Business Forecast

2021 Welding Industry Outlook

By Gary Konarska, Executive Director and CEO of the American Welding Society (AWS)

During times of crisis, good business leaders control the factors they can, adapt readily and plan for life post-crisis. Our industry successfully controlled its destiny by ensuring that welding, cutting and related companies were deemed “essential businesses.” As a result, comparatively more workers retained their jobs.

One might think the pandemic temporarily alleviated the shortage of skilled welders, but it actually exacerbated it in many instances, such as when one person testing positive required an entire department to self-isolate. Lack of a stable workforce has hindered organizations that might have otherwise been able to capitalize on opportunities. If companies were not serious about automation before the pandemic, the labor and supply chain disruptions we’ve experienced should have prompted them to dip their toe in the automation water. The same holds true for harnessing the power of IoT and data-driven solutions to reduce the burden of time-consuming administrative tasks and eliminate sources of human error.

For those who have not attended their AWS Section meeting recently, 2021 provides an opportunity to attend a virtual Section meeting, a new component in AWS’ multi-year digital transformation. Since travel concerns will remain for at least the first half of the year, our suite of online courses provide an immersive experience while learning remotely, while the AWS Online Educational Library (eLibrary) offers 24/7 access.


When it comes to essential services, few are more critical than AWS’ Profession Certification programs, led by the flagship Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) program. AWS and its test partner, Prometric, resumed certification testing in June of 2020. By November, testing levels had reached about 80% of normal levels. In 2021, the primary issue will be capacity limitations and social distancing requirements at test facilities.

“After a year where many employees made sacrifices, supporting certification attainment is a great method of investing in employees,” says John Gayler, Senior Vice President, Welding & Technology, AWS. “Companies can show they are serious about raising performance levels and standardizing on skill sets for a position.”

Specifically for distributors, the new AWS Certified Welding Sales Representative (CWSR) program provides sales fundamentals and offers unbiased training to understand customer pain points and solutions and opens a path to become a CWI (some distributors now hire CWIs to differentiate themselves). Other new AWS credentials include the Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CWRT) and the WPQ1, or Welder Qualifier Performance Endorsement, a supplemental credential available to CWIs and Senior CWIs.

“Building up stacked credentials is a trend that cuts across all industries,” says Gayler. “And state and federal workforce initiatives have been emphasizing certification more and more. AWS is aligning its efforts by designing stand-alone certification and endorsement programs focused on industry-specific needs. Modularizing certifications addresses the professional development needs of specific industries, such as pipeline, piping, construction, transportation and aerospace.”


In response to COVID-19 travel limitations, AWS Education & Training launched a two-week online CWI seminar to prepare attendees for each of the three parts of the CWI exam virtually (AWS also offers an eight-week online CWI seminar). Each attendee receives a replica set of welds, a visual inspection tool kit, study guides, and relevant welding codes and standards (e.g., D1.1). The course instructor augments their computer camera with an overhead camera, allowing participants to follow along at home.

“If you don’t want to participate in a synchronous online training with a live AWS instructor, you can purchase the AWS CWI Pre-Seminar package or an online code clinic to study for Parts A and C of the exam, respectfully,” says Alicia Garcia, Director of Education & Training, AWS. “The online seminars appeal to those who can’t afford the travel costs, can’t take time away from their household or need the flexibility of taking a course during the workday or in the evening.”

New seminars launching in 2021 include an 80-hour (two-week) in-person CWI program. New training releasing in the coming year include a course focused on solution selling, designed to teach sales representatives how to identify and reconcile a potential client’s needs by using a problem-led approach to the sale of products and services, as well as courses on career readiness for those entering the field and a training to support the new ISO Endorsement are also set to roll out in 2021.

The Next Generation

In the first quarter of 2021, AWS will begin a recruitment campaign targeted at 18- to 34-year-olds.

“The Take the Torch campaign creates a new membership option targeted at young professionals,” says Cassie Burrell, Senior VP, Marketing & Membership Development, AWS. “Our messaging focuses on a path for growing their skills, connecting with peers on the AWS Member Network and receiving career and technical guidance from industry veterans.”

To promote AWS corporate membership, AWS will add more benefits for sustaining companies. Currently, bonus benefits include choosing an additional 10 individual memberships or access to the eLibrary, which has roughly 160 standards.

“Beginning in February, sustaining companies will have the option to pay $2,020 for a hard copy of the eLibrary,” says Nici Banks, Director of Membership, AWS. “We are also launching a series of invitation-only virtual round-tables. Available to sustaining companies, the first round table, held in Q1 2021, focuses on the current state-of-the-industry.”


After a more than year of social distancing, the welding industry is ready for in-person events. The first AWS event will be FABTECH Mexico, which has been moved out to June 8 to 10. New for 2021, FABTECH shows in Chicago will be held in September instead of in November. The move provides more time to close deals in the calendar year, eliminates Thanksgiving and hunting season conflicts and provides a chance to enjoy warmer weather.

“We are confident about FABTECH 2021 because the introduction of a vaccine was a City of Chicago prerequisite for holding conventions,” says Matthew Rubin, Director of Expositions, AWS. “That said, transparency and flexibility are king in times of uncertainty. Last year we gave customers the option to receive a full refund or the ability to transfer their money to a future year show, and we plan to implement assurances for FABTECH 2021.”

Perhaps because AWS depends on the contribution of volunteer members who are giving by nature, our organization maintains a positive outlook. We see the first rays of light shining with the vaccine introduction and look for our industry to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity beginning in the second half of 2021.     



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