What Is A Welder?
A welder is a skilled professional who specializes in fusing materials to the specifications listed in the Welding Procedure Specification (WPS) for the job at hand. Welders usually work with metals such as steel or aluminum, but some work with thermoplastics or ceramics. In order to weld, cut, shape, braze, solder, or otherwise manipulate a workpiece, welders are well-versed at using an assortment of tools and equipment, including torches, gases, electrodes, hand tools, wire feeders, filler metals, and industrial chemicals. There are over 100 welding processes but the majority of welders work with one or more of the most common. These include Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW/stick), Gas metal Arc Welding (GMAW/MIG), Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW), Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW/TIG), and Submerged Arc Welding (SAW).
The term Welder is a general one, often used to describe anyone who welds during the course of a regular work day. This is like using the term doctor or educator when a more specialized title such as pediatrician or chemistry professor better illustrates what they do. Likewise, Welders can often be more accurately described by areas of specialization such as Pipeline Welder, Boilermaker or Ironworker. For a list of welding related careers please see Career Pathways.
Why Is This An Important Role?
Despite its ubiquity in our daily lives, it is easy to overlook the importance of welding. But if you think about, it’s hard to find a part of your daily routine that isn’t somehow influenced by the work of welders. Simply put, very few of the products we use, and the structures we live and work in, can be made from one piece of material. Because of this, welders are needed to build and repair many of life’s essentials, from shopping carts, medical devices, and consumer electronics, to pipelines, factories, bridges, cars, planes, ships, and even spacecraft.
What Career Opportunities Are Available to a Welder?
Studies show that there is an increasing disparity between the amount of jobs in welding and the amount of workers skilled enough to take on these jobs. More often than not, there are more welding jobs out there than there are welders to fill them. As such, there are career opportunities in a wide range of industries, and these opportunities exist for welders of all skill and experience levels.
Novice welders can expect to find many different opportunities in a wide range of fields. Several industries, including pipewelding, ironworking, structural welding, and fabrication typically offer positions for apprentices, tenders, and helpers. These opportunities allow inexperienced welders to learn the tricks of the trade while also accruing valuable experience.
Experienced welders can find work in these as well as many other industries, including agriculture, transportation, construction, mining, shipbuilding, nuclear energy, aviation, and aerospace. A welder’s career opportunities expand as his or her degree of proficiency, technical knowledge, and experience increases.
In summary, Welders have a broad range of processes and industries in which they can specialize. Some examples include orbital welding as a Pipeline Welder in the oil and gas industry, GMAW and stick welding as a Structural Welder in the construction industry, or resistance welding in the automotive industry. Welders will find that the list of industries open to them is as long as it is varied. The knowledge and skills obtained in any one of these fields can also help prepare Welders for a career in Welding Inspection, Welding Education, Welding Supervision, Welding Engineering, among others.
How Do I Get Started?
There are numerous ways to take that first step. Formal welding education can begin in your teens, as some high schools offer metalworking, welding, and fabrication courses. This is a great stepping stone into the world of welding, as it can give you an idea of what it’s like to work with your hands for a living and provide some insight into whether welding is the right career for you.
After high school, most prospective welders seek out apprenticeships or additional training through a community college or technical school. Apprenticeships are sponsored by unions or employers, and acceptance can sometimes be competitive. However, apprenticeships are not available in every industry. Technical schools and colleges offer a variety of programs designed to teach the basics and prepare welders for work in different fields such as boilermaking, pipe welding, radiographic interpretion, robotic welding, and many more. For more detailed information regarding the educational opportunities available to Welders, please see the Education section below.
Welding covers a very wide range of processes and applications. Therefore, the type of welding and the nature of the work that a welder performs determines their roles and responsibilities for any given project. However, in a broader sense, the duties of a Welder can be broken down as follows:
Preparation: Prior to commencing work, Welders must ensure that all of their equipment is in good working order. Certain types of welding may involve robotic components or computer systems that require support from a technician, but typically a welder will be required to select, calibrate, and safely use all their tools and equipment according to the parameters listed in the Welding Procedure Specification (WPS). In many cases welders must analyze drawings, blueprints, and welding symbols in order to understand and perform the work to the proper specifications. Finally, welders must ensure that the proper safety equipment is in place before work begins. This can include cleaning or treating a workpiece prior welding, clearing a workspace of obstructions or debris, donning standard PPE, affixing harnesses and tethers, and constructing scaffolding.
Welding: Welders can be tasked with an assortment of process-specific duties. Generally speaking, however, they are responsible for the laying out, positioning, alignment, and fusion of fabricated, cast, or forged components. There are hundreds of ways to accomplish fusion, but operator-controlled arc welding processes are the most common.
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
- Physically fit
- Comfortable working with heights, in confined areas, and/or in extreme temperatures
- Mechanical aptitude
- Manual dexterity
IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS
- Knowledge of standard welding safety procedures and protocol
- Knowledge of metallurgical properties of commonly used metals
- Ability to use basic welding equipment and engage in welding and cutting processes
- Ability to use cutting and shaping hand or power tools
- Ability to read blueprints and analyze design plans
- Ability to do basic math, comprehend geometry, and perform simple measurements
- Strong analytical thinking and problem solving skills
Educational requirements for welders vary by employer and the nature of the work. Entry level welders are often only required to have a high school diploma or GED. However, additional credentials and experience are always preferred and usually required for more advanced work. There are many educational resources out there for both novice and experienced welders.
For those just getting started, formal welding education can begin as early as high school. Not all high schools offer metalworking courses as these tend to be funded on a regional basis according to the needs of local industries. Typically, most new welders learn the trade through an apprenticeship, technical school or community college. Local union chapters or online resources, such as MyNextMove.org can help you find apprenticeship opportunities in your area. Apprenticeships are typically sponsored by unions or employers, and can last anywhere from two to five years. Apprenticeships are ideal for many, as they provide the opportunity to receive training and classroom instruction in a real hands-on work environment. Apprenticeships such as those offered in the automotive, ironworking and pipefitting industries are specific to those fields. Technical schools and colleges offer a wider variety of programs designed to teach the basics and prepare welders for work in different fields such as boilermaking, pipe welding, radiographic interpretion, robotic welding, and many more.
The AWS School Locator is also a great resource for finding welding schools in your area. Contact various training centers and colleges to compare courses, financial assistance, and job placement services. Some colleges and universities offer Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees in Applied Sciences, Welding Engineering Technology and other advanced fields required for higher-tiered welding and engineering jobs.
TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT
Novice and expert welders alike often require additional knowledge and training to take advantage of opportunities for advancement, and keep up with developments in welding technology. Many training programs focus on specific processes and applications.
Earning credentials, experience and skill allows welders to pursue more demanding, complex, and higher-paying jobs. Experienced Welders can continue their development through classroom instruction, hands-on training, and online resources. The American Welding Society offers online courses, live seminars, and certifications in a variety of welding-related fields, including Educators, Radiographic Interpreters, Inspectors, and Engineers.
The AWS School Locator is a good resource for finding training centers, schools, and apprenticeship opportunities in your area.
Many organizations certify welders to the processes and positions relevant to their industry. For example, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) offers a certification geared towards the pressure vessel industry and the American Petroleum Institute (API) does the same for the petrochemical pipeline industry.
However, as a first step in attaining a comprehensive welding credential, the American Welding Society’s Certified Welder Program is the preferred choice for many welders. The 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).
- American Welding Society – Certified Welder Program
- American Welding Society – Education
- Bureau of Labor Statistics - Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
- National Center for Construction Education and Research - Welding-
- Welding (General Information)
- Welding Certification (General information)
- Welding Education Requirements and Career Information