An ancient trade from the Bronze Age, welding appears in more than 50% of every product in the world. Everything from real estate to personal vehicles are touched by a form of welding. With opportunities in a wide range of fields from construction to manufacturing, energy, fabrication and even film and television sets, welding is a relatively recession-proof trade nearly always in demand.
With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring daily and that number likely accelerated by the pandemic, there has never been a better time to become a welder. Most welders are in their mid-fifties which is creating and will continue to create substantial workforce shortages and increased competition for the best talent. This supply and demand relationship will also lead to higher wages and a faster track for younger people. Welding is also popular because of the travel opportunities it provides, and it is one of the quickest pathways to the middle class that does not require a college degree.
So, with so many positives about the welding industry and the lifestyle it provides, how do you actually become a welder? We can help with 5 easy steps:
Step 1 – Research
Step 2 – Attend a trade school, technical college or join a union apprenticeship
Step 3 – Become a Certified Welder
Step 4 – Obtain employment as a Welder
Step 5 – Networking or not working
There are 330 million people in the United States and less than 400,000 are professional welders. That means 99.998% of the population are employed in another field. With such a niche market, you need to really discover if this career is something you want to pursue. Without proper research mistakes will be made and it is very likely a poor match. For starters, welding is a tough, physical job often performed in extreme conditions from weather to environment – the hull of a ship, for example, is not air conditioned and a large fabrication shop may not have a great ventilation system. Some jobs, especially on the Pipelines, will require heavy travel – and if you have a young family, it is likely you will miss them. Because of these factors, when recruiting new students, we prefer to take a passive approach. Another misnomer is that welding is some generic skill set when welding is performed in many different industries using a combination of many different processes. Not everyone can become a six figure Pipe Welder. Meanwhile, some may not have the aptitude for the precision that Tig welding requires. The more you learn about the variety of jobs and the types of welding they require, the better off you will be. Using resources like YouTube welding channels, including instructional or project videos, are excellent if you’re looking for Welding Tips and Tricks.. Spend plenty of time on the American Welding Society website, which offers information on everything from scholarships to school locators, career opportunities, and a history of the industry. The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association is also a terrific resource – especially for students who think a career in the manufacturing industry would be ideal.
Attend a trade school, technical college, or join a union apprenticeship
While past generations often learned to weld from an older family member who worked in the industry, today’s welders will benefit from the technology, industrial math, blueprint interpretation and safety training that welding schools provide. Welding machines themselves are far more complex than in previous decades. The days of simply turning a dial are over. Prospective welders also need to learn how to weld using a variety of machines since that is what they will see in the field. It is highly unlikely that you will go an entire career in a shop or with an employer that only carries one type of machine, such as Miller or Lincoln. Chances are that your high school did not offer classes on how to read measurements or basic blueprints. And then, of course, there is safety – how to handle gases, how to turn your machine on and off, torch cutting, PPE and many other considerations. Trade Schools often are small, which means more time with your individual instructor and they often narrowly focus on a few trades. Some may only work in the welding industries. These schools have their advantages as they can build deeper relationships with employers and offer networking opportunities with organizations like the American Welding Society or the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association. Technical Colleges will vary in terms of their welding programs. Some are excellent while others lack investment. It is obvious once you see the lab and meet the instructor. Other important questions to answer include whether certifications are offered and how much hands-on practice is offered. Like most trades, welding requires extensive repetition. That cannot be done in a classroom. There is an old saying in the industry that goes something like this- the more you burn, the more you learn – and the more you learn, the more you earn.
Unions are another interesting option. Unions cross-train you in several areas not just welding which may make you a more valuable employee. You can also get paid to learn and within three years you are typically advanced to journeyman status. However, unions are not for everyone. Some will want to join the field or work for themselves faster than attending an apprenticeship program. Also, there is the issue of union dues and being willing to at times pass on work that may be available. Unions are also a good option once you have finished a trade school as most will offer credit for the time you attended a welding program.
Become a Certified Welder
Once you have decided on a program or pathway, then you need to have excellent attendance and take advantage of all the lab time that is offered. At the conclusion of most programs, you will have an opportunity to test in accordance with the American Welding Society. And even though you may have gotten all of your certifications, don’t forget the skills that you worked so hard to master. Typically, Shielded Metal Arc Welding tests will be offered first, followed by Mig and Flux Core. TIG and Pipe Certifications may not be accomplished in fast tracked welding programs or they may be limited to students who show a propensity in those areas. Most students will leave a trade school with a few certifications, but some may end up a Certified Pipe Welder. The more certifications you can earn and the harder the test, the more advantageous it will be when pursuing a welding career. Pipe Welders will make more money than a fabricator. Tig Welders will be more marketable and command a higher wage than someone who can only do Stick. In many ways, this is not unlike attending a traditional university where some majors earn more than others.
Obtain employment as a welder
A good welding school offers their students placement services including resume development, employer leads, and, in many cases, direct connections to employers through tours and visits. But even the best welding schools cannot legally guarantee employment, so it is up to the student to diligently pursue leads and research opportunities on their own. Students should know as they are approaching graduation what certifications they are testing for. If they are going to pass a Pipe test, then they need to start looking at jobs in the energy sector and geographically where their skills are most in demand. Same goes for fabricators, manufacturing, and even union jobs (including film and television sets). Understand that welding is a relatively recession proof job and the US economy is expected to boom post-pandemic. Chances are good that you will have multiple offers or you may already have a job lined up before finishing school. It’s also a good idea to stay in touch with your school, since they often meet new employers which could lead to more great opportunities. It is not uncommon to obtain an entry level position and then come back to school to prepare for a bigger and higher paying job. Some schools offer discounted welding booth rentals for their graduates, so be sure to take advantage of that opportunity. Lastly, it is important to take a big picture approach. Most graduates will make more money with time in the field, experience and networking. Get a welding job to start building a resume or portfolio, but remember – realize the best jobs (and pay) are to come.
Networking or Not Working
This step is the final one and perhaps the most important. Employers are most likely to hire the people they like and people who are reliable. If you pursue a career in construction, for example, you probably are working project to project. Building relationships with supervisors and foreman is a crucial part of being the first called for the next job. Conversely, if you are a difficult employee, they may decide it is not worth the trouble. New welders need to join trade associations. The best ones are likely the American Welding Society and the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association. Attend their meetings, listen to the presenters, and learn continuously. AWS meetings often have a technical component and can even provide credits towards renewing an inspector certification. And finally, attend FabTech when it comes to your region. The largest metals conference in North America is a must for serious welders. You can catch it in Atlanta, Las Vegas or Chicago as it rotates annually.
Ready to start your journey to become an expert welder? Let us help you get started. Visit our website to learn more about how Georgia Trade School can help you get the education you need to start your dream welding job today.
- Posted by Creative Juice
- On May 12, 2021
- 0 Comment