Wednesday at the International Industry Fair is traditionally reserved for the Welding Technique Day. This year it involved a number of professional lectures about welding, welding techniques and the use of various materials, including a round table about welding as a technology for maintenance and various industrial applications. Representatives of the SKEI trade union and the Maribor Welding Society talked about the importance of welding and the problems that the technology is facing at the press conference.
Welding Technique Day is the largest Slovenian professional event in the field of welding. 14 lectures were held about topics involving materials and weldability, welding procedures, automation and robotisation and special industrial applications. How important the fair is for the welding branch, was described through his personal experience by Dr. Andrej Lešnjak, President of the editorial board of the Welding Technique Day: “We often say, thank god that the International Industry Fair and within it, the Welding Technique Day, happens every two years, so we can get the chance to come together, exchange ideas, spread knowledge and remind the public about the importance of welding for the Slovenian industry.”
Welder is a shortage occupation dealing with a number of problems, as experts claim. “Young people no longer decide for this occupation, because we completely devalued it in the past. When digital era was around the corner, we decided that we would no longer need welders, but it turns out this is not the case. Welders are people that we need – especially good ones,” said Executive Secretary of the Skei trade union Mateja Gerečnik. There is also a shortage of education in this field, and it seems that there is an increasing number of workers in Slovenia that come from South-eastern Europe. Marko Hirc, Secretary of SKEI for the Celje Region, explained why it is important to support the welding profession in Slovenia: “People from countries of former Yugoslavia come with a good intention to create a better tomorrow for themselves. However, we always find that they need a lot of introduction and support from the existing staff. This is a great deficit that we have neglected in the past. That is why the events within the International Industry Fair that give a new opportunity and demonstrate the importance of the welding profession are the first step towards reversing the current trend.”
A cause for the major lack of welders in Slovenia is also the low gross salaries, which range from €800 to €1200, while in Austria, a welder’s gross monthly salary is between €2000 and €2500. “Our employers teach welders about welding technologies and give them knowledge, but when they get good at welding, they leave,” added Gerečnik. However, things are far from black and white. Matjaž Vnuk, Director of Daihen Varstroj, which is also a donor of the national welding competition, points out that welders need to be told that leaving to another country and working for a seemingly bigger wage is in fact very hard and that “ultimately, many people end up returning to their home country”.
However, the lack of qualified staff is not a problem that only the welding industry in Slovenia is facing; it is a global problem. Vnuk pointed out that, “The lack of welding professionals is something employers are facing all around the world. A part of welding is becoming increasingly robotised. The focus is shifting from classic welding to welding technology, standardisation, procedures and control.” However, robotisation is not causing an even quicker extinction of the already waning profession; it is merely a response to the deficit. Besides, welders are irreplaceable for individual workpieces, difficult contours, welding of difficult-to-reach places and welding of very different pieces.