There’s a lot more to being a welder than meets the eye. The role is very hands-on and forms a critical part of the construction industry, as bonded metal often serves as the basis for infrastructure projects as well as a critical part of any product, device or vehicle that is held together by metal. As such, being a welder is an important job that requires a lot of skills in sometimes dangerous conditions. It can also offer a long career with plenty of potential to progress.
This article takes you through the role of welder in more detail. You’ll learn about the role, what it covers, as well as the working environment and salary prospects. Finally, we will take you through how to become a welder, step-by-step.
Welders work with metal, assembling sections together in the fabrication of products, as well as repairing worn or damaged metal. This is accomplished using a variety of equipment to fuse metal together, as well as following blueprints to ensure the job is completed to the right standard. There are lots of techniques to ensure successful welding but, in short, the five main processes are:
- Arc welding
- Energy beam welding
- Gas welding
- Resistance welding
- Solid-state welding
The role is quite complex, as welders need to ensure that metal joined together has been done so properly, and that the finished product is completely safe to use. Other areas of welding require attention to detail and an eye for design, as some welding is of a cosmetic nature and, if it’s on show, needs to look attractive as well as be functionally sound.
There are lots of different types of welders, therefore the career can be quite broad, and there are plenty of opportunities to change careers or industries. Here are some different categories of welders:
- Automobile welders
- Artistic or design welders
- Construction welders
- Manufacturing welders
- Maintenance welders
- Rig welders
- Sheet metal welders
- Steel welders
- Ship welders
- Underwater welders
Welders’ responsibilities might vary depending on the industry or sector they work in but, in general, the main job duties include:
- Studying blueprints in order to understand how to fix metal together
- Measuring metal and readying it for welding, such as cutting metal and preparing the edges so welds hold
- Calibrating and maintaining welding equipment, such as blowtorches, presses and angle grinders
- Sourcing and procuring equipment needed in the welding process
- Preparing sites and material to weld, such as aligning metal and keeping it in place while the welding occurs
- Welding metal using manual or semi-automatic welders
- Dismantling and cutting up metal structures that need to be repaired, moved or demolished
- Inspecting and checking welded joints for precision and safety
- Ensuring their own safety, and that of others, while completing their job
- Training apprentices and other junior welders in the craft
It goes without saying that being a welder is a physical, hands-on job that carries a lot of risk. Welders train for a long time and, as such, have a lot of pride and loyalty to the industry. This section explores what makes the welding profession so unique and what you can expect if you decide to join it.
Welders are often based on construction sites or in factories or other plants where metal fabrication takes place. These environments are often dusty, loud, hot and cramped.
There might be other construction or engineering hazards in close proximity to where you work. If working outside, there might be prolonged exposure to extreme weather as well. Welders must be aware of the hazards that come with working in such environments.
The environment, the equipment used and also the handling of metal makes this a physically demanding role, too. In addition to this, the actual task of welding is also dangerous. Welding metal requires the use of extreme temperatures, and the equipment used to fuse metal together necessitates specialist training in how to use it. If accidents occur, they can carry a high risk of injury or death.
In addition to their training, welders are expected to wear plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE) and understand how to use and maintain it. Nevertheless, many welders enjoy the sense of freedom and the great outdoors that the role can offer, as well as the physical nature of the role being beneficial in terms of keeping fit and healthy.
Welders will typically work a standard 40-hour week, but the working pattern might be quite atypical. Many building sites and factories will operate six days a week, which means welders might need to cover weekends (most commonly Saturdays). Meanwhile, sometimes their 8- to 10-hour day will be on early shifts, sometimes on lates.
Other sites and factories might operate a monthly shift pattern, where welders work two weeks on and one week off (or similar), with no rest days until they are on an “off” week.
Because of the challenging work environment, welding has been ranked one of the worst jobs. Nevertheless, when asked to rank their own jobs on PayScale, welders rated the profession 3.6 out of 5, which puts them in the upper half of all jobs rated on the job aggregator.
Because welding is such a hands-on role and concerned with the fabrication of material, many of which are critical to wider construction projects, a large part of welders’ job satisfaction comes from the notion of seeing something be completed before their eyes. Hence, there’s a lot of personal pride in being a welder. It’s common for the job to run in someone’s family, with various generations of welders working the profession.
The welding job market in the US is projected to experience growth around the national average for all careers between 2020 and 2030, with around 49,000 new job vacancies forecast to be posted every year, representing an 8% increase year on year.
The welding profession is heavily dominated by men (less than 4% of welders are female), with a high average age. Therefore, a lot of welders are due to retire, and many choose to change professions as they get older, so a lot of vacancies are backfilled to replenish existing welders exiting the labor market.
On average, welders earn an annual salary of $48,290 (or $23.21 per hour), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational and Employment Wage Statistics survey. This is around 17% lower than the US national average of $58,260.
Entry-level welders typically start on about $31,350 per year and go on to earn as much as $63,660 as they build their experience in the field.
Meanwhile, salaries also depend on where you will be working. For example, welders in North Dakota typically earn $57,550 per year, while those in the District of Columbia are the highest-paid across the country, earning an average annual salary of $71,230.
Here’s a breakdown of welder salaries in the US:
Welding requires a broad suite of skills and abilities, some of which will be assessed and need to be demonstrated when you apply for welding roles or apprenticeships. Others will be developed as you advance along the career path.
The top 10 skills needed to become a welder are listed below:
- Familiarity of relevant welding machinery
- Attention to detail skills
- Mathematical ability
- Physical dexterity
- Physical strength
- Project management skills
- Spatial reasoning skills
- Teamwork skills
- Understanding of safety and PPE practices
So, if you have read this far and are thinking that welding is the right job for you, then the next step is to begin preparing to become a welder. This section takes you through what to prepare for as you begin your journey to becoming as a qualified welder.
Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you
Due to the taxing nature of the role, it’s important to fully assess if becoming a welder is truly the right role for you. The first step here is to consider if the inherent work environment might suit you and your values. For example, if you love manual work and creating things from scratch, then welding is well-aligned to this. Another good sign is if you like keeping fit and enjoy being in outdoor environments.
Take some time to consider whether your innate skills and abilities align to those that are required to be a welder, outlined above. If you look at this list and find that your skills not only align with the role but that you also enjoy using them, then this is another good sign that you might excel as a welder.
Ultimately, if you’re not sure if being a welder is the career for you, or you’re generally wondering which careers are the best fit for you, then undertaking a career test might be the best way forward. One example of a career test is our very own CareerHunter. Designed by organizational psychologists, this six-part assessment asks you questions relating to your interests, motivations, personality and skills, and then generates a list of suitable careers.
Step 2: Earn your high school diploma
Becoming a welder doesn’t require higher education, but you need to focus on obtaining a high school diploma. At school, studying mathematics as well as design and technology will certainly help you prepare for a career in welding. Focusing on school will stand you in good stead to move on to specific welding courses and apprenticeships.
Step 3: Enroll in a welding course
Technical training is available through high school technical education courses as well as vocational colleges and dedicated welding schools. The US Army also offers welding training programs. Sometimes, welding apprenticeships will also include training courses.
Because welding is so technical, training doesn’t stop after you have qualified. Experienced welders often retrain periodically to stay on top of their skills and learn new ones as techniques — and their own careers — progress.
Step 4: Complete an apprenticeship
Welding apprenticeships are a good way into the profession for those who are new to welding and have no prior experience. They offer a great way to have a structured and controlled introduction to this complex industry, and include mentoring and course-based learning alongside practical work. Apprentices earn as they learn and will typically take home a basic wage that will rise as soon as they qualify and become accredited.
Step 5: Attain a welding certification
Welding certifications vary state by state, so it’s best to research what is needed based on where you’re located. Training is often paid for by the companies you’re employed by.
The American Welding Society offers the Certified Welder Program, which is suitable for new welders without existing qualifications seeking initial accreditation. There are supplementary qualifications run by the AWS which can be taken to further career growth in the welding discipline, such as Certified Welding Inspector, Certified Welding Supervisor, and the more scientifically focused Certified Welding Engineer. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, meanwhile, offers practical welding training courses with a focus on electrical applications.
Furthermore, all welders must be accredited by Occupation Safety and Health Administration.
Being a welder is hard work, but it can also be very rewarding, and it is satisfying to learn such a complex and important trade. And it’s reasonably easy to get into welding if you want to do it. There are plenty of structured career pathways and a lot of training available to ensure that you hit the ground running.
Once you’re employed as a welder, there are lots of ways to grow as well, with supplementary training turning this interesting job into a full-on career. Good luck!
Got a question about becoming a welder? Let us know in the comments section below.