Alberta has been an economic hotbed for nearly ten years. $100 oil has made unconventional plays in the Athabasca Oilsands more than attractive and foreign investment dollars are flowing in almost as fast the bitumen is flowing out. Newspapers report daily on the labour shortage and industry does everything possible to lure skilled workers to the wild rose province. Regular announcements of major capital projects have precipitated a steady flow of prosperity seeking migrants to Alberta. All in all, the pace of life in Alberta is reaching breakneck speed.
What does all this mean? For one, Alberta trade schools are pumping out more welders than any other jurisdiction in North America—5000 annually. Industry is demanding more and more welders and schools are happily obliging. But is this a positive development?. Yes and no. More welders to accommodate the needs of economic growth is an undeniably good news story. But what’s less comforting is the speed at which students are rushed through trade programs.
To clarify, Alberta’s trade schools and the calibre of tradespeople they produce are excellent. However, due to the urgent demands of industry, more advanced techniques (like multi-pass welds) are being ignored for the sake of expediency. The alarming trend seems to be quantity over quality, and new welders are rushed into work they aren’t always ready to undertake. For instance, freshly minted journeryman can attain their tickets with very limited, repetitive welding experience. But because welders are in high demand, a rookie with flat groove experience only is suddenly hired to lay flawless overhead fillets. The result is poor workmanship that leads to failures and potential loss of life.
Unfortunately, heavy duty fabrication is not child’s play. Tacking a muffler onto an exhaust pipe is one thing, but what about articulating boom devices, cranes or perhaps high pressure vessels contending with 60,000 psi? In such critical cases, when corners are cut and good practices ignored, the consequences can be dire. At best, product failures that cause downtime are expensive. At worst, they cost lives.
Fabrication is not something that can be rushed. Procedures and codes, both for safety and fabrication, exist for a reason. These standards represent the time tested lessons of past failures. Skipping steps is simply unacceptable. As such, we strongly recommend that the repair and/or fabrication of critical weldments (i.e., power/pressure piping, pressure vessels, petroleum storage, so on) be undertaken by qualified and experienced professionals that perform work to applicable codes. Entrusting this critical work to anyone else has lead to terrible consequences.