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Northeast Nebraska needs welders, companies say

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) — There's a growing shortage of welders in northeast Nebraska, which is driving up wages and benefits and increasing the competition for reliable workers.

The Columbus Telegram reported (http://bit.ly/v5SDWh) that the demand was expected to rise by more than 6 percent between 2008 and 2018 in northeast Nebraska.

A Columbus company, Katana Summit, last month had nearly 90 openings for welders because it had gotten several orders for its wind turbine towers. It had to make 130 of them by the middle of next year and, as a result, had to double its plant workforce.

But it can't find enough welders.

Company President and CEO Kevin Strudthoff said his company has tried recruiting workers from outside Nebraska but has been competing with an increased demand for welders in Texas and North Dakota oil fields.

Katana added a weekend shift with an eye toward attracting local farmers for part-time work, but applications are only trickling in, Strudthoff said.

The demand for welders has caused wages and benefits to rise. The average northeast Nebraska welder makes $16.79 an hour, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor. Katana pays $21 per hour or more for senior welders and has raised its retirement, overtime and goal-based incentives.

"We're trying to put things in place to make it work," Strudthoff said.

The state Labor Department said fabricated metal manufacturing, which requires lots of welding, has one of the highest growth projections for the area.

Central Community College's Columbus campus has been trying to help meet the demand for welders.

The college partners with area companies to deliver industry-specific training for both new hires and advancing employees. In return, the college receives equipment and materials that help keep costs down for students.

Nebraska Workforce Development works with the college and employers on training programs and the effort to recruit welders and push the unemployed toward welding work.

"We're working to help fast-track folks into the vocation," said Kendrick Marshall, regional manager of Nebraska Workforce Development.


Information from: Columbus Telegram, http://www.columbustelegram.com

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