Beyond the midway thrills and the ever-present butter sculpture, this year's Ohio State Fair will have a new attraction -- one designed to have a more lasting impression.
The Careers in Welding Trailer contains virtual simulators and other interactive exhibits designed to inspire fairgoers -- young and old -- about welding as a potential career.
The trailer's visit to the state fair is sponsored by the American Welding Society, Lincoln Electric and the 4-H Youth Development program of Ohio State University Extension. It made its debut at FABTECH in Chicago in November 2011 and has traveled throughout the U.S. since.
The trailer will be at the state fair for a limited time, from Tuesday, July 31, through Sunday, Aug. 5. It will be stationed near the Youth Center at the Cardinal Gate entrance (Gate 1) at the north end of the fairgrounds.
The trailer contains four simulators with virtual welding guns and helmets. Participants practice welding in virtual environments and earn a score for their performance. At the state fair, Ohio 4-H will offer prizes to those earning the highest daily scores.
"We're targeting events that we believe will hit both youth and adults considering a second career," said Monica Pfarr, corporate director of workforce development for the American Welding Society. "We want to get people excited about a possible career in welding."
And it appears to be working. At a recent FFA conference, "we had a line out the trailer for three straight days," she said. "It's kind of like a video game for them. Once they try it and get their score and other feedback, they're either excited about how well they've done or want to try it again.
"Welding isn't something really easy to do -- it takes practice and training. But people often come out of the trailer saying it's something they want to pursue."
Randall Reeder, faculty emeritus in Ohio State's Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said welders are in high demand, particularly those who work in the field.
"It's partly because so many are of retirement age and companies have difficulty finding qualified replacements," Reeder said. "The expansion of oil and gas drilling is creating many new welding jobs, with high incomes. And welders who are willing to relocate, to North Dakota for example, can earn well over $100,000 a year. These jobs are growing in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, too." Other job opportunities include welders in food processing, ventilation systems and even on dairy farms, he said.
In addition, companies in the welding supply business, such as Lincoln Electric, are hiring welding experts in sales, training and design engineering, Reeder said.
Pfarr said the simulators might be the hook to get people inside the trailer, but there's much more inside, as well, including information about potential earnings according to different educational levels; welding scholarship information; trivia questions, fun facts and industry artifacts; a "Day in the Life of a Welder" exhibit with videos depicting real-life environments in which welders work; and a social media kiosk allowing visitors to take their photo and post to Facebook or email to a friend.
The Ohio State Fair runs from July 25 through Aug. 5. ÂIt is located at the Ohio Expo Center at 717 East 17th Ave., Columbus.
For more information about career opportunities in welding, see http://www.explorewelding.com/. To see a video of about the trailer when it was at FABTECH Canada in March, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=tcmOlxMp7Eo.