating a sense of community in which everyone is contributing to the well-being of the company can go a long way in keeping welders interested and engaged.