Ask a room full of fabricating shop owners or welding department supervisors what their biggest challenge is and they will all voice the same complaint: We can’t find qualified people. On the flip side, there are millions of students, veterans, disabled individuals and other hardworking people who want nothing more than a shot at a good-paying job. Wouldn’t it be a fantastic idea to bring those two groups together?
That’s what Monica Pfarr thinks. And even though it wasn’t her idea, the executive director of the American Welding Society (AWS) Foundation spends her days doing exactly that, awarding scholarships to students and grants to schools and universities and promoting welding education and workforce development however she can.
So whose idea was it? Any welding history buff might recognize the name. In 1989, Glenn Gibson, one of the inventors of MIG welding, made the initial $300,000 contribution responsible for launching the AWS Foundation, now a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
A proud legacy
Glenn Gibson has since passed, but his initiative was quite successful. Now in its 30th year, the AWS Foundation awards more than $1 million annually to students seeking vocational welding certificates and associates degrees in welding technology or engineering and even to Ph.D. candidates working toward a doctorate in welding science.
Many others have followed in Gibson’s footsteps. Notable industry contributors include The Lincoln Electric Co. and ITW/Miller, individual donors such as former and current Foundation board chairmen Ron Pierce and Bill Rice, and especially the AWS itself. Because of this generosity, the AWS Foundation continues to thrive.
“The monetary amount and number of scholarships that we award annually have grown each year since our founding,” Pfarr says. “In fact, we’ll provide more than $1.5 million to students pursuing welding-related education in 2019 alone.”
One example is Daniella Morris, a student at Ohio State University slated to graduate this year with a bachelor’s degree in welding engineering. Thanks to a scholarship from the AWS Foundation, she has had more time to focus on her studies in the face of a heavy course load, one that included internships at automaker Honda and engineering services firm EWI in Columbus, and most recently, her second summer at SpaceX.
“Welding engineering is an extremely overlooked degree,” she said in a thank you letter to the AWS. “There aren’t many things that we use each day that aren’t welded or somehow related to welding. Because the coursework with this degree is so diverse, it has helped me to connect the concepts in my physics, statistics, chemistry, materials science, metallurgy, welding, electrical engineering and math classes. This is a very diverse field, and I encourage other women and undergrads to consider welding engineering as a career.”
Words of gratitude
Countless other thank you letters arrive at Pfarr’s desk or inbox each year, many of them from vocational and high school instructors sharing success stories.
- An AWS grant allowed North Montco Technical Career Center to install three additional MillerMatic MIG welding work stations in its welding lab. “This equipment provides students with the hands-on training they need to succeed in the welding field,” wrote curriculum specialist Bob Lacivita. “The result is that 80 percent of our students gained full-time employment in the welding or related industry within two years of graduating.”
- Mark Hadley, program director at Davis Technical College, was able to hire a full-time instructor to teach a welding technology program at a local area high school, easing capacity problems at the college and increasing enrollment by 45 percent. “This will have a huge impact on our ability to meet the workforce needs of our industry partners,” he wrote.
- Sikeston Career and Technology Center welding instructor Brent Trankler was able to add three machines with pulse welding capabilities, allowing the staff to train 100 percent of the students on a process “that is increasingly predominant in the local economy,” he noted. “This has resulted in students coming out of the program more confident, better trained and workforce ready.”
- A $25,000 AWS grant allowed Mark Dombroski, executive director at Michigan’s Industrial Arts Institute (IAI), to broaden the scope of IAI’s services to a local school. “Thanks to the additional welding booths, Onaway High School is now able to send students to IAI for six hours of welding each week during their school year,” he wrote.
Again, these are just a few of the many examples of the AWS Foundation’s profound impact on young people searching for a good-paying and increasingly vital profession.
“We award about $300,000 annually in grants to help schools improve and expand their welding programs, which we feel has a profound, long-term impact on the industry,” Pfarr says.
On the road
Pfarr and her colleagues at the AWS Foundation don’t just sit at desks and answer telephones all day, waiting for donations. Instead, they actively promote welding by showing it to people using a 53-ft. expandable semi-trailer.
“We travel the country exhibiting at state fairs, farm expos, trade shows and other large events,” she says. “We get around 30,000 visitors each year by using the trailer. They have an opportunity to try out virtual reality welding. We have hands-on displays showcasing the variety of careers available in the welding industry and people on hand to answer questions about our programs and about the welding industry in general. It’s pretty cool.”
It’s also important. Data suggests that, due to the combination of worker attrition and manufacturing growth, the industry will need an additional 375,000 welders by 2022. If welding’s stereotype as a dirty, dangerous job doesn’t disappear, however, that figure is unlikely to improve. Pfarr hopes to change all that.
“A big part of our mission is to educate the public about recent advancements in welding automation and the new technologies under development,” she says. “It’s an excellent time for a young person, a veteran or anyone looking for a rewarding career to consider welding. And because we work closely with suppliers and manufacturers – many of them donors – there are a lot of opportunities for employment after graduation. Just call us, log on to our website or talk to an area instructor. The application process is quite easy, and eligible students usually get access to the funds by the following semester. It’s really a great program.”