What Is A Structural Welder?
A Structural Welder erects, joins, cuts, and repairs beams, girders, columns, and other structural components to form complete structures or frameworks. These same structural components are also often fabricated by Structural Welders prior to their use in the field. Structural Welders utilize a wide range of welding equipment, power tools, and hand tools to manipulate metal components as specified by Welding Procedure Specifications (WPS), work orders, blueprints, technical drawings, or other specifications. Structural Welders work on a wide variety of projects, including pre-engineered buildings, skyscrapers, and bridges, and in some instances perform work very similar to that of an Ironworker.
Why Is This An Important Role?
If you’ve ever set foot inside of a building, then you’ve doubtlessly already benefitted from a Structural Welder’s handiwork. Structural Welders are an integral part of the construction and repair of all kinds of structures, large and small. Structural Welders are often involved in the shutdown and turnaround of factories and power plants, ensuring that when important parts of our industry have to be shut down for maintenance, repairs, or expansion, they are quickly up and running again in a safe and efficient manner.
What Career Opportunities Are Available to Structural Welders?
Structural Welders erect metal structures, although they also fabricate components of structural framework at off-site locations for use in projects elsewhere. The broad nature of this work means that structural welders can find opportunities in a wide range of industries. In addition to the construction and manufacturing industries, which offer the bulk of structural welding jobs, the marine, steel fabrication, equipment repair, oil and gas, nuclear, mining, and aerospace industries all utilize structural welders.
With the right amount of experience and professional development in any of these industries, a Structural Welder can transition into roles such as foremen, supervisors, instructors, engineers, or welding inspectors.
How Do I Get Started?
There are different ways to take that first step. Formal welding education can begin in your teens, as some high schools offer metalworking, welding, and fabrication courses. Even courses in auto repair and woodworking teach you how to use tools, understand basic plans, and ultimately provide some insight into whether welding is the right career for you.
After high school, most prospective Structural Welders seek out apprenticeships or additional training through a community college or technical school. Apprenticeship opportunities and collegiate or technical school welding programs vary by location, availability, and demand. Please see the Education section below for more detailed information regarding post-secondary training, including resources for locating schools and apprenticeships in your area.
A Structural Welder can perform one or more tasks related to the erection, joining, cutting, and repair of beams, girders, columns, and other structural components. While specific roles and tasks may vary, a Structural Welder’s responsibilities can be generally summarized in three basic categories: job preparation, welding, and post-welding.
Job Preparation: Before beginning work on a project, Structural Welders must ensure that all of their equipment is in good working order. Structural welding can be dangerous work, and welders are required to adhere to all safety protocols, including the use of harnesses or other safety apparatuses to minimize the risk of injury if they are working at considerable heights. A Structural Welder must also calibrate all their tools and equipment according to the parameters listed in the Welding Procedure Specification (WPS) and make sure that they are in good working condition. In some cases, Structural Welders must analyze. The qualified WPS that a welder adheres to will usually be based of the AWS D1.1 Structural Welding Code for Steel, although other codes may be used for aluminum or stainless steel. In some cases the welder also analyzes drawings, blueprints, and other specifications that indicate how the job must be completed.
Welding: Generally speaking, a structural welder will engage in various forms of welding to erect structures and fabricate structural components. This will generally be done with a variety of welding and cutting torches, jigs, and hand tools, in addition to larger industrial machines, such as grinders, drill presses, straightening presses, and rollers. Larger pieces may need to be moved with special machinery, and certain jobs may require a welder to build support systems for structural components, using braces, jacks, rope, clamps, and bolt straps.
Post-Welding: Welders may need to treat a workpiece or project after it’s completed. This can include grinding to remove slag or dross, cleaning, buffing, polishing, or heat treatment. Supervisors and/or inspectors are often required to inspect a completed weld, but a Welder should always examine the work for any obvious defects or discontinuities.
- Highly motivated and self-directed
- Flexible and able to work in a team environment
- Logical and critical thinker
- Mechanical aptitude
- Manual dexterity
- Ability to work in harsh weather
- Ability to work at great heights
IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS
- Knowledge of standard welding safety procedures and protocol
- Ability to use basic welding equipment and engage in welding and cutting processes
- Ability to use basic cutting and shaping hand or power tools
- Ability to read blueprints, analyze design plans, and understand building codes
- Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
- Basic understanding of mathematics, geometry, and spatial relationships of objects
- Industrial machine licenses (such as a forklift license) may be required
There is no single educational path to a career in structural welding. However, an employer or union sponsored apprenticeship is the most common way of acquiring the knowledge and skills required to become a structural welder. Most employers and apprenticeship programs require candidates to have a high school diploma and pass a drug and alcohol screening. However, previous welding experience, or the completion of a welding training program, will certainly make your transition from novice welder to apprentice an easier one.
Technical schools also offer educational programs in structural welding. It’s important to note that some training centers and institutions offer programs that cover more than one type of welding. For example, the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology offers a 21 week structural welding program that covers the basics of plate welding for every position. However, they also offer a 36 hour combination structural and pipe welding curriculum, which as its name suggests, covers plate and pipe welding in all positions. More comprehensive courses take longer to complete, and are more expensive, but can grant you the opportunity to learn additional skills that may be useful down the line.
The same is true of some programs offered at colleges and universities. These multidisciplinary programs typically involve an Associate’s Degree in Applied Sciences or a Bachelor’s Degree in Welding Technology. These degree programs provide a deeper level of understanding and open the door to careers such as Welding Technician, Robotic Welding Technician or Operator, and Welding Engineer.
The curriculum at welding training centers and schools typically include:
- Oxyacetylene Welding and Cutting
- Blueprint Reading
- Weldability of Metals
- SMAW, GTAW, GMAW, and Flux Core Welding
- Applied Mathematics
- Structural Welding
- Construction/Electrical Safety
The AWS School Locator, your local AWS Section, MyNextMove.org, and the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Ironworkers are good resources for finding training centers, schools, and apprenticeship opportunities in your area.
TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT
A Structural Welder’s apprenticeship typically lasts between three and five years. An apprentice will complete anywhere from 6000 to over 8000 hours of on-the-job training, in addition to roughly 160 hours of supplementary classroom instruction. Specialized industries, such as shipbuilding and ironworking provide apprenticeships for the rather broad field of structural welding. The completion of an apprenticeship establishes that a welder is adequately skilled and opens up career opportunities that may not have been previously available.
A structural welder can always pick up new skills, or polish up tried and true techniques through continuing education and training. Structural welders most often use GMAW and Flux Core, but training in additional processes and techniques will only bolster your worth to potential employers. Many employers offer in-house training on techniques, safety, and code-specific compliance, but there are additional resources available.
For example, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration offers 10 and 30 hour training courses that cover some of the basics of construction site safety, including material handling, scaffold use, and electrical safety. Additionally, the National Center for Construction Education and Research offers a range of training courses and certifications for safety with some of ancillary functions of structural welding, including rigging and crane operation.
Structural Welding jobs, especially the more complex and demanding ones, will require the welder to have certain credentials. Certifications are issued by a wide range of industry entities, although the most common, particularly for structural steel, is the American Welding Society’s Certified Welder credential. This program allows welders to test to processes and positions that are used in industries such as construction, pipelines, chemical refinement, aerospace, pressure vessels, and more. AWS Welder Certification is transferrable, recognized worldwide, and required by many employers.
Here are 5 steps to becoming an AWS Certified Welder:
STEP 1: Download complimentary copies of the AWS QC7 Standard for AWS Certified Welders and its supplements: Supplement C—Welder Performance Qualification Sheet Metal Test, Supplement G— AWS Performance Qualification Test, and Supplement F—Chemical Plant and Petroleum Refinery Piping. These documents will give you a detailed explanation of the requirements for testing and terms for maintaining and renewing your certification. They also detail what you can expect from your test administrator, testing facility, and the welding test itself.
STEP 2: Contact the Accredited Test Facility (ATF) Representative at a facility near you to register for the test and answer any questions you may have. To administer an AWS Certified Welder test, a facility must be an AWS Accredited Testing Facility. This distinction ensures that the facility, equipment and personnel meet AWS welder testing and qualification requirements.
STEP 3: Be sure you’re ready for your welding test! It’s important to approach the test knowing what and how you’ll be expected to weld. The AWS Certified Welder credential attests to your proficiency as a welder, so you’ll have to be ready to exhibit proper technique while producing clean, strong welds. Be sure to bring your “A” game, and remember: practice makes perfect!
STEP 4: Take the Test. A test supervisor will administer your welding test. A test supervisor is an AWS Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) designated by the Accredited Test Facility. If you pass, the ATF will forward your application, qualification test record, and payment to AWS.
STEP 5: The hard part is over! From here, the AWS Certification Department will process your application and mail your Certified Welder wallet card, along with additional program documents and information. This information will detail what you need to do to ensure that you keep your certification up to date.
If you are ready to pursue AWS Welding Certification, be sure to visit the AWS Certified Welder Program site for additional information. You can also contact the AWS Certification Department: (1-800-443-9353 Ext. 273).
- AWS D1.1 Structural Welding Code (Steel)
- AWS D1.2 Structural Welding Code (Aluminum)
- AWS D1.4 Structural Welding Code (Reinforcing Steel)
- AWS D1.6 Structural Welding Code (Stainless Steel)
- AWS Welder Certification
- AWS Section
- AWS School Locator
- Bureau of Labor Statistics – Structural Iron and Steel Workers
- Hobart Institute of Welding Technology – Structural Welding Curriculum
- International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Ironworkers
- Job Description of a Structural Welder
- Structural Welder Duties
- Structural Welder Job Tasks
- Structural Welding Code Overview