You probably have a general idea of what a welder does—they join metals using high heat. But there’s much more to the profession than that, from the tools used to the techniques a welder must master to the nuances of the industry. Get a more in-depth picture of a welder’s job description and how you can become one below.
Welders use any number of techniques to join metals and other materials together. The technique a welder uses will depend on the type of material being welded, the conditions the final weld will be subject to, and the conditions under which the weld must be completed.
The finished product can take any number of forms, from a standalone structure to components to be used in a larger product or structure—welded products accounted for a $14.5 billion market in 2019.
Welding professionals use various tools (including welders, cutters, shapers, grinders, oxyacetylene torches, darkening helmets, and measuring tools) to do their job. They might use these tools manually to complete the work by hand or operate a robot that completes the weld. The welding itself, however, is only one part of a welder’s job.
In addition to completing each weld to the appropriate specifications, they must be able to operate and maintain the welding equipment, follow codes and blueprints correctly to ensure that all relevant standards are met, and adhere to the proper safety measures to keep everyone on the job site out of harm’s way.
He or she must also be familiar with the technical drawings that outline precisely how a weld should be executed, and must be proficient in the knowledge of the specific material they’ll be working with (i.e. structural steel for work in the construction industry).
Depending on the job, welders can work under pretty much any condition imaginable, working indoors in a machine shop, squeezing into the bowels of a ship to repair machinery, working on a pipeline in the falling snow or welding on an oil rig in the middle of the desert.
A welder’s salary can vary widely depending on the industry they work in and where they work. Welding salaries can also fluctuate based on job-specific variations like overtime pay, truck pay, travel pay and per diems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for all welders in the United States is $42,500 a year. With the right credentials and experience, many welders earn much more than this amount.
Here are a few examples of the average salaries for different types of welders:
Most welders begin by obtaining their certified welder credential (more on this below), but you can significantly increase your earning potential by working toward more advanced specializations.
Welders typically work in one of two scenarios: in house for a company as a full-time employee, or on their own as a contract worker.
Though contract workers often command larger paychecks than their in-house counterparts, they’re also responsible for their own health insurance, retirement savings, disability coverage, and so on. This is a trade off you must consider when deciding what type of welding employment to pursue.
If you work as a full-time employee of a company, you’ll most likely have access to benefits, either through your employer or via a union.
Common benefits of welding jobs include employer-sponsored health insurance, paid time off, and the opportunity to opt into one or more retirement plans like a 401(k) or pension plan. These can be an attractive supplement to your base salary.
Some welding and trade unions also offer access to crisis funds meant to assist members during emergencies, as well as providing legal representation in job-related matters.
Becoming a welder requires a mix of formal training, technical expertise and on-the-job experience. More formal training may mean you don’t need as much practical experience to get a job, and vice versa. Here’s a closer look at how all the different requirements breakdown.
Many are drawn to the field of welding because a college degree isn’t required to succeed and earn a healthy living. Still, some level of formal education can certainly help you get your foot in the door and build the basic welding skills you need to land your first job.
First off, most welding jobs will require a high school diploma or its equivalent. From there, enrolling in a welding or related program at a vocational school is a great way to learn essential welding techniques and obtain hands-on experience at a much lower cost than if you were buying your own supplies and machinery and learning on your own through trial and error.
These programs usually come with the option to graduate with your welding certificate, which can be completed in as little as six to eight months.
If you plan on pursuing more advanced jobs in the welding field or have your sights set on one day moving into a managerial role, a four-year degree can greatly increase your chances of getting there.
With four years of college training under your belt, you’ll need fewer years of on-the-job experience to qualify to sit for specialized certification exams.
To take the Certified Welding Inspector exam, for example, candidates with a bachelor’s degree or higher require one year of welding-based work experience, while candidates with only a high school diploma require five years of experience.
When choosing a four-year program, look for a college that offers a degree specifically in welding or the area of the welding industry you want to pursue, like welding engineering technology (if you want to become a welding engineer), or even marketing/business (if you want to get into management or technical sales).
Gaining experience as a welder requires some hustle. Many entry-level welding jobs present a catch-22 situation because they call for candidates who already have welding experience. So, you’ll need to be ambitious and you might have to get a little creative to obtain your first couple years of welding experience.
Working in a machine repair shop, auto body shop, manufacturing plant or on general construction jobs can help you get your foot in the door and gain welding experience. Some companies offer to train new workers on the job, though such opportunities can be few and far between.
Often, getting your first welding job is more about who you know, so putting the word out about your welding skills among friends, family, church members and community groups can help you make connections that can lead to your first gig.
Finally, the community college or trade school route we discussed earlier can help you build experience and make professional contacts that will help you enter the field.
One great thing about the welding industry is that there’s no ceiling to how much you can learn—and subsequently, earn. If you’re driven and dedicated, it’s highly possible to build a resume of credentials that lead to a six-figure salary or more.
In addition to getting your welding certificate, which is a great starting point, the following credentials will open new doors in your career and help you expand your earning potential:
For more information on advanced certifications and endorsements, check out these resources from the American Welding Society.
Welding jobs can be found pretty much anywhere industry exists, which is to say all corners of the world. The more remote the location, the higher the job generally pays. If the location is also a potentially dangerous one, like certain places in the Middle East, the pay can be especially lucrative.
Welding jobs exist in all 50 states, though some offer greater opportunities and earning potential than others.
A 2020 study by Economic Modeling Specialists International analyzed welding salaries in the 50 U.S. states, both by what welders earn on average and what those in the top 10th percentile–the highest tier of earners–make.
They found that the top six states where the highest-paid welders earn the most are Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, West Virginia, Hawaii and Massachusetts. The top 10% of welders in these states earned between $38 and $46 an hour.
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