For many, seeing brilliant, blue sparks flying past a welding mask in a factory is just welder fusing metal together. Melissa Zeilinski said for her, it’s more like watching an artist at work.
“These are a different type of artist. When you look at what they do on machining a part, or welding a part. We have engineers that design them. Well, somebody’s got to build them and that’s our trades,” said Zeilinski.
Zeilinski is the Director of Human Resources at Teledyne Brown Engineering (TDE). She said finding these specialized artists is a challenge.
“It seems for a while, everybody was going to college and not a lot of people were going to trades. So we’re really feeling that shortage right now,” said Zeilinski.
Right now, TDE is searching for several of them. On Thursday, the company cut the ribbon on its new High Bay Manufacturing Building. The 22,000 square-foot addition to the Huntsville plant will bring with it 30-40 new jobs in welding and machining.
“Since we are a basically a life-cycle manufacturing, from start to finish, we create large, fabricated assemblies that we actually build and test here in Huntsville, we’ll need skilled assemblers. And that is also going to add to our welding force as well,” said Scott Hall, Sr. Vice President of Maritime Systems and Manufacturing.
For TBE, one method of recruiting comes from adding new technology to help build for the energy, defense and space industries. Jeff Holley, the director of manufacturing operations, said two new pieces of equipment specifically for the new building, including a SNK-300RB, to increase the size of the parts they can build.
Holley said TBE is also working on recruiting by changing the workflow environment.
“We’re able to do all the machining in this building with the more complex parts and the more complex machines to keep them all close together so that we can use the employees to help out and move parts and have more of a lean atmosphere in order to be more competitive,” Holley said.
Zeilinski told WAAY 31 that it’s not just the gear companies like theirs have to consider when it comes to recruiting, but also the financial incentive.
The company recently expanded their employee referral incentive to skilled workers, like welders and machinists. Originally, it was just for the engineers.
“They can recruit 10 people, 20 people, doesn’t matter. But as long as they pass the 90 days, we cut them a check for $2,000 and that’s been really successful. Cause like I said, our employees are our best recruiters,” said Zeilinski
She said another challenge is staying on top of the market demand for rising salaries.
“Even in the last six months, the markets adjusted again. So we have to keep readjusting so that we make sure that our employees are paid market value,” said Zeilinski.
According to the Alabama Department of Labor, in 2017, the average salary for welders and machinists $39,906 and $42,649 respectively.
Companies like TBE are also keeping a close eye on community colleges, such as Drake State Community College, for their future workforce.
Advanced Manufacturing Chair Bob Grissim said he has started seeing an uptick in welding and machining enrollment in the last five years, but the perception of these jobs still stands in the way of rapid growth.
“It’s not the same as it was back in the 50s and the 60s. Most everything is in a computer-controlled environment, so that environment itself has to be much cleaner than it used to be,” said Grissim.
In the meantime, Zeilinski told WAAY 31 that TBE is already advertising to bring in machinists and welders available now.