Welding is a hot job -- literally. Welders join together pieces of metal using heat. They may use handheld tools or remotely controlled equipment to cut and piece together parts for automobiles, ships, airplanes and numerous other products.
To do their jobs well, welders often attend welding trade schools to learn how to do the following:
- Read blueprints and sketches to understand job specifications.
- Calculate the proper dimensions for welded parts.
- Join together metal pieces with blowtorches or other equipment.
- Inspect finished pieces to ensure they were welded properly.
- Maintain welding tools and equipment.
There are numerous techniques used to combine metal parts, and welding programs may teach students both general and specialized skills. Depending on the program, a welding degree can lead to one of the following four occupations:
- Welders use a variety of techniques and tools to join metal parts together. Professionals working in this role may find work across a variety of industries such as construction and manufacturing.
- Cutters may work alongside welders and have a welding degree, but they typically don't join parts together. Instead, they use heat to cut and trim pieces that will be welded by other workers. Cutters may also be hired to take apart items such as railroad cars, aircraft and buildings.
- Solderers often work on smaller items such as circuit boards and computer chips. Their work must be precise in order for electronic items to work properly.
- Brazers work with cast iron and thinner metals that may be damaged by the higher heat used by welders. They may also add coatings to protect parts and avoid corrosion.
How to Become a Welder
Welding is a skilled trade, and workers may learn the craft through a combination of technical instruction and on-the-job training. Here are steps to keep in mind as you prep to become a welder:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Thought not necessarily required, most employers look for a basic education from their employees.
- Aim to get a welding degree or certificate.
- Apprenticeships can be extremely helpful to get the proper training and networking for jobs down the line; be sure to apply for an partake in an apprenticeship if possible.
- Gain experience working in the field, and stay up to date with any certification that can help advance your career.
A welder degree program often teaches the following subjects which are then reinforced with hands-on experience:
- Shop mathematics
- Mechanical drawing
- Physics and chemistry
- Blueprint reading
Degree programs for welders
Welding programs can be found at three education levels. A welding training school can help you determine the right program for your career goals. However, generally speaking, the longer degree programs are best for those who want to specialize while a short-term certificate may be ideal for those who want to find a job quickly.
- Certificate/Diploma: Completed in as little as seven months at some schools, welding certificates and diplomas are the fastest way to enter the workforce. These programs provide instruction in welding techniques as well as applicable building codes and regulations.
- Associate Degree: A two-year associate degree should go beyond basic instruction and teach students more advanced, specialized types of welding. A welding degree at this level should also introduce topics such as testing techniques and quality control measures. A welding trade school may also arrange for students to participate in a co-op or internship to gain real world experience.
- Bachelor's Degree: You don't need a bachelor's degree in welding to work in the field. In fact, many people who have a four-year degree aren't doing hands-on welding work. Instead, they may work in sales, management or the development of the next generation of welding equipment.
A variety of schools can help you learn how to become a welder. A welding trade school, community college or vocational school may offer both certificates and associate degrees in the field. Meanwhile, bachelor's degrees are available at public and private colleges and universities.
Perhaps surprisingly, you will find some online welding schools. Classes offered through groups like the American Welding Society are available online and cover topics such as welding fundamentals, safety and metallurgy. However, these may not result in a certificate or welder degree, and you may want to seek out hands-on training to go along with your online learning.
Licensing and certification for welders
While you don't have to be licensed by the state to work as a welder, you may want to earn a professional certification. Welding certification programs are offered through industry groups as a way for welders to demonstrate their expertise. Workers may have to take a hands-on test to show their skills, and employers may prefer to hire certified workers.
The following are a few examples of available welding certification programs and designations:
- Certified Welder from the American Welding Society
- Certified Welding Supervisor from the American Welding Society
- Boiler and Pressure Vessel certification from The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- Welding Inspection and Metallurgy certification from the American Petroleum Institute
Career advancement for welders
Entry-level positions are open to welders with a certificate or diploma. However, to advance your welding career, you may want to specialize in work such as soldering or brazing. You may be able to learn these skills at a welding trade school or through on-the-job training.
Welding certification programs are another way to find new job opportunities. Some employers may be looking for workers who are certified in specific skills, which is something to keep in mind if pursing a welding career.
Skills and Qualities for Welders
To be a successful welder, you need the following skills and abilities. Some of these can be taught by a welding training school while others, such good vision, may be natural attributes you can't change.
- Critical thinking: Welders often work independently and must be able to determine the best way to complete their assigned tasks.
- Monitoring: Since welders may be working alone, it is up to them to monitor their progress, inspect their work and make corrections as needed.
- Near vision: Welders using handheld tools must be able to clearly see items close to them. This is particularly true for solderers who may work with very small objects.
- Manual dexterity: As a hands-on profession, welding requires workers to grasp, hold and move objects easily.
- Selective attention: This refers to the ability of welders to focus their attention on the task at hand and not allow themselves to become distracted.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Welders
If you're interested in how to become a welder, you're probably also interested in how many jobs are available in the field and how much they pay. The following chart shows the range of incomes earned by welders, cutters, solderers and brazers nationwide. However, workers' actual incomes can vary depending on where they live, whether they have a welder degree and if they are certified. Here's an idea of the salary and job growth welders might expect in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers||389,190||$44,360||5.5%|
Professional Resources for Welders
As you review welding programs, you may also want to familiarize yourself with the following professional groups.
- American Welding Society - Founded in 1919, AWS is a nonprofit organization that represents 70,000 members worldwide. It offers education, advocacy and professional development for the welding industry.
- Women Who Weld - This Detroit-based nonprofit offers training opportunities to women who want to break into the field. Among its offerings is a subsidized program geared specifically for unemployed and underemployed women.
- Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International - Known as FMA, this organization represents many of the companies that employ welding professionals. The group also awards scholarships to students who have an interest in manufacturing.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers, Accessed November 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/welders-cutters-solderers-and-brazers.htm
- Do I Need a Welding Certification or Degree? Here's What You Need to Know, Crom Weld, Accessed November 2018, https://www.cromweld.com/welding-certification-degrees/
- ICP Certifications, American Petroleum Institute, Accessed November 2018, https://www.api.org/products-and-services/individual-certification-programs/certifications
- Certification, American Welding Society, Accessed November 2018, https://www.aws.org/certification
- Standards & Certifications, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Accessed November 2018, https://www.asme.org/topics/standardscertification
- Online Courses, American Welding Society, Accessed November 2018, https://awo.aws.org/online-courses/
- Welders, Cutters and Welder Fitters, O*Net Online, Accessed November 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/51-4121.06