When you try to find out how many welders are working in the U.S. as we begin 2023, there’s little agreement on that precise number. However, most agree on two things: there are around 500,000 welding professionals in the country, and sometime in the next few years, we will need approximately 300,000 more!
Seeing these figures might lead you to conclude that a welding career presents an opportunity for a high-paying job and growth potential. And although both those thoughts are relatively accurate, it is worth knowing that several factors will determine when you will receive the high pay and how high it will go.
We all see the welding school advertisements: Make Over $100,000 As a Welder! And while it’s true that skilled welders are among the most sought-after workers in the job market, the average welder is bringing in $48,000 per year, a far cry from six figures.
Still, by developing your skills and keeping your eyes open for opportunities within your employer, and being flexible in your thinking, you stand to make a lucrative living as a welder. Here’s what you should know:
What factors determine how much will welders make in 2023?
Although a welder with ten years of experience will earn more than a novice with one or two, there are several other factors determining how much you can expect to be paid:
Qualifications and certifications: Welders with the most demanding credentials typically earn the highest paychecks. They have likely attended costly specialty schools and have the education to qualify for salaries in the upper echelons.
Location: Welders in large cities generally earn more than those in small towns and rural areas. For example, welders in Washington, DC, average over $56,000 annually, while those in rural Mississippi bring in under $40,000 yearly.
Employer: Working for a large firm almost always results in bigger paychecks than at a smaller company.
Industry: Most welders work in manufacturing, but specific sectors require special skills or present inherent dangers, resulting in six-figure annual salaries.
Union membership: Union welders often earn more than those without union affiliation.
How does experience impact a welder’s salary?
Here is a rundown of welders’ salaries based on experience:
Entry-Level Welder: Welders new to the trade can expect to make $28,000 annually, although they will move up quickly as they hone their skills and the welder shortage continues.
Mid-Career Welder: Mid-career status means a welder has developed his skills over at least ten years and will earn $37,500 on average.
Experienced Welder: Seasoned welder with 20 to 30 years on the job can expect between $60,000 and $75,000 per year.
How much do welders make depending on the type of welding they do?
The type of welding you do is arguably the primary factor in determining how much you’ll make as a professional welder. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three main types of welding and their salary ranges include:
MIG welders: As with most welding jobs, MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welders face molten metal and various other dangers, and their average hourly rate is $18 per hour ($12.74 to over $25.50) and an annual range of $25,000 to $88,000, depending on the location and the welder’s experience and certifications.
TIG welders: TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding has become popular for welding non-ferrous metals like aluminum, magnesium, and titanium alloys. Although some TIG welders make up to $40 per hour, the average hourly rate remains at $16.48, with annual wages ranging from $38,736 to $75,000, depending on the usual factors.
Stick welders: Average hourly rates for stick welders currently range between $15.38 and $21.39, although in some areas, that can climb to over $25.00. For example, the average hourly wage in San Jose, California, is $22.63, equating to $47,073 annually.
Do specific welding jobs result in higher pay?
Absolutely! Although specific welding jobs carry six-figure potential, they are only for some. They require special skills and plenty of experience, but they are attainable if you’re willing to learn and grow in your welding career. Here are some of those jobs:
Underwater welder ($38,000 to $147,000)
It might be hard to believe, but it is possible to weld in the water. Underwater welders work in shipyards and ships and go underwater for repairs and testing. They may weld in a watertight area made for dry welding or weld in open water. Some of their tasks include repairing or replacing propellers, rudders, and the hull.
Because underwater welding is potentially dangerous and requires diving skills and training in special equipment, these jobs are higher on the pay scale.
Pipeline welder ($23,500 to $133,500)
Pipeline welders are responsible for building and repairing thousands of miles of interconnected pipelines transporting oil and gas. These welders must be willing to travel, be away from home for relatively long periods, and work in all kinds of environments, such as the desert heat of North Africa and the frozen wastelands of Canada. However, the pay is excellent, and the physical risks are not nearly as high as underwater welding.
Rig welder ($52,000 to $207,000)
Rig welders make the biggest bucks in the industry, but these jobs are reserved for those with the most experience and certifications. Since there is no room for mistakes on an oil rig, companies hire only the best. Rig welders might be required to perform underwater, hyperbaric, and various types of welding on offshore oil rigs at sea.
Rig welders can expect to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, sometimes for months. Some rig welders are flown by helicopter daily to and from their work site, while others remain on the rig for the duration of their assignment. It’s no wonder that rig welders command these fantastic wages!
Nuclear welder ($22,000 to $143,500)
Nuclear welders could work in shipyards, building or repairing reactor vessels, or on nuclear-powered ships. Candidates for this job should also have an underwater welder and commercial diving certification. However, the unique requirement for the job is FBI clearance since nuclear welders will be working in or around nuclear materials. And for the same reason, those hoping for a career as a nuclear welder should also be prepared to pass psychological tests and regular drug and alcohol tests.
Welding engineer ($51,000 to $120,000)
Welding engineers don’t do much if any, welding. Instead, they oversee the welding work in any project for their companies, providing direction and ensuring its quality. They also stay up to date on the latest industry standards and specifications, meaning they must love learning and use their knowledge to make the current welding processes more efficient and enhance quality. Their work involves building machinery, infrastructure, weapons, or anything that requires welding, and to qualify as a welding engineer, a bachelor’s degree and certification through the AWS are necessary.
Certified welding supervisor ($38,000 to $75,000)
Welding supervisors receive higher pay because they take on more responsibility, ensuring all department welders adhere to safety requirements, quality standards, and production deadlines. Overseeing a workforce of diverse personalities means you’ll have to use some psychology, along with all the welding experience you accumulated over the years.
Certified welding inspector ($42,000 to $104,000)
Although a certified welding inspector doesn’t work as a welder in the shop, he ensures that everything others weld is up to standard. However, the inspector is typically an expert welder with years of experience who understands the trade better than practically anyone in the company. This position requires verifying that welders are following safety and compliance procedures, monitoring heat values, and performing to a high level of quality. Welders need at least three years of welding experience before they may take the exam to get certified.
Although the demand for welders continues to increase, certain factors will determine how much you’ll be paid for your work. Education, location, and experience are contributing elements, as is the industry where you choose to work. For example, as a rookie working in a small-town, three-person weld shop, you would likely be on the lower pay scale, while a seasoned welder in a highly-populated area working in the aerospace or construction industries could be closing in on a six-figure annual salary.
One thing that is as nearly guaranteed as you’ll get: if you hone your skills, obtain certifications, and show your value to an employer, you should always have a lucrative and rewarding career!