One of the first questions prospective welding students and their families have is a simple one – how much money do welders get paid? While that is certainly an important question and one that deserves an answer, the reality is that it is not that simple. In order to properly answer that question, multiple factors must be considered.
For starters, using the general term “welder” is probably not that helpful. In the field we have Pipe Welders, Pipeliners, Shipbuilders, Fabricators, Ironworkers, Arc Welders, Mig Welders, Tig Welders and Combo Welders in a range of fields from construction to manufacturing, film and television production and energy sectors. Included in these jobs are employers small, medium and large with some jobs requiring union membership while others are open shop with union and nonunion members to merit based companies.
Some jobs require travel and may include a per diem. There are also overtime considerations. Many welders earn top dollar by working early mornings, late nights and weekends. Some Journeymen only work nine months a year choosing to earn an entire year’s salary through substantial overtime and then spending extended time with their families. Employers who recruit nationally, may offer relocation bonuses. This happens often in a strong economy with a tight labor market.
How much do welders earn? That depends on who you ask.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average welder’s salary is $42,000 dollars per year. BLS stats mean 50% of welders in the United States earned more than that figure and 50% earn less. In surveys by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, most entry level welders earn a starting pay near $17 per hour. Like any profession, experience will lead to higher wages. It has been my experience that welders with an average of five years’ experience are reporting pay of 30 dollars per hr. and more. Going to an area where the demand is high will also lead to better pay. When Shipbuilding is hot, you need to be in the Gulf Coast. If you are interested in travel and have Pipe credentials then states like Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Ohio are likely to have very competitive pay. Pipe Welders make more than welders with plate certifications. It is not uncommon for a strong Pipe Welder to make a six-figure income.
You must consider more than just pay when choosing a pathway. Some of the most talented welders we have taught have pursued careers in film and television. If you have a passion for the entertainment industry there may not be a cooler job in the trades. Imagine being able to tell your child that you are the lead welder at Tyler Perry Studios or work on the Netflix smash hit “Stranger Things”. Our graduates can brag about both of those achievements among others in Hollywood South.
What if you prefer to work near your home? Maybe you have a young family and cannot be a road warrior. Opportunities with Fabrication shops are available. Keep in mind these employers tend to be smaller and do not offer the same level pay as union or travel jobs but make up for it with a pleasant work/life balance.
Think you’re too young to start your journey to a welding career? Think again.
There’s no such thing as being ‘too young’ to start on the welding career path. We primarily teach young people with an average student age of 19. While it is great to work with a population that can achieve a middle-class lifestyle before they are old enough to legally purchase an adult beverage, there is a major factor that most do not consider – benefits. It is estimated that a good healthcare plan is worth at least $10,000 dollars. You cannot stay on your parents benefits forever and this is an important part of evaluating the total package an employer offers. Another part of this of course, investments including 401Ks and in the cases of some larger employers, stock options.
This is an exciting time to become a welder. The average welder is in their mid 50s and around 10,000 Baby Boomers retire daily. The next generation, Gen X is considerably smaller. Most economists believe the US will have a labor shortage beginning in the mid to late 2020’s. Such a shortage will likely be exacerbated in the skilled trades.
Just how many welding jobs are going to be opening? Well that’s up for some debate. The American Welding Society estimates that the shortage will be over 400,000 nationally by 2022. Personally, I think that number is a bit high considering there are only 425,000 welding jobs in the United States. However, there is no question we have a skills gap and welding jobs continue to be in high demand even during a Global Pandemic.
The demand for welders will likely increase as US infrastructure continues to age and most government analysis suggests bipartisan support for a massive investment in roads, bridges and renewables. Those jobs will of course require thousands of skilled welders.
Another factor to consider that makes a welding career attractive is the relatively low cost. Most trade schools are $20,000 or less and many technical colleges offer taxpayer subsidized tuition. Additionally, there are scholarships and grants available. But even if you paid $20,000 to become a welder, it is still tens of thousands of dollars less than pursuing a four-year degree. Take for example, an elite private liberal arts college. It is possible mid-career (after ten years in the field) that graduates of universities can earn up to a six-figure income. But what if that same individual racked up $100K – $200K in student loans while they were pursuing their education. That level of debt can cause delays in starting a family, purchasing a home, buying a vehicle or investing in securities.
Earning a high salary in the welding industry starts with your certifications.
If you’re looking at getting the highest paid welding job, you’ll need to earn multiple certifications. Just like someone with an MBA typically earns more than an associate degree graduate, the same is true in trade work. Most of our graduates leave with three or more certifications. To put yourself in the best position, try to earn Stick, Mig, Flux Core and Tig. Even better if you can learn Pipe.
Why do Pipe Welders earn so much more? Remember there are trade offs to be made here. It means less time at home, often being a road warrior and the work is hard. You spend winters in the cold and summers in the heat. States like Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana can experience some extreme weather. Pipe Welders especially those with their own rig get paid differently than a shop or production welder.
First, they get paid for their actual work – otherwise known as arm pay. It can range anywhere from $36 – $52 per hour. Then they are compensated for their truck pay which usually is around $20 per hour but can go up to $25. Finally, there is the per diem for travel and meals. That ranges from $100 – $150 dollars per day. Pipe Welders who are also rig owners get taxed on their welding income but not the truck or per diem compensation. If a Pipe Welder on this scale works 20 hours of Overtime per week then likely they are looking at a $5000 check. Keep in mind this is a transient lifestyle and you will have expenses, like your truck, welder, and tools. Don’t go into debt buying a $100,000 setup when you are starting out as a rookie. Buy what is necessary to get started but nothing ostentatious. The Journeyman can make it tough on new guys who want to show off their fancy equipment.
Want to control your salary? Start your own welding business.
Perhaps the ultimate pathway to financial security in the welding industry is owning your own business. We’ve had certified welders with business degrees go on to owning multi-million dollar fabrication shops or become Rig owners/operators. The key to this is learning how to price your work. Too often without a grasp of fixed and variable costs of doing business welders will underprice their labor and lose money on jobs. Too many of those and you will not be in business long. A deep understanding of expenses is critical. But there are other skills that are necessary, including marketing, vendor relations, human resources and real estate. The days of just wrapping a vehicle are over. You need a good website, social media, SEO, and client reviews so potential customers can find you. You also need a strong relationship with a welding gas and supply company, a steel provider, and, unless you are planning to do all the work by yourself, the discernment to hire quality employees. Finding industrial space with suitable power can be challenging, too. The guys at Schlüsseldienst Berlin Friedrichshain claim that all of the above will help you find loyal customers.
The final piece of maximizing your welding talents financially comes with networking. The bottom line is you are either networking or not working. Join the American Welding Society or the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association. Pursue further education from becoming a Certified Welding Inspector to a Welding Engineer or additional industry credentials. Building meaningful business relationships can lead to higher wages and, ultimately, a better quality of life. Welding is more than just how much you can earn. It is a skill that you can enjoy the rest of your life. If you start at 20, you probably have 40 years to pursue. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Set goals, but be realistic. I am much more interested in where someone is after 10 years of experience (beginning of mid-career) than their first job out of welding school.
If you’re curious about welding and want to start your path to a new career, we can help. Learn more about our program, read graduate success stories, and get in touch with us with any questions you have. Start your new welding journey today.
- Posted by Creative Juice
- On February 10, 2021
- 0 Comment