A welder expertly and securely joins together all types of metal using high heat and specialized techniques. Welders work in a wide range of industries, including construction, manufacturing, and industrial sectors – some welders even work underwater on oil rigs, ships, and other structures!
If you're considering a career in welding, here's everything you need to know, including how to become a welder, what the day-to-day work is like, and more.
Welding has an excellent career trajectory. You'll find many job opportunities both today and for decades in the future. That's because welding is what's considered an overarching career, which means you have many different career paths available after you've learned the core skills.
Plus, experienced welders have several opportunities to branch out beyond direct welding. They can become welding inspectors, engineers, teachers, and more. Some of these jobs are especially appealing for older, experienced welders, as they're far less physically demanding than welding.
How Do I Become a Welder?
To learn how to become a welder, most people follow this path:
- High School or GED
- Training and Certification
- Professional (Also called a "Journeyman")
- During high school, you'll want to focus on math and science. Understanding algebra and geometry helps you make necessary calculations when welding. Also, a solid grasp of basic scientific properties related to metal, heat, and chemistry is mandatory for a welder.
Certified Welder credentials from the American Welding Society is the most widely accepted and comprehensive type of certification. To earn it, you'll have to pass a detailed test about all aspects of welding. Most people prepare by taking certification training programs, which are widely available at trade schools.
Aside from certification, you could also enter the industry by earning either a Bachelor's or Associate's degree in welding. They typically cover additional topics certification does not, such as blueprint reading, metallurgy, engineering, and drafting. Although earning a degree typically takes longer and costs more than certification, it can be a quicker route to higher-paying jobs related to welding.
After earning certification or a degree, your next step is an apprenticeship with a welding company or an individual, professional welder. You'll gain hands-on experience while earning money.
After about three years, most welders complete their apprenticeship to become a journeyman, which presents many job opportunities and the option to work independently.
How Much Does a Welder Make?
Welders can make a good living even when they're first starting out. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay for a welder was $44,190 per year, which is $21.25 per hour.
Welding is an in-demand career just about anywhere in the US. You're not tied to any one location, which means you can move without worrying too much about finding a job. If you're just starting out, you can stretch your earnings by moving somewhere with a low cost of living.
Are Requirements Different from State to State?
Most states require a state license for welders. Requirements vary but typically include a practical exam, background check, and application fee. Additionally, you'll likely have to renew your license every few years.
Not every state requires certification. However, even if it's not required in your state, you'll likely still want it because you're competing for jobs against certified welders. Regardless of state law, certification is practically mandatory if you want to make a living by welding.
Skill Sets Required to Become a Welder
To succeed as a welder, you'll need the following skills:
1. Chemistry and Math
Although welding is a physical job, at its heart, it involves fairly sophisticated knowledge of metallurgy, engineering, and chemistry. You'll need to understand how different types of metals react to heat and other elements.
Don't worry if high school science wasn't your strong suit. Certification programs and other types of welding instruction often teach these principles involving a variety of hands-on techniques, which can be easier to understand.
2. Physical Abilities
A good welder needs excellent physical skills. You'll need steady hands, precise hand-eye coordination, and physical strength. Welders work where the metal is located, which means they might have to crawl under vehicles, climb up towers, and otherwise deal with awkward and adverse conditions.
When welders first start their career, they're typically young and in their physical prime. As they age, the career wears down on their bodies. Ideally, by the time they start to lose some physical aptitude, they've gained enough experience to transition into another aspect of the career, such as managing or teaching.
3. Administrative Skills
Welding is a fairly independent career, so you'll need a variety of organizational and administrative skills. You'll need to maintain your equipment, meet deadlines, order supplies, and otherwise manage your daily activities.
Plus, you'll likely have to work with others. Even if you're a solo welder, you'll need to coordinate with contractors, plumbers, electricians, and others on the job site. Aside from basic knowledge related to those fields, you'll also need strong interpersonal skills.
What's the Career Progression for a Welder?
After learning how to become a welder, most people begin their career as an apprentice to a master welder. During your apprenticeship, you'll learn a variety of standard welding techniques.
Upon completing the apprenticeship, you have several options. You can work for yourself, which gives you the most freedom, but you also have to book your own jobs. You could also work for a company, which might mean less flexibility but steadier work.
Welders looking to advance their careers further will specialize. Some welding specialties include sheet metal welding, iron welding, high-tech welding, and underwater welding. Generally, the more complicated and dangerous the type of welding, the better it pays.
Finally, in the later stage of their careers, many welders turn to less physical jobs, such as teaching, mentoring, managing, or engineering.