Are you good with your hands, interested in engineering and have a fascination for metal? Then maybe a career as a welder is a path for you.
This is the complete Welding Watch guide on how to become a welder. We cover everything you need to know about working as a welder, what to expect and both benefits and downsides.
How to Become a Welder
When becoming a welder, there are a few personal skills and natural affinities that do you many favors. These are traits that you can’t easily learn but will come in handy as a welder. Having a keen eye for detail, perfectionist tendencies and creativity are all valuable soft skills for welders.
As for the hard skills, these are mostly related to a sound knowledge of math, engineering, mechanics and technology. Knowing the importance of these subjects should dismiss the misconception that welding is an unskilled job.
Skilled vs Unskilled Welding
Welding is also one of the professions where the final work makes it very clear whether someone is qualified or not. Crude finishings are a telltale sign of someone with lack of experience.
Officially, there are no strict regulations to become a welder. However, most people and businesses prefer to hire someone with the appropriate qualifications.
The advantage of becoming a welder is that there are many ways to receive qualifications. There are highly specialized university degrees but a high school diploma combined with vocational training or an apprenticeship is also a valid path.
The most important thing to remember is that you need experience,in whichever form that comes. Only through experience can you become truly skilled at welding tasks.
Acquiring Welding Qualifications
There are several ways to get the necessary qualifications to become a welder. They all differ in the amount of time and money that you need to invest.
High School Degree
A high school degree or GED with sufficient classes related to the sciences, math and metal fabrication or shop classes is the best start. You may need additional qualifications but these classes will give you a sound knowledge base.
Welding certifications are given for completing short specialized courses. Many of these certification courses only take a few months to complete and look good on your CV.
You can earn certifications from many different training institutes so check which ones are available in your area. Below is a list of examples of welding certifications.
- Certified Welder
- Certified Welding Inspector
- Certified Associate Welding Inspector
- Senior Certified Welding Inspector
- Certified Welding Engineer
- Certified Robotic Arc Welding Operator
- Certified Welding Supervisor
- Certified Welding Educator
- Structural Welding Special Inspector
- Certified Welding Sales Representative
Apprenticeships & On-the-Job Training
Experience is extremely valuable to a welder which is why most choose to apply for apprenticeships after earning certifications. You can apply for an apprenticeship with both small independent businesses and large companies.
Associate degrees or undergrad degrees are where the welding profession really begins to specialize. Getting an Associate’s Degree in welding gives you the skills and insights to tackle more complicated cases.
Another reason to get this type of degree is that it will prepare you for more than basic welding. You will also learn how welding relates to other sectors giving you a more global perspective of where you can work.
Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees
The highest levels of education you can reach within welding is a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. However, with these higher education options you are probably learning about more than just welding. Most degrees are engineering programs.
Pursuing university degrees is a good idea if you want to work for international companies and reach top management positions. Some welders choose to pursue university degrees later on in their career as certain companies will sponsor their employees to do so.
Career Path & Progression
Welders are employed in many different industries and many different types of companies. From self-employed neighborhood welders to NASA, any business that uses metal materials works with welders.
This means that there is no strict career path for a welder. You have the freedom to specialize, become a jack-of-all-trades or combine your welding skills with something completely different. There are endless opportunities.
You can start your own business and work independently which is what many welders do. You can also apply for jobs that offer good opportunities for growth. Working within a larger company is also a chance to develop yourself beyond welding, for example, in management or design.
Working in Different Industries
Below is a list of industries where welders work. As you can see, there are many different options, each with its own job description and desired skill set. To find out the specifics of welding in these industries click here.
- Automotive industry
- Industrial sales
- Farm repair and fabrication
- Production welding
- Military careers
- Teaching welding
- Skilled trades
- Auto Technician
- Artists and Metal Sculpting
- Entrepreneurs in welding
What is a Welder’s Day Like?
What a welder’s day looks like depends on the specific industry they are working in. Even within the same industry, a welder’s role may be differ.
A welder’s core job is to merge metal parts. That alone has many applications. For example, a welder in the automotive industry could be working on the assembly line while a welder with a higher position might be working on prototypes for new car designs.
In short, it is difficult to describe a stereotypical day for a welder. Also, since much of the job revolves around fixing problems and creating solutions, each day is different.
Generally, welders that work for a company will have regular 40-hour work weeks. However, overtime and odd hours are also common. This is because welders might have to be on standby in case of emergencies.
Part of the Welder’s Job Description
Below are examples of tasks and duties that a welder may have. Again, this is a generalized job description and the specifics will differ with each position.
- Analyzing technical drawings to understand the machinery
- Setting up welding machines and equipment
- Organizing and implementing workplace safety
- Repairing metal equipment and machines
- Using welding equipment to fix or create metal fabrications
- Taking measurements and making calculations
- Investigating structural failures and offering welding solutions
- Communicate with customers and coworkers on how to best tackle a task
One reason to not start your own business and work for a company instead is the access to work benefits. If you are self-employed you are responsible for arranging these benefits yourself.
Generally, welders are in high demand. This increases the chances that companies offer more benefits to attract top talent.
Below is a list of potential benefits that a welder might receive. It is important to know that these are general work benefits and not necessarily specific to welders.
- Health insurance
- Disability insurance
- Vision insurance
- Dental insurance
- Life insurance
- Professional development assistance
- 401k Plan
- Paid Vacation
- Relocation Assistance
- Maternity leave
What you should know about working as a welder is that the job comes with certain risks. You are in contact with hazardous equipment, extremely high temperatures and heavy machinery.
That is why having good health insurance and disability insurance is very important for welders. These are two benefits that every welder should demand from their employer.
Vision insurance is a benefit that is more specific to welders. Although welders must wear protective gear at all times, accidents do happen and welder’s sight is one of the more likely affected areas.
Setting Up Your Own Workshop
Many welders choose to start their own workshop. Running your own business can be intimidating at first but it also presents many opportunities.
This is a quick overview of the different steps you have to go through to start your own welding business.
Decide on the Type of Welding Business
Since there are many types of welding specialities, you need to decide on your own niche. Niche businesses are often able to charge higher prices because there are fewer competitors.
Below are examples of welding niches you can specialize in but of course there are many more.
- Heavy stainless steel fabricating
- Steel construction fabricating
- Underwater welding (learn how much underwater welders can earn}
- Breakdown welding
Create a Business Plan
Before anything else, you have to create a business plan. This includes your business model, the finances, the business structure, what your Unique Selling Point (USP) is, your target market, inventory and equipment needs. Essentially, everything you need to know and prepare for to run a successful business.
Register Your Business
Every business owner, no matter how small the business, needs to register. Often, the most recommended business structure is an LLC or Limited Liabilities Company. This type of company prevents your personal finances from getting mixed up with the business finances.
Hire the Right People
Depending on the type of business you want to have, you may have to hire others. You could choose to work with an apprentice or hire someone to take care of the administrative tasks. The job positions you need to fill will depend on your personal skills and availability,the size of your business and the niche.
Spread the Word
When you run a welding business you need as many people as possible to know about it. The more people that are familiar with your services, the more customers you are likely to have and the more your business will earn.
Basic business practices include printing business cards, setting up a website and social media accounts. You may also want to attend business events and network at local events where you may meet new customers.
Gather a Loyal Customer Base
It is important to form good relationships with your customers to get them to keep hiring you. Be mindful of your customer service and focus on delivering top quality work.
No industry is free from innovation and changing trends. Although welding is an industry that sees consistency in demand, it is also an industry that continually develops.
As a business owner this means that you have to stay up-to-date on new technologies and requirements. This may involve getting more certifications or training your staff to handle new equipment or protocols.
In terms of employment opportunities, welding is one of the more stable professions in the United States. In fact, the job market for welders is expected to grow over 5% in the next 5 years.
By far the biggest employer of welders is the manufacturing industry with 2/3 welders active within manufacturing. However, this sector can be further broken down into sub-sectors such as construction, automotive industry, agriculture and industrial machinery.
Another industry that is expected to increase their demand of welders is infrastructure. Over the next few decades there are many bridges, buildings and transportation structures that either need to be renovated or built from scratch.
If you are interested in technology then you will be happy to know that there is also a strong growth in the robotics industry. This an exciting progressive field that is seeing great strides in development.
While many industries are worried about how automation will affect their labor force, this is less of an issue for welders. Even if simpler welding jobs can be performed by robots, there are many more complex welding tasks that only a human could perform.
Also, as more industries are automating their production process, welders will also have more job opportunities. More machines means more maintenance and repair jobs.
One thing to keep in mind is that greater automation sets the bar higher for welders. Welders will be expected to perform more complicated tasks which may mean that welders need to earn more certifications or higher education degrees.
Salaries & Wages
The Bureau of Labour Statistics estimates the median hourly wage for welders at around $20 which translates to approximately $42,500 per year (learn more about how much welders can earn here). However, this figure can be somewhat misleading since it is a national average.
Welders can expect different rates across each state. For example, the average welder in Alaska earns over $30 per hour. Alaska, District of Columbia and Hawaii have the highest average hourly wage.
There is also a difference in the average wage across industries. While the average across industries is around $20, there are much higher averages in the natural resources industry. The mean hourly wage in the petroleum, coal, natural gas and electricity generation is between $31 – $42.
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Unions, Associations and Other Welding Organisations
Being part of a worker’s union is a smart move. Collectively, you will have more influence on employers and industry standards.
Unions are also important sources of information for the sector. Many welding unions will stay up-to-date on developments within the economy and the job sector itself so that its members are not faced with surprises.
Joining a labor union will also help you when you find yourself in work disputes or complicated situations. They can inform you of your legal rights and stand by you when you wish to pursue them.
They can also represent you in case of work place injuries or unrightful layoffs. One of the duties of a labor union is to help make sure that its members work under safe, fair and protected conditions.
Below is a list of examples of welding unions and organisations. They are not all specific to welders but do represent the appropriate industries welders work in.
- International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union
- United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America
- The United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
- International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC)
- International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)
- Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA)
Welding is a hands-on profession with many exciting career opportunities. There are welders in many different industries which shows how diverse of a skill set welders have.
One of the advantages of pursuing a career in welding is that there are many roads that lead to Rome. In other words, there is no single strict career path or educational requirement.
Welders can learn the trade starting in high school or decide to switch careers later on in life. There is a long list of certifications that a welder can earn to specialize. It is also possible to work at a more scientific and global level by getting an Associate’s degree or university diploma in a related field.
Welding is a promising career opportunity in the United States. There is a steady high demand for welders in manufacturing but also the natural resources industries.
Welders can work anywhere in the United States, from Hawaii to Ohio or Alaska. If you are creative, precise and practical, this may be a dream career for you.