Eddie Foster's hometown of Mont Belvieu, Texas, may be a small town on the map, but it’s becoming a hotspot for workers traveling to the state for the jobs that industry simply cannot fill fast enough.
"I guarantee you that just in Mont Belvieu alone, all of the camping spots for trailers are filled to the brim with craft trades people because they know the jobs are here," said Foster, who's worked as a welder since the 1970s and is now department chair of industrial technology at San Jacinto College. "The Gulf Coast workforce opportunities are through the roof - from Louisiana down to Corpus Christi, Texas.”
Within a couple of years, the welding technology program at San Jacinto College has undergone three expansions across its North and Central campuses and added additional course offerings including a graveyard shift. Such a response stems from the region's shortage of workers that Foster said resulted from years of swaying many away from the craft trades and the layoffs from decades ago.
"When the oil bust hit in the 1980s, a lot of helpers were laid off," said Foster. "This left welders and pipefitters. When they eventually retired, there were no helpers, those entry-level workers, to move up. During that time, the university route was being encouraged. Because of this, we lost the connection with young people to consider welding and other craft trades as careers of opportunity."
Today's workforce landscape is driving current welders to work overtime, 10 plus hours a day, with overtime pay, according to Foster. He anticipates the demand will remain high, well beyond 2020. For welders, the Texas Workforce Commission projects a 26.3 percent growth by 2022.
"I have talked to the employers, and they're hiring welders," said Juan Manuel Garrito, a boilermaker who works alongside welders and pipefitters and is currently training at San Jacinto College to add welding to his resume. "I see all of the job listings around here, and I have plenty of friends who are welders and working."
Garrito may have a great advantage. Picking up certificates and degrees in a variety of craft trades is a move that many are making to become skilled in multiple crafts and receive the opportunities that industry is offering to attract talent.
"People with two skills can do both jobs," said Marla Guzman, recruiting manager for Tradesmen International, who places workers in refineries, chemical plants, and shipyards. "It's also very important that people show that they have the education in the basics and field experience. It's important that they have NCCER (National Council for Construction Education and Research) certification. Also, companies want to see where a person has attended school. All of this matters."
Juan Garcia worked as a welder for six years until he realized an associate degree would provide him with better opportunities at the hiring table. He now teaches welding at San Jacinto College.
"In this industry, people want to hire those who can be taught and who want to move up," said Garcia. "It's a great career to get into with starting pay varying from around $18 to $30 plus an hour."
The San Jacinto College welding technology program specializes in the both credit and noncredit training of four welding processes-SMAW, GTAW, GMAW, and FCAW. For a list of the NCCER welding courses and certificate and degree options, visit sanjac.edu/career/welding-technology.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.