The history of welding dates back more than 2,000 years. While the art of fusing metals and other materials together was once solely the work of a blacksmith, the practice has evolved into a multi-million-dollar industry that affects nearly every modern occupation.
Welding isn’t just about repair and construction—it’s also about fabrication, design improvement, and more than a little innovation. Becoming a welder can be a long, intense, and costly, but ultimately rewarding endeavor.
If you’re interested in joining the world of skilled metalworking, here’s everything you need to know about how to become a welder, from educational requirements to daily expectations.
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What Do Welders Do?
To understand what a welder does, it helps to define what we mean by “welder.” Technically, anyone who utilizes welding equipment to fabricate or join components is a welder, particularly when consistently practicing welding processes.
However, in this guide to becoming a welder, we’ll be talking about professional welders—skilled tradesmen who are professionally certified.
These tradespeople practice the art of fusing materials together through a variety of techniques and practices. A welder uses high-heat tools to join two compatible materials, but their duties can also include brazing, soldering, or cutting.
Coincidentally, those last three tasks actually fall into different professions—brazers, solderers, and cutters–but they are often lumped in with ‘welders’ which has become a catch-all term. Although there are similarities, it’s essential to see the difference between these tasks. While cutting is fairly self-explanatory, welding, brazing, and soldering can be a bit more confusing.
In welding, high heat is used to melt the material’s surface and join it to a compatible material. To braze, a filler alloy is heated to bond materials together, allowing dissimilar materials to be joined. Soldering is similar to brazing, but filler materials that melt at lower temperatures are used, often silver, gold, copper, or iron.
Most people associate all these tasks with metal, but welding can just as easily involve fusing non-metallic materials such as plastic and polymer. Depending on the welding profession you choose, the required welding materials and equipment will vary. However, certain basic materials are usually necessary.
Types of Welding
The welding profession includes many diversified types of welding that combine materials in different ways. Here’s a quick overview of the three most commonly utilized welding techniques:
- Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), sometimes called stick welding, utilizes electrode “sticks” or rods fed through a welding gun. Electricity is used to create an arc between the electrode and the metal surface to bond them together using the melted electrode as a filler. An inert gas is used to shield the weld pool from contaminants.
It is an affordable and strong option common in construction fields, where welds aren’t visible (stick welds are often considered “ugly”).
- Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW),sometimes called MIG (metal inert gas) welding, works in the same manner as stick welding, but the sticks are replaced with a continuous electrode wire. MIG welding is neater than stick welding and common in the automotive and manufacturing industries.
- Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW),or TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding, replaces the consumable electrode wire or rod used in stick or MIG welding with non-consumable tungsten, meaning there is no filler material. The heat from the arc melts the metal surface itself, producing a weld puddle.
TIG welding is the slowest option, but also the most attractive. It is usually seen in applications involving thin, delicate metal where appearances matter.
Welder Industries & Duties
Aspiring welders can look forward to a wealth of opportunities and steady career growth. The US Department of Labor estimates that job opportunities in the field will grow 3% over the next ten years, similar to the growth rate in past decades.
Few industries can survive without the welding process. The number of modern structures and equipment created and maintained in these industries ensures there won’t be a shortage of welding jobs anytime soon.
What are these industries and the job types that come with them? Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- Sheet Metal Welder: Sheet metal workers craft, install, and repair sheet metal products. They are commonly found working in the HVAC or roofing industry, fabricating or installing things like air ducts.
- Underwater Welder: One of the profession’s most dangerous—and highest-paid—subsets, underwater welders repair structures underwater, such as oil platform support beams or pipes. Deep-sea diving skills are very much a necessity here.
- Industrial Maintenance: This class oversees industrial machinery and equipment. One of their primary duties is performing timely equipment repair.
- Shutdown Welder: There are instances when hazardous equipment has to be shut down before maintenance can occur. That’s what shutdown maintenance is for. While the hazardous equipment is shut off, welders inspect the equipment and perform any necessary repairs.
- Pipefitter: Often confused with plumbers, pipefitters focus on welding and shaping pipes and fittings, frequently for custom applications.
- Wholesale Trade: This is perhaps the only non-welding job that nonetheless requires a welder. Using the expertise of these professionals, companies market products to clients who are in the welding business. Wholesale trade welders are often experienced and may even be approaching retirement.
Becoming A Welder
It’s recommended that you take formal vocational and degree training. However, which program is the best fit for your needs will depend on the type of welding work you want to perform. The two most common certification programs are through the American Welding Society (AWS) and the American Petroleum Institute (API).
Regardless of your desired career path, courses, such as drafting and physics, are helpful in helping you understand the details of welding. Some training programs and apprenticeships also require certain education prerequisites.
Educational Recommendations & Requirements
A high school diploma or GED is the most common requirement for enrollment in a welding education program. A high school education is beneficial, particularly with learning skills such as geometry and algebra, which are necessary to interpret how materials fit together during the welding process.
It’s also useful to have some hands-on experience welding, which is a course many high schools offer. Some certifications may also require a two-year associate’s degree focused on welding technology. Many of these programs are designed to give you the skills and knowledge to pass welding certification exams.
Even for certifications that don’t have any prerequisites, training and education can be invaluable both in passing those exams and in your career thereafter.
If you’re looking to jumpstart your welding career, taking an apprenticeship is a great way to do so. Welding companies usually enact apprenticeships as a form of on-the-job training to supplement a shortage in the workforce.
Under this arrangement, you can expect to get hands-on experience working under veteran professionals while also receiving monetary stipends.
However, before you can get an apprenticeship, you may need to meet several requirements. Depending on company policy, this may be as simple as getting a driver’s license and a high school diploma (or GED).
If the rules are a little more stringent, you may be required to have undergone hours of welding work at a certified organization.
Once you feel you’re qualified, you can usually apply for an apprenticeship at locations such as:
- Vocational Schools: Vocational schools and community colleges are an excellent place to find apprenticeships that have been sponsored by private or government programs.
- Government Websites: Especially in areas where welders are in high demand, local companies or even government bodies may offer sponsored training programs or apprenticeships. Your local job bank can likely help you locate and apply to these opportunities. The United States Department of Labor website also has an apprenticeship finder to make things easier.
- Local Welding Unions: If there are any welding unions in your area—and there probably is—their apprenticeships usually pay better than non-union options. Most unions publish application information online along with enrollment requirements.
Once you start an apprenticeship, expect to do a lot of grunt work in the first one or two years. The precise duration of apprenticeship programs varies greatly. Typically, 3 to 4 years of on-the-job training plus 144 hours of classroom education is a reasonable estimate of what it takes to go from beginner to certified professional.
Welding Certifications & Licenses
Acquiring a welding certification can take anywhere from a few weeks to years to obtain. As mentioned, there are two primary certification programs, but one is for more experienced welders within the petrochemical industry. If you’re just getting started with welding, you’ll likely be pursuing American Welding Society certification.
American Welding Society (AWS): AWS offers numerous welding certifications. The entry-level exam is the Certified Welder program with a focus on structural steel, petroleum pipelines, sheet metal, or chemical refinery welding procedures. There are no prerequisites to take the exam, which must be taken at an approved testing facility.
American Petroleum Institute (API): The API 577 Welding Inspection and Metallurgy certification exam isn’t really an entry-level certification. It requires a combination of education and work experience or certification from other API programs. For instance, if you have no formal education, you’ll need five years of work experience in the petrochemical industry. If you have a two-year certificate or degree in engineering or technology, you only need two years of experience.
Becoming a welder takes more than just having the right tools and training. You need particular skills and qualities to be a good welder. While the right skill set may vary a bit from job to job, most welders need:
- Manual Dexterity: Excellent hand-eye coordination and reasonable manual control are an absolute necessity for physical tasks.
- Communication Skills: The art of welding can require quite a bit of teamwork. Communicating potential flaws or necessary corrections is integral for a good weld and continual improvement in welding output.
- Mental Comprehension Skills: Professionals and amateurs must observe, interpret, analyze, and react appropriately according to 3D shapes and diagrams. This ability is a necessity to find the perfect way to fit each material together.
- Detail Observance: The precision work that goes into welding requires not just a good eye, but a discerning one. Changes in temperature, microfractures, and other weld flaws need to be observed and taken note of.
- Enduring Stamina: Long hours standing and staying put in one area are a reality of the profession. Doing the same movements repeatedly in these circumstances will require a certain disciplined endurance.
- Technical Skills: Professionals need to undergo years of training at vocational courses or technical schools, certified for handling welding equipment.
- Physical Strength: Welders deal with heavy equipment and materials that they must carry around frequently. Employers usually look for candidates who can lift 50 to 100 pounds.
- Writing Capability: To prepare written reports, logs, incident reports, and guidelines, welders must have basic writing skills.
Average Salary For Welders
Overall, welders bring in above-average wages. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently conducted a survey to gauge salaries for solderers, brazers, cutters, and welders. They found that the median annual wage was $42,490, or about $21 an hour.
However, note that salary rates can be affected by shift hours, worker skill level, and experience.
Job Outlook For Welders
As we mentioned earlier, the job outlook for the welding industry is consistently positive—so long as we continue to use metal, we’ll continue to need welders.
As of 2019, there were approximately 438,900 welding positions in the US. An additional 13,600 are expected to become available by 2029, equating to about 3% growth. These positions are likely to be in the construction and fabrication fields, while the oil and gas industry may cut positions due to declines in the industry as a whole.
As we’ve mentioned before, there is no shortage of opportunities in welding. Beginning professionals can continue to find niches or specializations within the various subsets that exist and have yet to come about.
The option to find employment outside of the industry is also very much open, given how well welding practices can easily carry over into other industries.
Similar employment opportunities include:
- Metal and Plastic Machine Workers
- Fabricators and Assemblers
- Tool and Die Makers
- Sheet Metal Workers
- Precious Stone and Metal Workers
Pros & Cons Of Being A Welder
Now that you understand what it takes to be a welder, you need to consider the profession’s potential pros and cons. Like any job, welding offers its fair share of risks and rewards. It’s up to you to decide whether the risks and downsides are acceptable.
- Consistent, growing high demand and job security
- High job satisfaction
- Growing job opportunities overseas
- High pay, especially for high-risk jobs
- Incidental perks such as being able to travel for free
- Skills are transferable to other industries
- Electrical shock and fire hazards
- Danger of inhaling toxic fumes, especially when working in industrial sites
- Long shifts
- Physically demanding
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about this career. If you have other questions that are not listed here – please email us or leave a comment below and we will be sure to add it!
Is It Dangerous To Be A Welder?
If you are properly trained and follow proper safety precautions you should feel fairly safe in your chosen career. Their is PPE gear you will need to wear to keep you protected from the sparks – if you choose not to wear it you may find yourself getting hurt!
Do Welders Get Benefits?
If you are employed by another business, then yes – you typically will receive some kind of benefits package. The larger the company you work for will typically result in better coverage and perks like vacations and retirement plans. Smaller businesses may be limited in what they can offer.
Educational Programs & Career Resources
Below are some resources to help you get started in the automotive field!
Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)
ASE has been around since 1972 and is the leading agency that focuses on improving the vehicle repair and service industry. This includes the certification programs they offer to students like you! They also offer their ASE Education Foundation which helps students by developing career-readiness educational programs and building local partnerships to offer more opportunities to students.
Welding Training Cost
Learning how to be a welder can be costly, depending on the training options you decide to pursue and the tools necessary for the type of welding you’d like to do.
Welding school costs usually begin around $5,000, which covers 5-7 months of training. For college programs, you can expect to put in at least $15,000 for a two-year program.
Other cost aspects will factor in at this stage, such as:
- Application Fees
- Books and Equipment
- Testing Fees
- Housing and Meals
- Welding Tools
Even after you’ve earned your diploma, you’ll likely still need other certifications. The American Welding Society’s Certified Welder Card is one such expense. It is relatively affordable at $50, but that price tag goes up for less entry-level options. For example, the welding inspector exam is over $1,000.
They also offer seminars to prepare you for the exam, if you haven’t taken a college or trade school program. Welding Fundamentals I, an intro-level class, is $350 for members and $470 for non-members.
If you choose to enroll in any number of welding schools within the US, the price range can reach from $3,000 to $20,000, depending on which school you choose.
To Weld or Not to Weld
Becoming a professional welder can be a lengthy process due to the dangerous nature of the work. However, the employment outlook, wages, job satisfaction, and additional traveling perks make this career choice well worth the effort if you have the right skillset.
The skills you’ll learn are also applicable to many other industries outside of the profession should you ever decide to go a new direction.
Not so sure welding is for you? Did you find our guide on how to become a welder informative? Feel free to explore other career options here on Blue Collar Brain.
*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics