Whenever a large building is going up, there will be areas of the construction site where sparks are flying. These are the welders at work, joining pieces of metal into strong joints. Welding trade schools and welding vocational schools may offer training in soldering, metal cutting and brazing. Welders may find career opportunities in building everything from high-rise buildings to computer chips.
Welder education requirements and specializations
There is no one path to becoming a welder, so there is not a strict list of welding education requirements. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers may prefer to hire welders who have graduated from welding trade schools because these students have had the opportunity to learn the math, drawing, physics, chemistry and metallurgy needed to weld properly. Welding training typically starts in high school, and formal training at welding vocational schools can take as little as a few months to several years after that.
Welding is a specific skilled trade under the larger umbrella of construction and manufacturing. Students can choose to specialize as a welder, solderer, cutter and/or brazer. Most welding school graduates will have learned some of the following skills:
- To solder tiny objects like an electronic circuit board
- How to cut steel to dismantle ships or railroad cars
- To apply coatings that reduce wear and corrosion on metals
Many welders can find work across a number of industries, including shipbuilding, auto manufacturing, bridge building and pipeline projects.
Welding certification and training
Some schools provide graduates the opportunity to take a skill test that can qualify them as an American Welding Society certified welder. AWS also offers a certified welding fabricator designation.
There are also certifications for specific skills, including certified welding inspector and certified robotic arc welding. After several years as an inspector, you can apply to become a senior certified welding inspector, a designation that tells potential employers that you are not only a skilled welder but can train others and ensure quality work.
How to become a welder
As stated above, there are many paths to becoming a welder. According to BLS recommendations, as well as advice from welding expert Byron Zarrabi, a welding instructor and program director of workforce training at El Centro College, here are some steps to take if you're thinking of becoming a welder:
- Earn a high school diploma. This may not be required in all cases, but it is strongly recommended as a base requirement by most employers. According to Zarrabi, most employers will require a high school diploma or GED equivalent. In general, the BLS suggests this as a base for most skilled trades.
- Take math classes and welding workshops during high school. Many welders start their training at a young age, even before graduating high school. If you know this is the career for you, be sure to take as many math and physics classes as possible, as this will provide a great foundation for skills needed in welding.
- Get a driver's license. Zarrabi recommended that most employers require a driver's license, so do your best to keep your driving record clean. Welders often have to drive to the location where they'll be working, whether it's on a pipeline or in a construction zone, and they often bring very heavy equipment which can only be transported with a vehicle.
- Earn a degree or certificate from a welding school. According to Zarrabi, most welding programs can take anywhere from one to two years to complete, and can be a huge help with networking and finding a job after your training.
- Earn a certification in your specialty. Zarrabi mentioned that most students start off with general welding classes, and then move toward a specialty such as pipe welding. There are a number of welding certifications to choose from, depending on what you'd like to specialize in. Additionally, most certifications require continuing education in order to keep the certification current, and this is a great way to stay up-to-date with changes in the industry or new technologies that may affect your trade.
- Get an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is often a substitute for formal training at a welding school, but some graduated students end up working as apprentices after earning their degree. This is a traditional way to be trained a skilled trade, as you'll be putting your skills to use on real projects and learning as you go.
Byron Zarrabi is a welding instructor and program director of workforce training at El Centro College in Texas.
Reasons to pursue a career as a welder
To gain more insight on becoming a welder, we spoke with Byron Zarrabi, a welding instructor and program director of workforce training at El Centro College, part of the Dallas County Community College District System, in Texas. He started teaching welding in 2001, and then took the job at the Bill J. Priest campus of El Centro College in 2008, where he also launched the school's welding program. This program involved significant planning and preparation from the start, but has grown ever since.
Q: How did you get into welding and make a career of it?
Zarrabi: I was already in my 30s when I decided to become a welder. I had experience in many construction-related fields, but almost everything I knew was self-taught. I decided to take a welding course to finish a project which required that skill. After striking my first arc, I was hooked. I had never considered a career in education, but during my time in welding school I had some very good instructors. I realized these folks changed people's lives for the better, and that caught my interest. So, after several years in the welding field, my previous instructor offered me an opportunity to teach - and I jumped at it.
Q: Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Zarrabi: Welding is an excellent career path. The job outlook is strong, and the wages are good. As in any career, in order to excel, you must love it and be passionate about it. [The] disadvantages are long hours, plus dealing with extreme weather conditions and environments.
Q: Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?
Zarrabi: My advice is to consider attending a trade school or a community college such as ours. Take a class and see if you like it. Research the facts and talk to some actual welders. Be prepared for a lifetime of learning, and stay open to new technologies. Be tenacious about finding a job after your schooling. Most places require some experience before they hire you as a welder, and it's up to you to convince them that you will make a good apprentice.
Q: Tell us some of the things that you could do with a welding career. What kinds of unique opportunities might be available?
Zarrabi: Welders can obtain employment in construction, manufacturing and other industrial settings. A career in welding does not always include a welding hood. Of course, there are welding technicians as well as opportunities in education, supervision, inspection and sales.
Q: What particular skills are needed that might not seem obvious at the beginning?
Zarrabi: Welding is not for everyone, but most people could find a career in the welding industry. However, to be a welder, you need hand-to-eye coordination. Physical strength is important and, to be a good welder, you must pay attention to details. It is very important that your welds are done according to procedure because people's lives can be at stake.
Welder salary and career information
According to the BLS, welding jobs should grow by 6 percent from 2012-2022, adding 20,800 jobs throughout the country. The national median annual wage for welders, cutters, brazers and solderers was $36,720 as of May 2013.
|Career||Annual Median Wage||Projected Employment Change||Projected 2012-2022 Growth|
|Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers||38150||14400||3.6|
National median annual pay for welders varies by industry and job type, as illustrated by the 2012 figures below from O*NET OnLine (onetonline.org).
- Fabricator, finishing technician, fitter-welder, spot welder. $34,720
- Maintenance welder, mig welder, sub arc operator. $36,300
- Soldiers and braziers. $36,300
- Sheet metal worker. $43,290
The highest paying jobs for welders are Alaska and Hawaii, while the highest concentration of jobs is in Wyoming, Louisiana and North Dakota. As long as construction and rebuilding takes place, welders with the right combination of knowledge and experience may be valued regardless of where they are located.
- American Welding Society, http://www.aws.org/w/a/certification/CWI/
- Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes514121.htm#nat
- Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/welders-cutters-solderers-and-brazers.htm
- National Welder Certification, Hobart Institute of Welding Technology, http://www.welding.org/p-191-aws-qc7-national-welder-certification.aspx