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When a cluster of Midlands engineering firms realised they were all having trouble finding qualified welders, they came up with a novel solution: they would find and train their own.

Welding is a skill that requires technical precision, concentration and a unique set of skills and it has become a highly sought position across the full scope of engineering projects.

Across Ireland, there is a dire shortage of welders, leaving engineering companies struggling to fill orders and complete important projects. Welding is the most common way to join metals—which is critical to manufacturing, construction, energy and infrastructure.

It is also a key skill in the creation of architectural features that are commonly seen in airports and public buildings and even in the creation of artworks in public spaces.

ENGENUITY, a cluster of over 30 members from Westmeath, Laois, Longford and Offaly, asked the Midlands Regional Skills Forum (MRSF) and Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board, for help in addressing a critical welding skills shortage.

Now a new scheme- called the Midlands Welders Traineeship – could soon provide well-paid jobs after 15 people quickly signed up as trainees. It is different to an apprenticeship in that those who take part get fast tracked over six months to get certification. Participants have an excellent chance of a permanent position when they complete their training.

The ENGENUITY Engineering network, led by LEO Westmeath, and supported by Offaly, Longford and Laois Local Enterprise Offices, was founded in the belief that engineering microenterprises and SMEs needed to come together as a cluster to share knowledge and have their voices heard.

The network was the brainchild of Tracey Tallon, Senior Enterprise Development Officer at LEO Westmeath, believed that businesses that were experiencing the same problems – such as the particular issue of finding welders – could help each other.

Listen: ENGENUITY coordinator Theresa Mulvihill chats to Newstalk’s Vincent Wall on Business Breakfast:

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John Costello of the Midlands Regional Skills Forum (MRSF) said the training programme was the result of ‘needs-based’ engagement with the ENGENUITY.

He said: “SMEs, especially in the manufacturing and construction sectors, identified a recurring challenge in finding skilled welders. Subsequent collaboration with ourselves, MRSF, ENGENUITY and the Longford & Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB) resulted in a progressive and proactive plan aimed at addressing current and anticipated shortages of welders. This led to the timely development of an accelerated Welding Skills Programme to address employers’ needs for qualified welders in the Midlands.

“The welding programme aligns with current and projected industry needs for welders with advanced skills and intends to provide opportunities for basic welders and fabricators across several key sectors in the Midlands. Industry partners are in full support of this proposal. This program will provide attention to professionalism and communication skills, as well as the important mastery of technical skills.”

Thomas Grennan, FET Assistant Manager of the Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board said:

“The programme is delivered in Athlone, by industry professionals aligning to industry standard certification. The students will from day one will be immersed in practical welding skills, building their skills and certification. It’s fast-paced and replicates the real-life working environment, developing the students both technically and professionally. “

“The course also includes work experience with a host company, which gives the students an opportunity to utilise their skills and apply them in real world applications. This is a fabulous opportunity for anyone wanting to work in this area and we look forward to providing certified welders for our industry partners.”

For employers, the training programme is especially good news. Dani Kavanagh, Director of ENGENUITY member Fabworx, a Mullingar-based steel fabricating firm, said the training programme would ensure a guaranteed pipeline of talent to fill key roles.

She said: “It’s a no-brainer and a great opportunity for an individual who may currently be in a low-skilled job and wants to retrain. It’s a short-term investment of six-months for long-term gain of a lifetime career – a typical apprenticeship can take four years so this is real opportunity to learn.

“Welding is an unsung hero in many jobs. It requires technical skill, precision and it can open the door to architectural and even sculptural work in the arts as well as high-end work such as creating metalscapes for public bodies and steel installations at airports. It’s on my own list of skills to learn, I might even do the course myself.”

Christine Charlton, Head of Enterprise, LEO Westmeath, said: “This is a perfect example of how clustering can help companies to help themselves, in finding innovative solutions to the business challenges that they face. We are delighted to support the ENGENUITY network of engineering companies and the member companies as they collaborate to grow and scale.”

ENGENUITY member companies will be telling their stories and sharing insights at the Manufacturing and Supply Chain Conference at the RDS on November 23 to 24. Talks and workshops will take place covering topics such as Industry 4.0, precision engineering, supply chain logistics after Covid and Brexit and skills and training.

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Hosted at Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest.

Dr. Attracta Foley and Deaglán Campbell, (lecturers in Engineering and Design at TUS). conducted a deep dive with both female and male students from Roscommon Convent + Colaiste Chiaran boys. Insights were gathered with the participation of this cohort speaking directly to their experience. John Costello and Eric LaBranche from the Midlands Regional Skills Forum assisted with an interactive survey to ascertain the real views of second level students from our region on Engineering as a career, to perhaps gain insight into why uptake for our courses appears to be diminishing rather than improving and to identify the barriers and factors that are significant in the students decision making.

Click to see a follow-up presentation entitled GENDER BALANCE in ENGINEERING delivered on 26 November 2021 in association with Engineers Ireland.