So how much do welders really make? A lot depends on education, experience levels and actual talent and skills of course. Oftentimes due to the nature of the work, overtime becomes a major portion of a welder’s earnings too. Some welders working on contracts work upwards of 70 hours per week earning a very large amount of overtime.
Location may be the greatest factor on a welder’s wages. High demand or high cost of living areas like Alaska (high demand) and Hawaii (high cost of living) can raise wages. Remember that any school you are looking to attend can provide you information on the typical wages their graduates have received.
(High School Education)
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For those that are just entering the welding field straight out of high school with just the experience of their welding shop classes, don’t expect to make much more than $10-$15 an hour. There is often a glut of entry level welders that never progress beyond basic certifications. This keeps wages low at this level of experience. It’s relatively easy to learn some basic welding skills and many people never expand their skillset. For those entering the welding field and wanting to make more money, it’s very important to keep learning new skills and certifications. It makes perfect sense that a company would be willing to pay someone much more per hour if they have a certain certification the company absolutely needs in order to complete a project.
It’s really no different than any other industry. Even the fast food industry struggles with this concept in that it’s easy to hire someone to be a cashier or drive through worker. But those willing to put in the extra hours to learn every position in the restaurant, and do them well, are few and far between. However, it’s much more beneficial for that restaurant to pay the person who can do everything a few more dollars an hour because that person can fill in anywhere and not just one specific position. The same goes for fabrication shops and other welding industries.
Often times, new welders are afraid to take certification tests because there’s no guarantee they’ll ever use that particular skill with their current employer. Plus, certification tests can become expensive averaging anywhere from $100-$300 per test. It definitely helps to find an employer willing to invest in you and who encourages you to keep developing your skills. If you feel that you might be working at a dead end job at one particular welding employer, then ask your manager if there is anything else you could be learning. If there isn’t and all they want is an entry level welder, it’s probably time to find another employer.
An advantage to those welders completing an apprentice program is that while they may be making less than the welders around them while they’re learning (they usually make a percentage of what a fully certified experienced welder would make), they continually learning new skills. The salary they earn is usually set by a labor union contract and includes standard raises until completing their training. Once an apprentice has completed their training, the regular pay scale takes effect and there are often bonuses for obtaining new certifications.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quotes the median pay in 2012 for welders as $17.45 per hour. You can read more about the BLS welding salary statistics here. Remember that median pay is where half the people earn less than $17.45 per hour and half earn more than that. However, this doesn't take into account overtime or other benefits.
But maybe you’ve heard of welders making much more than that. Often times welders with considerable experience or in a highly sought after field can easily make much more than the median pay. Industries such as electrical, gas, oil and power tend to pay more due to the specializations required by their welders.
We’ve previously discussed the underwater welding field on other areas of this site. The Bureau of Labor Statistics quote commercial divers / underwater welders mean wage as $26.32 per hour. However those with experience often can find contracts where you might be on assignment for a month or two straight and earn $10,000 to $30,000 in that short amount of time. It’s not unheard of for underwater welders to earn upwards of $100,000 per year for those willing to take assignments overseas and being far from home for extended periods of time. Many companies have a hard time finding people willing to live and work in such places as the Middle East, Africa or the Near East. These locations are sometimes viewed as hazardous and sometimes downright dangerous. Others are just very isolated.
Certified welder inspectors often earn at least $40,000 per year with the average being around $55,000 per year. Income potential approaches six figures for those with extensive experience and education.
Check out more specialized types of career opportunities with our welding jobs guide.