How To Become A Welder

 

So you’re thinking about becoming a welder? You might have heard about all sorts of exciting career opportunities like structural , pipe , aircraft  and even underwater welding! There are welder career opportunities all over the world in many different industries. There’s a common misconception that all welders do the same basic process and all you need to know is an entry level skill you learned in high school shop class or even on a youtube video. In reality, the welding field is extremely complex and people pursue all sorts of varied education levels all the way up to doctorate degrees!

Here’s a straight forward guide which will describe all you’ll need to know about learning the field of welding and various career paths it can take you. There are various education tracks you can take to learn the field of welding. Let’s explore some of the different education options and the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you can get started on a career track and complete your welding certification.


High School


Advantages: A high school degree or GED is almost a necessity to obtain any professional employment in the welding field. Additionally, most high school level education is free.

Drawbacks: Limiting yourself to only a high school education can limit your future job opportunities.

Many people are first exposed to this trade during their high school years. Welding classes are often offered in many high schools. Complementary classes such as metal fabrication, shop mathematics and metallurgy are sometimes available as well. If you’re fortunate enough to attend a school where these type of classes are offered, take advantage of it. This exposure to the metal work can not only teach you new skills, but you’ll figure out if you’re actually interested in pursuing metal fabrication as a career choice.

Along with specific welding classes, students should also try to take other classes that will becoming beneficial in any trade. A good grasp of basic math and science concepts are critical to every welder. Welders need to be able to read and correctly interpret diagrams and blueprints. Math classes such as geometry, trigonometry are an integral part of the field as well. It’s important to not only know the technique of making metals join but, why it works in the first place. You’ll learn the basic science behind metallurgy in classes such as physics and chemistry.

Graduating high school or getting your GED is a prerequisite for most employers in today’s job market. Additionally, a high school education is a requirement for further study in vocational schools or college.

Vocational and Technical Schools


Advantages: Certifications employers look for, quick time to getting a job, possible financial aid

Drawbacks: Price, some employers want degrees

So will a few high school welding classes get you a job? Possibly, but a better bet is to pursue additional education and training. One common option many people take is to enroll in a private vocational or technical school that offers a metal work program. These schools are generally private for profit institutions with specific programs geared towards specific trades including steel and alloy fabrication.

The major benefit of attending a vocational school, trade school or technical school is that most programs lead to certifications in various types of welding. When exploring schools, make sure to ask what certifications you might be able to obtain after completing the program. Often times these schools are well known in their local geographic area and employers actively recruit from their programs. It’s fairly common for students that attend vocational schools to have job offers before they even graduate.

Another major advantage of vocational and technical schools is the length of the program. Many programs can be completed in just a few months to under a year. Some other programs may take longer depending on the topics covered. There are many options available and it’s important that you explore what would fit your goals the best. If you have the extra time and money available, learning the most areas of welding you can and obtaining the most certifications you can is beneficial to your career.

Vocational and trade schools are located all over the United States and there’s sure to be one near you that offers a suitable program. Additionally, most of these schools are located in areas where there’s companies that are actively hiring welders.

Also, sometimes these types of schools offer degree programs like associates or certificate levels. This can be advantageous if you ever decide to pursue more formal college education.

College Programs


Advantages: Degree, certifications, financial aid, possible increased earnings potential

Drawbacks: Time of program, tuition costs can add up

Another avenue to consider is attending a two year community college or even a four year college or university. Many community colleges offer certificate programs in welding and often expand on those certificate programs and offer a full associates degree. Many employers look upon an associate degree favorably since it shows you have not only completed core metallurgy coursework but other well-rounded education objectives. Many such programs in community colleges will cover various aspects not only fabrication but you’ll also have to opportunity to take other classes in areas of business and finance. This could come in handy if you aspire to become a supervisor or even open your own business in the future.

Just like with vocational and technical schools, any formal training will often lead to higher pay. If you have an associate’s degree you’ll be even more competitive with someone with just some certifications in welding. However, most associate’s degrees can take from a year to two years to complete. If you are pressed for time and looking to get to work as soon as possible, a vocational school may be a better bet.

Another advantage of getting an associate’s degree is that one day you may decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a field such as welding engineering. Some schools offer four year degrees in such areas described as Metallurgy Engineering Technology. These degrees don’t focus so much on the actual hands on techniques but more so on improving the technical processes and making better business decisions for all types of clients.

 


 

Military Training


Advantages: Hands on training, possible college degree, certifications, free training, steady employment, unique skills learned, opportunity to travel

Drawbacks: Time commitment, safety and possible deployment to warzones, boot camp isn’t fun

So who repairs naval ships, tanks, fighter aircraft and other military equipment? Military welders of course! Granted, some repair work is contracted out to private companies but each of the armed services including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all need their own welders. Each military branch is more than willing to provide free training to you to learn to weld in exchange for various commitments of service. While you’re receiving this free training, you’ll also be earning a paycheck and receiving free housing. And don’t forget, you’ll get to travel the world. Where else would you get to weld in Japan or pipefit in South Africa?

Not only will most branches teach you basic welding skills but you’ll have the opportunity to pursue a college education while you’re enlisted. Many enlisted soldiers go on to officer’s school and learn additional leadership and management skills which are in high demand in corporations around the world.

Additionally, advanced skills such as underwater welding are taught and are in high demand if you ever chose to leave the military. For instance, the US Army offers enlisted soldiers the opportunity to learning advanced and specialized techniques and also learn to scuba dive. Once you’ve completed your welding and diving training you could work in areas such as underwater demolitions, underwater ship repair, and even underwater photography. Many of these areas are extremely expensive to learn at private schools outside of the military.

A final advantage of enlisting in the military is that once you’ve completed your enlistment contract, you’ll qualify for additional education expense assistance with the GI Bill. You could take your welding skills you’ve learned from the military and go back to school to learn another trade or field such as business or entrepreneurship and open your own shop.

Apprenticeships


Advantages: Learn while you earn, hands on training, built in job opportunity, only a High School education needed, possible degree, union membership

Drawbacks: Sometimes hard to find, may not be able to specialize in field you want to, union membership

So what if you don’t have any hands on experience? And what if you don’t have the money to attend a technical school? Maybe the military is not an option for you. This does not mean that a career as a welder is not an option.

If that’s the case, union apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity to get paid to work and learn at the same time. These training programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Apprenticeships are usually offered by labor unions and last approximately three to four years. All apprentices are generally full-time employees of whatever employer or business that is sponsoring the program. During this time, you’ll get steady raises while you’re learning new skills by taking tuition classes and obtaining new and even advanced certifications. College credits are also offered by many programs as well. You can find  apprentice programs by searching for local union opportunities and just calling into a local union in your area.

Many apprenticeships are offered through labor unions. An advantage of this is that your pay is set by the union’s contract and in many cases your job is protected much more than if working outside of a union shop. Union employees generally enjoy much better working conditions, job security and retirement and health benefits than their non-union counterparts. You can also be assured that the safety of your workplace is top notch due to labor union’s standards.

A major program of apprenticeships worth considering is offered by the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, usually just referred to as the Ironworkers. The Ironworkers team up with the American Welding Society (AWS) in a certification program that is tough to beat. Their program requires you to sign an indenture agreement where they require certain time commitments from you in exchange for all of the on-the-job and classroom training they give you.

Choosing a School


So you’ve decided to attend a welding school either through a vocational school, trade school or possibly a community college. Technical and trade schools offer focused training and can often offer quick ways to full certifications. Many vocational training programs can be completed in less than a year and offer flexible schedules if you’re also working at another job.

Costs can vary considerably ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on if it is private or public and if you’re including room and board or not. However financial aid is available at many schools so make sure to factor that into any costs.

However, before taking out loans to finance your education, explore the field to make sure it’s really what you want to do. Many schools will offer you the chance to shadow another student and talk to instructors before you commit to enrolling in their program.

Important areas you should consider when deciding on a welding school:

Curriculum:

Make sure when researching various schools that they offer a well rounded curriculum that exposes you to many areas of welding such as:

  • Introduction to Welding
  • Structural Theory
  • MIG Welds
  • GMAW/FCAW Welds
  • Fluxcore Process
  • Pipe Fitting
  • GTAW/TIG Welds
  • Pipeline Construction

Additionally, courses in business, math and the hard sciences can be beneficial. But if you’re attending a shorter term program (of less than a year), definitlely focus on the hands on welding classes that the school offers.

Welding Schools

Location:

Many people attending school to learn a new career may already be working or searching for a job. Most people looking for a welding school will probably want to start their search close to home. If there’s a good school close to you this could definitely save on costs such as housing and transportation. If you’re already working, you might be able to keep working at your present job until you finish school and find a job in your new field.

However, some people might be interested in attending a school in location that is experiencing rapid growth. In the past few years certain areas like North Dakota have experienced an oil and gas exploration boom. Students graduating from technical schools in those areas have had multiple job offers even before graduating! Other areas that consistently experience welder shortages such as Alaska and Hawaii can be good places to focus in on too. In other words, don’t rule out looking at schools further than the one down the street from you. Think about your long term future too and were you might eventually like to wind up at.

Class Schedules:

Most vocational and technical schools understand that their students may need to work while they attend welding classes. To accommodate those students, many classes are offered at night and sometimes on the weekends. Don’t let your current job and the schedule of classes discourage you. Talk to the admissions advisors at the schools you’re considering and ask about alternative scheduling options. Even if you can’t attend the program full-time, most programs offer a part time option. This can also help stretch out the cost of the program if you can’t afford to go to school full-time.

Tuition and Costs:

The cost of attending a training program are going to vary considerably depending on the type of institution you attend. The cheapest option is usually attending a community college in your home state. These programs are funded by the state government and you’ll pay regular in-state tuition like any other college student. There may be some extra course fees related to your specific classes. Expect to pay anywhere from $2000 -$5000 for an in-state associates degree to upwards of $10,000 per year and beyond if you’re an out of state student.

Training programs at vocational and technical schools vary widely, however common prices for a six to 12 month certificate program range from $5000-$15,000. The cost of the program is usually greatly affected by the length of the program. Some certificates can be earned in as few as three months, so expect those programs to cost less. However, more through programs will cost more. Remember that when looking for a job after you complete your program, employers will prefer welders who have more certifications.

Also, don’t forget about housing and meal costs. If you’re living at home with family you’re going to save a lot in this area. If you decide to move across the country to a high cost of living area, of course you’re going to pay more.

Financial aid is offered by most schools which will offset not only tuition but room and board too. State schools like community colleges often can offer better financial aid packages but make sure you shop around. Remember that welding programs qualify for financial assistance such as Pell Grants, subsidized and unsubsidized loans and scholarships. Contact the financial aid office of every school you’re interested in to learn what they can offer you. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Job Placement:

Just because you finish welding school and get some certifications, doesn’t mean a job just falls in your lap. Believe it or not, but schools actually compete with one another and view students as customers.

One main area they can show you why you should choose their school over another is by showing how successful their graduates are. What good does a degree do you if you got it from a school that nobody wants to hire from?! When looking at schools, be sure to inquire how successful their job placement rates are.

Every school has a career services division with employees who’s job is to help you find a job of your own. They do this by contacting employers and seeing if they have any openings. Even if they don’t, a career services advisor will stay in touch with those employers and attempt to build a good relationship with them.

Once a company has hired someone from the school and they’re happy with that employee, they’re likely to go back to that school and ask if there are any other graduates which would be a good fit. So essentially, by using your school’s career advisors, you’ve hired someone to market you.

Make sure you take advantage of these services as soon as you enroll in your school. Most career advisors can help you with many more things than just finding open jobs. If you need help creating or fixing a resume these folks can help. Maybe you are worried about your interview skills. Again, career services people can assist you by conducting mock interviews and giving you tips. And the best part is that all of these services are free to you as a student!

Specialized Types of Welder Training


Once you’ve begun an apprenticeship or finished a technical school program, you’ll still have a lot to learn about the field of steel and metal fabrication. Eventually though, you’ll probably want to learn to skills so that you can take advantage of other job opportunities and maybe make more money. This will probably involve learning new specialized skills.

One particular interesting field is underwater welding. Sometimes referred to as hyperbaric welding, is a complex procedure that has seen a steady increase in demand over time. Many offshore oil and gas drilling companies involved in deep sea exploration need underwater welders. Ship repair and underwater pipeline companies also utilize these specialized welders.

Why bother with this in the first place and just take whatever it is out of the water to be welded on land? Often times it’s quicker and cheaper for a diver to do the weld underwater instead of removing the ship or structure from the water. Also, sometimes repairs can’t wait and there’s no other choice.

What many people don’t realize is that hyperbaric welds can actually be done in the water in a wet environment or in a dry environment that’s just enclosed underwater. So why would you want to use one technique over the other? Often times, when a job needs to be more precise and higher quality, a dry weld is used. The weld will actually take place in a chamber that encompasses the structure or object that’s being welded and simulates what the weld would be like on land.

So once you’ve become proficient at various elements of working with metal on land, you should think about becoming a certified welder-diver.

For those who don’t have diving experience, there are many underwater welding schools which can get you commercial diving certified and teach you the specific skills needed for working underwater. These schools concentrate on the specialized techniques and equipment needed for underwater welds. Don’t forget the military is an excellent option for learning this highly specialized field too.

Subjects covered in diving schools include:

  • Marine structural topics such as boats, ships, underwater pipelines, and oil platforms
  • Underwater metal work techniques including wet and dry welding
  • Diving equipment and safety

Want to learn more? Here’s our welder job guide and salary guide.