Some people inherit money, others inherit furniture or overly ornate dishes that will never be used again. The young welding professionals of today, however, are inheriting an industry; and with it, they’re inheriting a wealth of knowledge and career potential. The American Welding Society’s (AWS) Take the Torch initiative aims to help these young professionals make the most of their inheritance while delivering the nation what it sorely needs: more members in tomorrow’s welding workforce.
It’s no secret that the welding industry is constantly evolving and that welding professionals are retiring faster than the new welding personnel are entering into it. Many
seasoned welding community members, however, remain active in AWS even after retiring. These are the individuals that exemplify lifelong membership. Many remain because they want to help train and mentor the next generation and give back to the industry that helped them advance their careers, make an honorable living and support their families.
“AWS membership goes beyond certifications and educational programming,” says Cassie Burrell, senior vice president of marketing and membership development at AWS. “We want our younger welding associates to experience the higher purpose being an AWS member provides. Take the Torch is designed to foster interest in welding and connect the two generations through mentoring and sharing information and experience.”
Burrell professes that AWS has so much to offer. For the Take the Torch initiative, the organization created an early career membership level, specifically for members of the welding workforce who fall between 18 and 34 years of age or who are in the first five years of their career.
“These individuals can experience the benefits of being an AWS member at a discounted membership fee,” she says. “That includes getting involved in AWS section meetings and networking with likeminded people. We also offer separate discounts on bookstore purchases, welding competition entry fees and some of the organization’s educational programs.”
By reducing the cost of membership for students and early career individuals through the Take the Torch initiative, AWS hopes to deliver those benefits to a much larger pool of people. As the AWS website declares, “there’s strength in numbers.”
As Burrell alluded to, the Take the Torch campaign is a two-fold initiative. For the industry as a whole, it was created to help bridge the gap in terms of how many welding industry workforce members are retiring versus entering the trade. But for individuals – the students, early career members, veterans and anyone looking for a career change – it was created to open the door to the welding community.
“There are so many benefits that come from being a part of the bigger welding community,” Burrell says. “At AWS meetings, new members can learn the ropes from seasoned members and hear first-hand stories of how they advanced their careers. The goal is to further foster mentorship – passing the torch to new members for them to carry forward.”
This facet of the Take the Torch initiative can be so important for young welding professionals who might feel like they’re getting lost in the mix and, therefore, lost in their career path because they don’t know where the opportunities are – and will be stuck in the same welding job forever.
“With AWS membership, those opportunities are put on display, and they can be easier to attain thanks to member discounts on education and certification,” Burrell explains. “You can start off by getting certified in a specific process and build off of that with additional credentials, such as AWS’s certified welding inspector [CWI] or certified welding supervisor [CWS]. Beyond that, there are just so many ways for members to get involved with their section. It starts by getting to know the more senior members in your local section and hearing their perspectives.
“At AWS, we recognize that when you’re early in your career, you need support,” she adds. “This is one way of helping young members of the welding industry transition into senior members.”
Knowledge is power
Emma-Lynn Ponds is a new welder. She’s so new that she’s still finishing up her welding certification course at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. The idea of pursuing welding as a career is new to her, too, but she’s motivated to carve out a path for herself. Less than a year ago, she discovered she has a knack for the trade.
“I used to work in the building at Valencia College where they have the welding classes,” Ponds says. “The whole time I’d been working there, I’d walk past the welding shop, watching all the sparks fly, but I hadn’t thought much of it. That was until a year ago or so when one of the students said, ‘Hey, put on these boots, these big pants and this jacket and lay down a bead.’ I did it just to humor him, but ended up thinking it was pretty cool. As soon as I laid down that first bead, I realized that’s what I wanted to do someday.”
So, she enrolled in the course and “picked it up pretty fast,” she says. “We started with stick first, and I picked it up in the first two days. It took some of my other classmates a little bit longer to get the hang of it.”
Ponds is the first to admit that just because she has a knack for welding, there’s still a lot to learn. As a new AWS member, she hopes to gain knowledge about the trade in section meetings – the kind of knowledge that can’t be taught in a classroom.
“My instructor at Valencia College has been the best in terms of giving good advice, so it would be great if I could find more people like him at AWS meetings after I graduate,” she says. “I’ve always loved learning. I actually get the AWS magazine as part of my membership, and I enjoy reading the articles. Getting somebody else’s perspective is pretty amazing because it helps you see things in a different light or realize that some things are possible that you wouldn’t have thought about before.
“Before I started welding, I didn’t even know that there was a community that I could belong to,” she admits. “There are so many people out there that are doing the same thing I’m doing.”
The only thing she laments is the lack of women welders in her newfound community.
“Welding can be a manly world – I’m not going to lie,” she says. “In the beginning, welding was a struggle because of my small size, but you can always find ways to adapt. And once you get it, you’ve got it. There’s nothing stopping you.”
Ponds proved her point when she participated in a welding competition hosted by AWS. With the choice to enter either the student or open division, she chose the open division, saying that she’s always up for a challenge. Pitted against several senior-level welders, she came in third place. If the competition is any indication of how her career will play out, she has a bright future ahead of her.
“I really enjoy the aluminum MIG process and just MIG in general, so it would be nice to get a job in that field,” she says. “In addition to a welding certificate, I’m also going for my associate degree in supervision and management for industry. Knowledge is power.”
“Welders are so unique,” Burrell says. “It’s a vocation, but it’s also an avocation. They eat, dream, drink, sleep and talk welding. Having the opportunity to be around other
people that are equally excited about the craft and then to have the opportunity to learn from them – that’s what the Take the Torch initiative is all about.”
For anyone that hasn’t attended an AWS section meeting, the main thing to expect is camaraderie – and a lot of shop talk. There’s talk dedicated to new processes, new equipment and what’s happening in the industry. Members network for job opportunities and bounce ideas off of one another – all under the umbrella of advancing their skill sets.
“Taking the torch requires someone to pass on the torch,” Burrell says, “and our members are passing on their knowledge to the younger generation and are getting them excited about all of the things that you can do in welding. It’s a lifetime of learning and career opportunities, and AWS membership can help guide the way.”
Overall, welding isn’t just about placing an electrode on a piece of metal to create a bunch of sparks. There are always new things to learn and new paths to forge.
“You can take your career to the engineering level,” Burrell says. “Your knowledge can be used on the shop floor as a supervisor. You can aim for your CWI and concurrently get your CWE. No matter your starting point, you can take your career anywhere.”
AWS boasts more than 60,000 members worldwide and is composed of 22 districts with 250 sections and student chapters. To learn more about the Take the Torch initiative or AWS as a whole, visit the website or contact a local section leader.