Maybe you have a general idea of how to break in, but you’d rather focus on the best path for your career goals.
In this post, we’ll go over common welding entry points and career paths so you can get the best start with a welding career even if you don’t currently have any welding experience.
What Does a Welder Do?
Welders are highly skilled tradespeople who primarily cut and join metals using various methods. They invest a ton of time practicing their hand skills to make the highest quality welds possible.
As a welder, you could use heavy industrial tools and technologies on metals ranging from thousandths of an inch thin to several inches thick.
You could build decorative metal art, work on the next skyscraper, or repair cargo ships. If it's metal, there’s a good chance a welder had or will have something to do with it eventually.
Skills and Duties
Some transferable skills that welders share include:
- Hand-eye coordination
- Understanding math and geometry
- Physical ability to do demanding work
- Attention to detail
- Spatial awareness
Here are some common technical skills welders develop.
- Welding - The ability to join metal parts together by fusing with or without filler metal.
- Cutting - Splitting and preparing materials for welding using tools, oxy-fuel gas, or plasma.
- Grinding - Using power tools to clean parts in preparation for welding or post-weld clean up.
- Layout - Reading blueprints to determine placement and orientation of parts.
- Fitting - Tacking parts in place and verifying dimensions to the blueprints.
- Metallurgy - Applying knowledge of different metals and their weldability.
A welder’s duties will vary depending on the industry and shop.
- GMAW or MIG welding
- SMAW or Stick welding
- GTAW or TIG welding
- Preparing parts and materials for welding
- Assembling structures or components, fitting them together
- Assisting other welders as they weld or fit-up
- Cleaning and dressing welds to meet specifications
- Keeping the work area clean and efficient
Different Types of Welding Jobs
Welding gives you more than a stable job, it offers a career where you can grow your skills and move into other roles. Here are a few examples of the jobs you can have.
This is where most welders start their careers and build a foundation in the trade.
As a welder, you’ll learn about the different welding processes and metals. You’ll get a chance to master the craft by pushing yourself to make every weld bead better than the last and striving for accurate builds.
Depending on your location, you could find employment in the following industries.
- Structural steel
- Food and beverage
- Pipe and pressure vessels
- Manufacturing facilities
- Equipment repair
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the industries where you’ll find welding work, but as you can see already, welding work can vary widely.
Once you’ve mastered welding skills, you can consider becoming a supervisor or managing an entire shop of welders. Most shops with at least a few welders will typically have a supervisor.
As a welding supervisor, you’ll be responsible for directing and training other welders on your shop’s practices and procedures. You’ll also have some paperwork tasks and may be asked to help when hiring new employees.
Depending on the industry, the supervisor may need more credentials than their welding ticket. For example, if you’re working in an AWS code shop, your employer might require you to hold a Certified Welding Supervisor credential. Alternatively, if you manage larger welding projects, you could need a Project Management Professional certificate.
The requirements will vary from shop to shop, but it never hurts investing in yourself. In the world of welding, the more you have on your resume, the further your career will take you.
As a welding engineer, you’d be responsible for providing engineering support to welding shops and other companies involved with welding.
- Weld joint design
- Weld sizing and weld strength calculations
- Welding procedure drafting, qualification, and registration
- Consulting on welding practices or management
Although less common, you might be responsible for mechanical tests on weld coupons or even witnessing welders as they weld the coupons for performance or procedure tests.
Overall, a career as a welding engineer lets you work in the exciting world of welding without getting your hands (as) dirty.
After gaining some experience as a welder, you may want to pass your knowledge on to others eager to get started in welding.
- Reinforce safe welding practices for inexperienced welders
- Teach students fundamentals of welding theory in the classroom
- Guide welders as they develop hand skills in the shop
- Coach welding students on employment opportunities
You’ll also influence the future of the welding industry by encouraging students to embrace new technology and welding techniques. But (of course) it’s not the first step into welding. You’ll need to have spent some time in the shop before landing a welding instructor job.
Hannah Wolf, a metal fabrication instructor at Madison Area Technical College, tells us “Having work experience in your chosen area is the first thing institutions look for … you should also have some teaching experience so you can share what you know with your students in a productive way.”
Another route you can take after you’ve had some exposure to welding is to work as a welding inspector.
As Certified Welding Inspector Oscar A. Guerrero says “[Welding inspectors] are the liaison between welding engineers and the fabricators.”
If you want to be a welding inspector, you’ll have to learn the welding codes you will be working with, and how they affect every step in the welding and fabrication process.
As an inspector, it would be up to you to ensure your assigned welding jobs meet all code requirements, and like Oscar said, you’ll have to communicate with both welders and engineers to make sure the job gets done correctly.
Consider becoming a welding inspector if you’ve got an eye for quality and a technical mind.
Want to weld but don’t want to follow the traditional career paths? Consider becoming a welding artist.
To make a career as any artist, you need to build a name for yourself -- so you’ll need to spend a lot of time sculpting. Once you’re known, people will come to you, and ask you to create custom pieces.
Sarah Stork, an established welding artist, started by taking foundational code welding classes as she believes “learning the basics is important for art metal.” She also recommends not to “waste time on naysayers. They will always be there but in a way, it fuels your growth in a better direction.”
So if you want to be a welding artist, take Sarah’s advice and start with the basics. And if art metal hooks you, ignore negativity and go for it.
How to Become a Certified Welder
There are a few ways you can get your start in welding, and they all lead to you getting your certification in the end. Which method you choose will depend on what options are available locally.
Gain Experience (Apprenticeship)
First, you can look into a traditional apprenticeship program.
An apprenticeship is when you shadow a veteran welder and learn and develop your skills as you work alongside them. This can look different depending on whether you are apprenticing through a union or not, but generally, an experienced welder will teach you on the job and slowly assign more responsibilities as your experience grows.
Once your skills are at a certain level, you can progress your apprenticeship and be considered a welder in your own right.
Take up Welding Courses
If you’re having trouble landing an apprenticeship, you can check vocational schools that offer welding pre-employment programs.
These schools will introduce you to the basics of welding, give you arc time to develop your hand skills, and depending on the school, help you find a job when you graduate.
For example, Matt Scott, who teaches the SMAW Certification at Portland Community College, says “Over the years, I have trained students from knowing nothing, to preparing them for the world of welding a fabrication.”
And if you’re near Madison, Wisconsin, Hannah Wolf’s program includes “a class that teaches job preparedness and [it has] a 90% and above placement in careers right after school.” That placement rate could be worth the cost of tuition right there.
Getting a Degree in Welding
If you want to go deeper into the theory of welding, you’ll want to pursue a welding degree.
These programs are more intense in the welding concepts you’ll learn. You’ll spend a lot of time digging into metallurgy, heat treatment, and electrical characteristics of welding. You’ll also learn how to size welds and calculate their strength with different loads and forces.
Overall, if you want to be a welding engineer or technologist, you’ll have to pursue a degree in welding.
Become a Certified Welder
Regardless of how you get started, the ultimate rite is to get your welding certification.
Matt Scott says “usually welder certs are tied to a code. AWS, ASME, API and the like.”
But depending on the type of work you do, your cert might only be valid for your current employer. Matt further explains “Generally, when a person takes a pipe test, it’s only good for that company. When they move to the next company, they have to retest.”
That would be the case if you were working in a shop that does ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) or API (American Petroleum Institute) code welding. If you were working to the AWS (American Welding Society) structural codes, you’d be able to carry your cert from shop to shop. Matt agrees “this test would allow you to go state to state because the certification process is very formalized with testing center audits in place.”
Regardless of the code you’re testing to, you’ll need to do a test weld on weld coupons, and pass either a mechanical or nondestructive test. These certification tests are some of the hardest welds you’ll have to make and require a lot of experience or practice to get on the first try.
So make sure you’ve practiced beforehand to give yourself the best chance at passing.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Welding Certification?
While it might take only a day for the welding test, the practice and skill development leading up to it can sometimes take years to develop.
If you have no welding experience whatsoever and take a welding pre-employment course like Matt teaches, you could be trained and certified in as little as four weeks. But if you’re just learning welding after hours at your first job, it could take much longer -- depending on how much practice you can put in.
Welder Average Salary and Job Outlook
Here’s some great news if you’re looking to become a welder this year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median pay for welders was $22.60 per hour, or roughly $47,000 a year. And even better than that, they project over 49,000 new job openings for welders every year for the 2020 to 2030 decade.
There has never been a better time to get into welding with those wages and job prospects.
Welding Job Search Resources
So how do you break into that thriving job market?
To start, visit every welding shop close to where you live and ask if any opportunities exist. Make sure you show up in steel toe boots and are ready to work, because if the timing is right, you might get sent into the shop on the spot.
If you don’t have any luck with the welding shops close by, you can go to your local community college or welding school and ask there. Sometimes employers who are having a hard time finding labor will reach out to the schools to find upcoming talent.
And last but not least, you can search the job boards. Keep in mind that posted jobs have multiple candidates applying for them. There will be more competition for employment, but here are a few to get you started.
Now you know how to become a welder. You know how to get started, where it can take you, and what’s required to get there.Bookmark this guide, share it with your friends, and refer back to it as you progress through your career, and become an expert welder.