Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
The American Welding Society puts interactivity on wheels to attract younger generations to the profession. (Titled "Another Way to Go Mobile" in the print edition.)
In manufacturing industries, trying to promote growth in the profession by pointing people to a webpage or a social network just won't do. Such careers are inherently hands-on, and so too must be the outreach to the next generation of workers.
The American Welding Society (AWS) has embraced this approach in a big way. This summer, a full-size tractor-trailer will visit state fairs, auto races, airshows, and tradeshows across the United States to introduce new career seekers to the welding profession.
The tour is more than a PR campaign. Monica Pfarr, corporate director for workforce development at AWS, says the trailer is a "mobile exhibit," designed to be an interactive experience that excites young minds and puts the opportunities in the profession on full display. AWS partnered with MRA Experiential Tours & Equipment to design and build the exhibit.
When parked, the 53-foot trailer expands to approximately 650 square feet. About 25 to 30 people can explore inside at one time.
Inside, visitors play a virtual-reality welding game created by Lincoln Electric, AWS's main partner for the exhibit. Players don a welder's helmet with an internal monitor, where they see a welding environment such as a factory, racecar pit lane, or military base. The controller is shaped like a welding torch, and fellow visitors can see the player's welding performance on screens at each game station. And like any good video game, players compete for high scores based on the quality of their welds.
Four staff run the exhibit at each stop: two MRA employees who drive the truck and operate the exhibit, one AWS employee who travels separately, and a Lincoln Electric sales representative from the nearest region.
Inside the trailer are educational exhibits with videos and quizzes about welding careers. The "Careers Wall" is sponsored by Weld-Ed: The National Center for Welding Education and Training, a collaboration of schools, government agencies, and industry members funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The exhibit includes a social media kiosk, where visitors can get their photo taken, receive a copy via email, and post it to Facebook or Twitter.
Visitors are encouraged to continue exploring the profession online. They can learn about welding careers at www.careersinwelding.com, see current job opportunities at www.jobsinwelding.com, and follow the truck tour at www.explorewelding.com. AWS sees a spike in traffic at careersinwelding.com after each event the trailer visits, Pfarr says.
The truck has also proven to be a nice lobbying tool, so far visiting legislators in Michigan and Ohio. Above, Ohio Governor John R. Kasich speaks with students in the exhibit in February.
MRA hired two interns studying welding technology at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to help build and weld the trailer during its assembly in summer 2011.
The truck will embark on a 20-week tour this summer. Highlights include the Indianapolis 500, Ohio State Fair, AirVenture Airshow, SkillsUSA, International Manufacturing Technology Show, and Future Farmers of America National Convention and Expo.
Joe Rominiecki is a senior editor for Associations Now. Email: [email protected]
Photos courtesy of American Welding Society and MRA Experiential Tours & Equipment.