Any professional who is trained in the art of joining metal components using heat and fusion can be referred to as a welder. By learning to manipulate metal objects through these methods, a welder can create a handful of complex and beautiful structures, including intricate metallic objects and elaborate offshore structures for oil rigs.
Apart from creating these structures, a welder can also participate in their repair and maintenance. For this reason, welders are in great demand in many thriving sectors.
But what exactly is the full scope of the profession? What is the career path like, and how much can one expect to earn? We examine all of these questions and more in detail below.
What Does a Welder Do?
Welders are experts at metal fabrication and manipulation. Because their skillsets are so ubiquitous and comprehensive, a welder can work in several industries, including the automotive industry, shipbuilding, oil and gas, and building and construction.
Along the course of a day, you’ll often find a welder performing one or more of the following responsibilities:
- Constructing metal joints that are strong, stable, and durable.
- Preparing equipment and materials that are to be used in the welding process.
- Getting familiar with the blueprints and drawings to be used later on.
- Adhering to safety guidelines regarding flames and equipment handling.
- Cleaning and storing equipment properly.
- Maintaining flame temperature to suit a particular welding process.
- A welding inspector can also perform supervisory duties, such as ensuring that safety guidelines are followed.
Welders often need a solid technical background and a germane understanding of metals.
Different Types of Welding
All welders work with metals, but because there are several kinds of metals and ways by which they can be fabricated, there are also several kinds of welding. Below are the most common forms.
Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)
Gas metal arc welding, also known as metal inert gas (MIG), is commonly used for metal joints for general application. Gas metal arc welding is applied in automobiles, steel components, bridges, and ships.
Shielded-Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)
Shielded-metal arc welding is also known as stick welding and is one of the simplest and most popular forms of welding. Thanks to its direct and inexpensive nature, it is often the go-to form for fabricating small components. It is applied in home projects, repairs, and construction jobs.
Flux-Coated Arc Welding (FCAW)
Flux-coated arc welding is a form of welding that uses a flux-cored electrode passed through a welding gun. This form of welding is most famous for mass production lines.
Gas Tungsten Arc Welding or TIG Welding
TIG welding is mainly used for joining aluminum, magnesium, brass alloys, and copper components. Due to the strength and uniqueness of the tungsten gas, this form of welding is reserved for highly skilled professionals.
How to Become a Welder
Ideally, individuals interested in pursuing a career in welding must pass through a training program, an apprenticeship program and become certified.
Enrolling in a Training Program
Training programs offer one of the best paths to becoming a welder. Those without experience in the field will especially appreciate the steady but comprehensive approach these training programs adopt.
To enroll, candidates must already have a high school diploma or GED. At the end of the training program, candidates earn a certificate, which requires only 10 to 18 months of training, and is enough to start practicing.
Considering an Associate’s Degree
While a certificate is enough to start practicing as a welder, it is advisable to consider an associate’s degree to enhance career prospects. Associate’s degrees make welders more attractive to employers; they also teach advanced welding skills and topics such as metallurgy, precision measurement, structural design, OSHA safety procedures/policies, and blueprint reading.
Hands-on Experience through Apprenticeship Programs
Gaining hands-on experience through an apprenticeship program is highly advisable as it helps you get familiar with what to expect in a real-world scenario before diving into the job.
Community colleges and trade schools often offer apprenticeship programs in their curriculum/training module.
Once you complete your training program and apprenticeship, the next important step is to become certified. Applying for the American Welding Society (AWS) certification programs is possible.
Among the most popular options available in this regard are:
Certified Welder (CW), Certified Welding Inspector (CWI), Certified Welding Educator (CWE), Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI), Certified Associate Welding Inspector (CAWI), Certified Welding Sales Representative (CWSR), Certified Radiographic Interpreter (CRI), Certified Robotic Arc Welding (CRAW), Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS) and Certified Welding Engineer (CWE).
Apart from having flexibility regarding which form of welding they choose to practice, a welder can also choose which role they play in a company. Some of the most common roles include:
- Welder - Welders who obtain certificates from training schools can practice as welders. They can find employment in construction, aircraft, heavy machinery, etc.
- Welding Engineer/Supervisor - Welders who obtain associate’s degrees can pursue an engineer or supervisor role. They may be involved in project planning, management, and microstructure analysis.
- Welding Instructor - Welding instructors must pass the Certified Welding Instructor (CWI) exam and be familiar with different forms of welding.
- Welding Inspector - To become a welding inspector, you must have a passion for quality control and oversight. Welding inspectors perform tests to ensure weld quality and ensure that welders under them adhere to safety standards.
Welder Salary & Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Welders earn an annual median wage of $47,010. Those in the top ten percent of earners make significantly more at $63,660.
Beginners who fall into the bottom ten percent can expect to take home at least $31,350.
The industry where they work also plays a significant role in determining how much a welder earns yearly. For example, those who work as specialty trade contractors often make more than those who work in repair and maintenance.
As for the job outlook, the BLS projects a 2 percent growth in demand for welders between 2021 to 2031. This will see about 47,000 new jobs created every year on average.