Matthew L.’s Answer
Hi Keith. Great question.
Before I answer your specific question, it might be helpful to get some background information on welding for others who may be reading this answer.
So, what does a welder actually do? A welder's primary duty is joining metal parts together. They work on metal components of various of building or construction industries. Examples include pipelines, bridges, power-plants, shipyards, buildings, mining operations, and refineries. Almost every industry that has metal machines or big metal structures needs welders around to fix and build metal components.
Welders actually make a good living and, if you're willing to travel and take on riskier jobs, you can make a great living as a welder. If you want to see the world, welding is a great way to do it.
Types of Welding Jobs - So what types of welding jobs are out there? There are a ton of different welding jobs all over the world. Here are just a few of the industries that need welders:
- Chemical processing
- Oil and gas extraction
- Plumbing and pipe welding
- Underwater welding
Now, to answer your specific question. Here is how starting a career in welding works.
Training - How do you become a welder? The good news is you don't need a college degree. Welders generally take what is called a "certificate" program. You can get a welding certificate in about 9 months. There are three different professional organizations that will certify you as a trained welder: The American Welding Society (AWS), The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the American Petroleum Institute (API).
There are many different welding certifications you can get from the basic to advanced. Special certifications or "endorsements" can help you get particular types of welding jobs because they prove to your employer that you have a particular welding skill they need. Having different certs or endorsements can also help you earn more money if a particular certification is difficult to get or rare.
You can become "endorsed" (i.e., obtain a specialty) in different types of welding, like:
- Structural Steel
- Structural Aluminum
- Bridge Welding
- And many others.
Other professional certifications also exists, like: Certified Welding Inspector, Certified Welding Educator, and others. These kinds of professional certs will help you earn more.
Many companies also offer apprenticeship programs where you can spend more time learning from highly experienced welders.
After you complete your certification training, you likely will have to prove your skills for your prospective employer to show you can do the work.
Some states also require you to have a state license.
So what happens once you get the training? The future outlook for welders is good.
Job Outlook - The outlook for the welding industry is good. There are plenty of welding jobs around. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the need for welders is expected to grow by 26 percent by 2020. That is massive growth for one profession. The growing demand for welders has caused many job seekers to consider a career in welding for a few reasons. The welding industry actually offers higher than average starting pay, good benefits and a bright future. And the best part? You don't need a college degree to become a successful welder. But as with any career, the better you get at it the more money you can make.
The other good news is that welders will probably never be replaced by robots, at least for a long time. The work is just too complicated for a machine to do it in any place but on an assembly line. And if they ever do invent a welding robot who can build a pipeline, they'll still need welders to design, program and repair the robots.
Salary - So, what kind of salary does a welder earn? The salary of welders varies by the type of work you are willing to do and the skill level you attain. Like most jobs, more experience you have, the more you make. Here are some salary facts about welders:
- The average salary for welders is $36,720, which is a pretty typical middle class welding job.
- Lower-end welding jobs will pay much less, or around $25,000 a year, which is probably typical of many entry-level welding positions.
- On the other hand, the 90th percentile of welders earn around $57,000 a year.
But that's not the whole story. If you wanted to stay close to home and get a job at a local company that employs welders, you can expect to make between about $12 and $18 per hour. BUT, if you are willing to travel or develop a highly valuable specialty (or have a valuable certification), you can make much more. For example:
- Traveling industrial pipe welders can earn anywhere between $50,000.00 and $185,000.00 a year. You work wherever the pipeline is being built and when it's done, you move to the next project.
- Like scuba diving? Underwater welders can earn $100,000.00 to well over $200.000.00 a year, but usually have to travel a lot. Florida has a lot of need for underwater welders so you could probably find a lot of this work. However, in addition to getting welding training, you also have to get underwater/scuba training.
- Military support welders can start at $160,000.00 to more than $200,000.00 a year if they are willing to work in the Middle East, for example.
The two factors that influence your salary the most are location and skills. If you're willing to travel you can go to where the high pay is from the bottom of the ocean to outer space (yes, they even need welders in outer space). The military also has lots of high paying welding opportunities. The government hires private contractors to perform a lot of welding work. If you're willing to go overseas to combat areas, the pay is good--but it's also more dangerous.
Advancement - But maybe you don't want to spend the rest of your life working for someone else as a welder. There are many areas of management you can move into with more training or a college degree, like:
- Project Management
Or maybe you're really an entrepreneur at heart and want to start your own welding company. That can also be very lucrative. I had a client once (Chuck) who started out as a regular welder working for a factory. People who knew he was a welder were always asking him to do side jobs outside of work. Then one day he realized if he got his own welding truck, he could make more money on his own than he was making at his day job. Chuck bought a welding truck. He did a good job for his customers and pretty soon he had too much work to handle by himself. So he bought another truck and hired another welder to do the extra work. Pretty soon Chuck had 10 trucks and about 20 welders working for him. He was making over a million dollars a year. So he quit welding and just managed the business.
Welding is a very underappreciated profession. These days it seems everyone thinks they need to go to college and get a degree. But the reality is not everyone is cut out for college. Some people would rather learn a valuable skill and work with their hands. And the world needs these people more than ever now. There is a tremendous shortage of workers in many industries because not enough people are going into those areas. If you like working with your hands and want to make a good living, welding is a great career and you don't need a college degree. It's also a great career for men and women.
To find out if you really want to be a welder, it's a good idea to see what they actually do. If your school has a vocational education program that would be a good place to start. Talk to your counselor. You can probably also call around to any larger company in your hometown and ask if they employ welders and see if you could shadow one for the day (or at least talk to one). In case they have rules about non-employees being in the work area, there are a lot of artists who specialize in metal art. Many of these people are welders. Check with a local museum or art gallery to see if they know any metal artists that may be able to show you the ropes in their studio.
The American Welding Society (AWS) has some great information on welding careers. Most states have a lot of welding training opportunities as well. Indiana, for example, has over 57 welding training schools. Check them out at the Trades for Careers website: https://tradesforcareers.com/top-welding-schools-for-certification-in-indiana/
Florida, as another example, has over 40 welding training programs. Check them (and programs in other states) out here: https://study.com/florida_welding_certification.html
Matthew L. recommends the following next steps:
- Read all you can about welding on line. There are a lot of great how-to videos on Youtube that deal with welding.
- Investigate the type of welding work that you think you might want to do (pipelines, underwater, shipyards).
- Check out welding training schools near you. See how much they cost and what their reputations are. See if your school offers any welding classes. Talk to your school counselor and see if there are any training opportunities in your school district.
- Try to shadow an actual welder to see what the work is actually like.