If you think of welding as surgery, the welder, like the surgeon, would be the hypothetical star. As with any surgery, though, it takes multiple people working behind the scenes to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. In this metaphor, one of those important behind-the-scenes team members would be the welder helper.
A welder helper, also known as a welding assistant, is responsible for many of the tasks that enable a welder to do their job quickly, efficiently and properly. Read on to learn more about the job duties of a welder helper, how much they typically make and why you might want to consider a job in this career path.
Think of a welder helper like a welder’s right hand man (or woman). They provide support to the welder, maintain the welding tools and equipment, and ensure a clean and organized work environment. They’re responsible for setting up the workspace and making sure welders have quick and easy access to any tools they need, like welding rods, grinding discs and the like.
A welder helper often follows behind the welder to clean and grind the weld area. They may also operate welding machines themself, like torches, magnetic drills, hammers and beveling machines. When the welding portion of the job is done, the welder’s assistant cleans up the workspace.
The best welder’s helpers are proactive, anticipating problems before they arise to keep the job moving along smoothly.
For example, they might check the welding equipment periodically to spot any problems or upcoming maintenance needs and schedule a technician who can make the required repairs to keep downtime to a minimum. The welder’s assistant should be highly focused on the details of the job to help save the welder time, answer questions on the fly and prevent mistakes.
A welding assistant job often requires what could be described as grunt work, like loading and unloading trucks, moving materials, cleaning workpieces and filling out paperwork. At the end of the day, the helper’s core job function is to allow the welder to focus on welding to the best of their ability, resulting in a high quality weld that passes muster with inspection.
A welder helper often works as a pair with the same welder each day, sometimes for several years. In other cases, a welder’s helper attends to multiple welders working on the same project or in the same shop. As a welding assistant, you may work on different job sites from day to day, sometimes in close quarters or outdoors, exposed to the elements.
The average salary for a welder helper in the United States is around $32,500 a year, with pay ranging from $24,000 on the low end to close to $50,000 a year on the high end.
The industry you work in and the type of work environment will play a big role in how much you can make as a welder helper. In some cases, becoming a welder’s assistant can be quite lucrative without requiring you to go through all the steps required to become a welder. Welder helpers working on a pipeline, for example, often earn more than actual welders who work in a fabricating shop.
In a large welding operation, a fitter is responsible for carefully reading blueprints and technical drawings and laying out the materials in sequence for the welder to then weld. They’re required to know more about the pertinent symbols and the reading of blueprints than the welder, so they may have the potential to earn more.
No formal education is required to become a welder helper, though some companies may require you to have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Many companies train welder helpers on the job.
If you don’t have any experience working in a welding shop or in a similar field like construction or manufacturing, you may want to consider taking some formal classes in welding or related skills ahead of your job search.
Such classes can help you learn the basics and familiarize you with how a job site functions so you’ll have an easier time getting up to speed in a position as a welder’s assistant. Vocational schools and even some high schools offer classes in welding and metalworking that are a good entry point.
To be an effective welder helper, strong communication skills are a must. You must be able to take direction well and follow instructions to the letter, since the integrity of the finished product depends heavily on it.
You’ll likely be working alongside the same welder on the same crew for an extended time frame, so being able to work as part of a team is a necessary skill.
Though a set number of years of experience isn’t required, prior work as a welding assistant, experience in a welding shop or work in a related field like construction, fabrication or equipment repair can be a plus in helping you land a welder helper job. Many companies offer on-the-job training, so you might not necessarily need prior experience if you’re eager to learn and can pick up new things quickly.
Some welder helper job listings give preference to candidates who are currently working toward getting their welding certificate. Other jobs that involve remote work sites may require you to have or obtain a commercial driver’s license.
One of the most unique things about being a welder helper is that you have a great amount of control over the direction your career takes. You can mold it in a number of diverse ways based on what you’re most interested in.
Perhaps the most obvious career path for a welder helper is to progress to becoming a welder.
It’s a great job to have while you work on obtaining your welding certification, which can take you all over the world and open doors in industries from manufacturing to aerospace to critical infrastructure and beyond.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that welders and other skilled workers will be in demand in the coming years to respond to the nation’s aging infrastructure. “Rebuild[ing] bridges, highways and buildings” will be a chief job function, the organization says.
Though it might be the most direct career path to pursue after serving as a welder helper, welding is far from the only choice you have if you’re looking to advance in the profession.
Some welder’ assistants have a heavy hand in reading and interpreting blueprints. If this is an area of the job that interests you, a future career as a structural fitter or welding inspector might be a good fit. A structural fitter assembles the materials required for a job according to the blueprints so they’re in the proper place for a welder to then weld into position. A welding inspector examines finished welds and oversees the testing of them to make sure they meet the relevant standards.
Some welder helpers become their organization’s designated safety monitor, holding safety briefings, ensuring the operation is in compliance with all safety protocols and monitoring for any issues.
Other welding assistants take on an administrative role, completing paperwork like logging work hours and accounting for the crew’s per diem expenses.
Still others opt to specialize in nondestructive testing (NDT), a series of techniques that aim to identify flaws in welded products before they find their way to the end consumer.
The bottom line is that a job as a welder helper can be both a destination and a launch pad, depending on what you’re looking for.
Some professionals happily work their entire career as welder’s assistant, while others use it as a springboard into more advanced roles or positions of leadership in the welding field.
As welding robots become more prevalent in the industry, supervisor jobs also become incredibly important. Welders or welder helpers can get positions supervising these welding robots.
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