So, you have decided to become a welder. An ancient trade that started in the bronze age, welding is everywhere in our economy and is expected to be a fast-growing trade for many years to come.
From cars to trains, ships to bridges, welding can take you anywhere in the world. Welding is essential to so many industries. So much so that it remains virtually recession-proof. And because the average welder is over 55, there has never been a better time to join this industry — especially for young people trying to decide if they want to work in a cubicle or perhaps on a Navy Battleship.
Choosing the Right Path for You
The first step to obtaining a career in welding is to do your research. There are countless options available, but the ones we most recommend are the AWS (American Welding Society) and the FMA (Fabricators and Manufacturers Association). These two organizations have extensive websites, libraries, scholarship opportunities, school locators and come together annually to present FabTech, the largest metals and welding conference in North America.
Determining where you want to attend a school is perhaps the most important decision you will make in the process of becoming a welder. While some veteran hands might dispute the need to obtain a formal education, today’s welding industry requires skills that cannot be learned from practicing with a stick welder in your parents’ garage. Modern welders are like computers, and employers expect you to have industrial math skills, including reading tape measures and blueprints. They want you to know safety protocols and, in many cases, pass a series of industry credentials. You wouldn’t trust a doctor who hasn’t attended medical school to perform surgery, so why would you place faith in driving over a bridge that was welded by a rod burner without any certifications?
There is one thing to be cautious about when attending a welding school. You could join a union like the Pipefitters and become an apprentice. But even in this situation, we would recommend attending welding school because, as a certified welder, you could shave up to 2 years off a 4-year apprenticeship program. As a certified welder, you would also stand out from the crowd and be more attractive to your union brothers as they decide which crews they want to use. It is no secret that large skilled trades unions like the United Association and the Ironworkers regularly attend welding schools for recruiting purposes.
So, you are going to school. But where should you go? There are many possibilities, although not nearly as many as traditional colleges. For starters, there is your local technical college. Technical colleges offer welding degrees but not always industry certifications. They may offer discounted training and, in some states, free tuition. There are excellent public welding programs at these technical colleges, but some are poor. It is important to research their reviews, find out what the teacher’s background is, and if they have a CWI (Certified Welding Inspector) who can conduct testing.
How does the classroom look? Are the textbooks updated with the latest codes and blueprints? What about the laboratory? Does it look safe? Do they have proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)? How does the instructor manage potentially dangerous materials like oxyacetylene and other gases? Does the school have a list of employers that recruit on campus? Do they have success stories of their graduates? Does the staff and student population seem to be enjoying themselves? What is the culture like? All of these are necessary questions to ask yourself before enrolling in any schools or it programs.
The most important hours in a welding school are hands-on training in a lab. The saying “the more you burn, the more you learn” is pretty accurate. However, the classroom setting is important, too, especially if you need help learning weld symbols and drawings.
While there are many technical colleges in most states, you can also choose a private welding school. These are located primarily in hotspots for specific industries like manufacturing, shipbuilding, and energy. Private schools may be for profit or not for profit, and in some markets like Houston, for example, you will have multiple choices. In some states, even ones that have a major population, this option may not be available. But that does not mean you shouldn’t consider relocating even if only for a short period of training time. Most private schools offer programs that range from a few months to six months and a year or more. There are several advantages to attending a private welding school. For one, they generally have deeper relationships within the industry with staff members who regularly attend AWS meetings and large conferences like FABTECH. Private schools are also more likely to have CWIs on staff. And they often have superior equipment in the laboratory, including the latest cutting and fabrication technology. But like technical colleges, the same questions should apply, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask them.
Another factor is cost. While some technical colleges offer discounted tuition, for-profit private schools will likely charge several thousand dollars for their experience. In some cases, if they have sufficient financial aid, tuition can be as high as $20,000 or more. It’s crucial to weigh the costs and what will make you a superior welder. For most, the answer is probably in the middle. Spending $10,000 on an excellent program with modern welders and a low student-teacher ratio is a great investment considering the potential return. If the school has lots of employer contacts, it’s not uncommon to recover your educational investment in only six months in the workforce.
Your Future Career
So, let us move forward. Say that you have selected a school and completed their training. Do you have certifications? If you do, then great, if not, then perhaps you can take a test at a private testing center to make yourself more attractive to employers. Assuming you are certified, do you have a stick certification, maybe a MIG, TIG, or even Pipe certification? The number of certifications under your belt will go a long way in determining your marketability and potential to pass an employer test. For example, you would not take a Pipe welding test if you have no experience in school welding Pipe.
An average welder leaves school with three certifications. That should make you a candidate for construction, fabrication, or manufacturing.
A quality school should help you prepare a resume and do interview prep and offer job leads. This does not mean you should not conduct a thorough job search. No one can sell yourself better, and it shows initiative. It is possible that you may meet an employer or multiple employers while in school, as they often visit their best educational partners.
After you have secured an interview, you should expect to answer questions about your education and any prior work experience and complete a physical welding test. If you pass the test and make a good impression on the interview, you have an excellent chance at hire. There’s significant demand for welders, and nearly 10,000 baby boomers are retiring weekly. The Coronavirus has accelerated those retirements.
Once you begin your new welding job, it is important to network. Join the local chapter of the American Welding Society, and when possible, attend their events. You will learn many more technical skills and meet people with long careers who have extensive experience that could lead to mentoring opportunities. If you are in a construction career, building a relationship with the foreman is critical. Once your project is complete, the welders who made the best impression with those foremen are likely to be the first ones they call for the next job.
I would recommend using the first few years of your welding career to network and build skills. You can always return to school at night or part-time to learn an additional certification. If a better opportunity becomes available, consider it but do not be a job hopper. Also, do not look for the most money but instead the place where you can improve your skills. Start taking pictures of your welds and, if possible, the projects you complete. Having a book of welding experience is like an artist keeping samples of their work. That portfolio can be a valuable tool in a future job interview.
If you are young and single or in a position to do so: travel, travel, travel. You can weld anywhere in the world. And in certain industries, you can work overtime for several months and then take some time off. With welding, you have a lot of freedom to make your career your own.
Good luck and welcome to one of the best pathways to a stable, middle class lifestyle!
- Posted by Creative Juice
- On December 14, 2020
- 0 Comment