Hi Michael! You've asked a great question. I think that no matter what field you end up in, you should consider several things.
- Where would you ultimately like to end up? Is your dream to own your own business, to be the CEO of a large company, or maybe to be a top specialist in your field? Whatever the answer is to that question, try to figure out what it'll take to get there. This may include schooling, certifications, or specialized degrees. In your case I would suggest seeking out trade specific groups and publications. Most professional associations have student chapter/membership options, and will often have a wealth of information in regards to what type of jobs are out there. Specific to welding, I would also consider what type of welding you'd like to do. Are you looking to do Arc, MIG, TIG? What tools and training do each of those require? Aiming to be an aerospace welder most likely requires different training and experience than perhaps being a shipyard welder or pipefitter.
- Long term earning potential - I would say this is tied in with what type of companies hire your desired specialty. Do they have a linear career path? You may have more long term options, security, comprehensive benefits, and salary growth with a larger organization. Or, in some cases, perhaps you'd be better off striking out on your own. Having a endgame in mind is part of figuring out your journey. You can always change the destination, but you need to know where you're headed in order to make a path for yourself.
- What specialties in your chosen field are up and coming? What may be getting phased out with introduction of robotics or new software?
- Where are most of these jobs located? If you are opting to be an automotive welder (such as someone who repairs exhaust systems, etc), you may have more flexibility in where you can live as there are body shops in nearly every town. On the other hand, if you are interested in being an aerospace welder, you may find that most of the jobs are located in specific cities with large manufacturing plants or larger airports.
I have several family members who have spent their careers in engineering, automotive and construction, but have started as welders. Welding is a skill that can be utilized in many different industries and open doors to careers you aren't aware of yet. It requires a level of skill gathered from hands on learning, but a knowledge of science, math and mechanics can be extremely useful. The suggestions I've included can be adapted to any field or desired career, so please keep them in mind even if your desired career path changes.
Wendy recommends the following next steps:
- Seek out trade publications and professional organizations. See if they have student memberships (sometimes they're free!) and read all you can on their sites to learn what current professionals are saying.
- Explore the different sub-specialties within welding. Find out where jobs are located, what they pay & what schooling/training it would take to attain a role in that field.