Joining qualifications are a driver of European manufacturing competitiveness

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Welder at work. Italy, 2014. [Kostandin Minga]

With highly-qualified employment in manufacturing set to increase in the European Union, the EWF argues the case for offering training for for the 21st century.

The EWF is the European Federation for Welding, Joining and Cutting.

Manufacturing plays a fundamental role in Europe and is an area of ample wealth generation and employment opportunities, contributing strongly to the region’s economy, largely through companies within a few high and medium-technology sectors. These companies span the automotive, machinery and equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, aeronautics, space and creative industries sectors, as well as high-end goods in many other sectors, including food. In spite of its strength, Europe’s industry is not without challenges, mainly to remain competitive and leverage new growth opportunities. Enabling technologies can play a pivotal role in the future of professions like joining, and can also create relevant employment opportunities for these professionals. And there is a need to further nurture initiatives aimed at equipping industries with the most qualified professionals; a foundation for long-term success.

In the last few decades, there has been a tremendous transformation of the industrial landscape, with new companies and countries competing in the markets, as well as new materials, new technologies and workers who are better skilled than ever. This means innovations in processes and products, together with advanced knowledge, have become critical components to ensure the continued success and transformation of the industrial sector, as there is also a growing number of new economic powers with strong industrial sectors. It is a time where Europe must quickly adapt and embrace the disruption by providing companies with the most qualified professionals leveraging its strong technical education base. Also contributing to this need for increased and continued qualification are European and international standards, as well as client specifications, which are placing increasing emphasis on the proper control of welding and on the competence of welding personnel.

Putting the issue of employability potential into perspective, in Europe alone there are around 1.9 million full-time-equivalent joining specialists, according to the study “The Economic Importance of Welding and Joining in Europe”, with the numbers of new welding professionals unable to meet current needs. The Education and Training Monitor of the European Commission, currently in its third edition, represents an important analytical contribution to the implementation of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), in close alignment with the broader Europe 2020 strategy. Framing the education challenges in Europe, data shows that the demand for medium level qualifications will remain high in Europe, (though it will progressively decrease). High-qualified employment will grow by about 13% between 2013 and 2020 whereas low-qualified employment will shrink by 12%. This means that by 2020, about 31% of employment in Europe will demand high qualifications and only 21% will require low qualifications. And welding and joining are clearly within the employment growth areas.

Contrary to this rosy employment perspective for welding and joining professionals, the sector has seen a worrying trend in which the number of youngsters embracing the profession has dwindled in the last decade, while retraining of current professionals has followed the same route. This trend could potentially hinder the growth and competitiveness of manufacturing industries in Europe. The focus of EWF and all of its members both in Europe and elsewhere is to drive the professional qualifications of welding and joining personnel, at the same time providing the industry with skills in dire need to ensure industrial competitiveness, as these are essential cross-sector technologies paramount to its long-term success. The harmonised international EWF training, qualification and certification systems provide manufacturing companies and their workforces worldwide with a convenient, comprehensive and convincing way of demonstrating compliance with the most stringent requirements, including the most recent EN 1090 and EN 15085, which is a mandatory requirement to obtain CE Marking and, as such, entry into all European Union Markets. These systems have achieved considerable maturity and recognition, and are being continuously improved, by focusing on the development of new programmes and projects that can entice new professionals. The system is also being improved by including the design of more flexible courses, structured in modules with new paths, based on skills demonstration through exams and practical tests. Work is also going on regarding the introduction of more distance training modules and new, innovative training tools.

This means more welding and joining professionals, but also the usage of increasingly sophisticated distance-learning technologies, critical within a global qualification offering, to increase the profession’s reach and attractiveness to younger, more technology-savvy, audiences.

To ensure the long-term success of the profession, further initiatives are required, such as working closely to qualify existing workforces and get them up to speed on the new technologies and materials used in joining. Also, looking ahead, reaching out to secondary school students, reinforcing distance-learning modules, creating new mobile programmes and solutions that respond to current and future workforce needs and methods, as well as to technological evolution. These challenges are the cornerstone of the future evolution of joining technology and where the EWF will be working in the future to develop its programmes and initiatives. 

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