When you’re choosing a career path, it’s natural to want to find a job that you’re not only good at, but that you enjoy. Being engaged with your work is linked with higher job satisfaction, greater longevity, higher productivity and even a lower risk of getting injured in the workplace.
All of that sounds nice, but there’s another factor that no doubt plays a major role when you’re deciding what to do for a living: how much you’ll make.
We’ve covered all of the bases to answer this question in depth, breaking down how much the average welder makes, how much the highest earners bring home, and the specific jobs and locations that pay the most.
According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which maintains the most comprehensive salary data, the median pay for all welders, cutters, solderers and brazers in the U.S. is $20.43 per hour, or about $42,490 per year. The highest 10% earned above $64,240.
While these numbers are a good ballpark, they don’t paint the full picture of how much welders make. There are many nuances in the field when it comes to pay, and it’s helpful to understand them if you want to get an accurate estimate of what you might earn.
For starters, your level of experience will play a significant role in how much you earn. There’s a big disparity between an entry-level welder working in a repair shop and a welder with ten years’ experience working on building spacecraft.
Which brings up another important factor–skill level. The more niche your welding skill (i.e. welding the delicate instruments on a spacecraft) and the more specialized credentials you hold, the more you can expect to earn. The materials and welding methods involved also play a significant role in your earnings.
Location plays a role, both in terms of where you live and where you travel on the job. In general, traveling welding jobs pay more than those based in one place.
Finally, your union status impacts how much you make as a welder. Welders who are part of a union earn an average of 20 to 30% more than those who are not part of one.
We touched above on how a niche welding skill can greatly impact your earning potential. In the case of the specialties below, it can set you up to earn six figures or more.
Pipeline welding has a reputation for being a strenuous job done in remote locations. It also has a reputation for its sizable paychecks. The average salary for pipeline welders in the U.S. is just under $70,000 a year, with the top 25% of earners making $83,000 or more.
In addition to getting your welding certification, you’ll likely need to start out as a welder’s helper, assisting with jobs and learning the ropes before making your way up to the role of pipeline welder.
One part tradesman and one part diver, underwater welders tackle welding tasks that must be done in wet environments, like on the hull of a ship or on a submerged pipeline. Underwater welding typically takes place offshore, but can also be done in inland bodies of water like lakes or rivers.
As you can imagine, this highly specialized skill requires an intricate knowledge of both welding techniques and scuba diving. Though you’ll need to go through a training and certification program to gain the skills you need, it can pay off generously.
We’ve mentioned certifications and how they play a role in your earnings as a welder. One of the most lucrative certifications you can get is that of welding inspector.
This credential certifies your ability to make sure welding projects are completed to code and are safe for public use–a job with a lot of responsibility.
After building up the required work experience and knowledge to pass the certification exam, you’ll enjoy attractive earning prospects; certified welding inspectors make an average of $74,000 a year.
If you’re open to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, a career as a welding engineer can set you on a trajectory to a lifetime of high earnings.
In addition to a thorough knowledge of welding techniques and applications, professionals in this role must maintain an ever-evolving knowledge of new technologies and how they can be applied to make operations more efficient.
Getting your welding engineer certification takes mental stamina, but most find the investment to be worth the payoff: you’ll enjoy an average salary of $76,800 a year, with the prospect of earning $110,000 a year or more in the top tier of the profession.
According to BLS data, these five diverse states offer the highest wages for welders.
If you’re not afraid of a little cold, it’s hard to beat Alaska in terms of job prospects for welders. The state’s thriving shipbuilding industry combined with millions of miles of pipeline make it a great place to get a welding job.
Workers here top out with the highest average welding wages in the nation at $32.09 an hour or $66,740 a year. Contrast that with the state’s average cost of living, which is 32% above the national average in Anchorage.
Our nation’s capital is experiencing a surge in the need for skilled workers to fuel the area’s construction boom.
The industry has seen rapid job growth since 2015 as demand for single-family homes has outpaced supply. Welders also work in advanced manufacturing, another big economic driver.
The average pay for welders in Washington, D.C. is $30.76 an hour or $63,980 a year. Cost of living there is high, but neighboring Charlottesville, VA is a cost-effective alternative, with a much lower cost of living (31.3% cheaper).
You might be surprised to learn that the Aloha State is in the top three for welding salaries, with an average wage of $29.73 an hour or $61,830 a year. The military, power and manufacturing industries are some of the largest employers of welders.
One caveat to consider before you pack your bags and head to the islands, though–the overall cost of living is also higher here, so your dollar won’t stretch as far as some mainland locales.
Wyoming has the highest location quotient for welders in the nation, meaning there are more welding jobs per capita than any other state.
The high volume of welding jobs is driven largely by the state’s robust oil and gas industry, which produced some 102 million barrels of crude oil in 2019.
Welders in Wyoming earn an average of $29.64 an hour or $61,650 a year, with a relatively average cost of living compared to the national average.
Like Wyoming, New Mexico also has a high location quotient, which means it’s easier to find a welding job here than in other parts of the country. The federal government is one of the state’s largest employers, with multiple military outposts and two national laboratories calling the state home.
Welders in New Mexico earn an average of $27.28 an hour or $56,740 a year.
New Mexico is the opposite of Hawaii when it comes to cost of living; it’s notably cheaper to live here than elsewhere in the nation, so you’ll get more bang from every buck you earn.
The job outlook for welders is favorable, with industry growth keeping pace with the national average for all jobs. But are salaries growing, too? If we look at the data on welding wages over the last several years, we can see that the answer is yes.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the average wage for jobs on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis.
We pulled the numbers from the same time period for each of the last four years and the data shows a clear positive trend:
This rate of growth is on par with the typical wage growth for most occupations, so you can feel confident that a welding career will offer a stable future salary that keeps pace with inflation.
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