Welding Insights: Engaging youth

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by Ian Campbell

Why getting youth into the welding sector should matter to you

It’s summer, and while the working world fits some vacation time into our busy schedules, our kids, or grandkids, or the neighborhood “bus set” spend their time having fun. I remember those days, just hanging out, having fun, wondering what the future might bring–really big picture kind of stuff, all optimism and excitement. As I got older, the picture got more focused, and the realities of life started to set in. I expect we can all remember waking up one morning and realizing that there was this thing called “work” and it was going to occupy a very large portion of our life.

Exposure to work early on is a good thing. To be clear, I’m not talking about child labour, what I’m talking about is introducing the difference between a job and a skill. Both could be classified as “work” but from my perspective a job is something you “do now” while a skill is something that opens up possible “futures.” Skills are transportable, they are cumulative and they can be used as a yardstick to measure personal growth–starting at any age. As such, the earlier you start, the more benefit skills can deliver.

So when do you start talking about and teaching skills? My opinion is you do it as soon as possible. While a skill might be hard to learn in the beginning, kids view this as a challenge and take it in stride. With the right support, mistakes are not failures, just opportunities to try again, and have fun while doing it. The “doing it” part is critical, and what helps cement the experience (and associated skills), is also what makes it cool. How many kids can say they have melted metal within their hands? Very few, and clearly not enough in the past. How many kids want to melt metal with their hands? Lots, because welding has a coolness factor of 10. Most families have a hammer lying around, but swinging your dad’s hammer is not going to be nearly as exciting are wrestling the “dragon” (i.e. welding torch). No kid is going to forget the first time they fused two bits of metal together; it’s all arcs, sparks, and smiles.

As mentioned above: we need more of this, and at the earliest possible opportunity. So, to help move things along I’ve been helping out Deborah Mates, executive director at the CWA Foundation to build programs that reach out to the next generation of welders and fabricators. This work is all about putting welding at a level kids understand and framing it in a world very different from what we experienced at their age. The work the Foundation is doing is about making modern connections between doing and career in the trades. Whether the connection is actual welding of steel or helping the kids draw the dots between learning a new skill and their future self-worth, kids are encouraged to share their experience (and pride) with their friends on social media and local media coverage. Arcs, sparks, smiles–and tweets out to friends.

So where are the kids making these connections? A large part of this is happening through summer welding camps running across the country. The demand for these is amazing, and there is no sign of things slowing down next summer. These camps are for kids from all walks of life, many of whom have never worked with tools in the past. They are getting first hand experience welding and as a result making their first steps to acquiring lifelong skills. Could you weld at 12? Well, these kids can, and that bodes well for the future–both theirs and yours.

The simple truth is we collectively need to do more, and we need to start now. We need to give kids the chance to experience the joy of working with their own hands, doing so makes the work of attracting them into the trades much easier later in their schooling. Time spent early on with the tools has a real and measurable result–they walk away with something they have built, and the excitement that they can do so much more given the opportunity. Basically they learn to tame the “dragon” and welding is no longer scary or an unknown to them, or their parents.

Do you want to meet some of these kids first-hand? Follow #newweldernation on twitter and visit the Foundation website (–you might be surprised at what a 12 year old welder can do. In a few years, these same kids may be working for you. SMT

Ian Campbell is the director of marketing and product development for the CWB Group.


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