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Welder Job Description, Career as a Welder, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: On-the-job training

Salary: Median—$14.72 per hour

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Welding is the process of heating and melting metal parts to join them together permanently. It is used to construct and repair parts of cars, airplanes, ships, and sheet-metal products. Welding is also used to join beams when constructing bridges and buildings. Some welders work at steel mills, railroad shops, and highway departments. Other welders are cutters, using their tools to cut metal into pieces, as required by a blueprint or design, or to cut structures into pieces so they can be discarded.

Welders are classified as either skilled or unskilled, depending on their training and the kind of welding they do. Skilled welders work from blueprints and written specifications. They know the welding properties of various kinds of metal. Some welders use computers and robots to join metal pieces. With additional training, they can learn to program the computers. Unskilled and semiskilled welders work on projects in home construction, industry, shipbuilding, and other fields. They often work on assembly lines and do repetitive work that requires no special knowledge of welding properties.

Welders repair the teeth on the shovel of this piece of construction equipment. There are more than forty methods of welding. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

There are more than a hundred methods of welding, which use electricity or various gasses to create the high temperatures that bond metals. Arc welding, which can be done either by hand or by machine, is the most common form. In this method, an arc, or electric current, is run through the pieces to be joined as well as a thin welding rod. When the rod touches the metal pieces, a powerful electrical circuit is formed. The high-temperature heat that this produces melts the edges of the metal and the welding rod together. Then the melted metal solidifies to make a strong connection. The type of welding rod used depends on the properties of the metals to be joined and the strength needed for the weld.

Another common form of welding uses gas. Many types of gas can be used, but a common example is an acetylene and oxygen torch. The welder uses a hot flame from the torch to join metal edges. When the edges are melted, the welder melts a rod into the joint. The rod supplies the extra metal needed to make the weld. The size of the flame and type of welding rod can be adjusted according to the particular job.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school diploma is preferred but not required. High school courses in mathematics, physics, and mechanical drawing are recommended. Shop courses that include welding and principles of electricity are also helpful. A knowledge of computers is gaining importance, as some welders are responsible for the programming of computer-controlled machines, including robots.

The unskilled jobs in welding can be learned in a relatively short time; for example, workers can learn to weld metal by machine in a few days. On the other hand, skilled welding techniques that require hand labor take several years to master. Vocational schools, trade schools, and junior and community colleges offer training programs for welders, and a few companies have apprenticeship programs; however, most training is done on the job. Applicants should be in good health and have manual dexterity, good eyesight, and good hand-eye coordination. Trainees must often pass tests before they are allowed to work on projects where the strength of the weld is important or where the work must be precise.

Getting the Job

Construction companies or manufacturing plants that employ welders may have job opportunities. Local union offices or state employment services have information about training and job openings. Newspaper classified ads and Internet job banks are other sources of information.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Skilled welders are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced welders can become supervisors. With additional training they can also become inspectors. Some experienced welders open their own welding and repair shops. Others specialize in working with certain metals or techniques.

The number of welders is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all jobs through the year 2014, as employers turn to automation and manufacturing jobs move overseas. However, automation is not expected to affect highly skilled welders. Some job openings occur each year as workers retire or change fields.

Working Conditions

Welders often wear protective clothing, goggles, helmets with protective lenses, and other safety equipment to prevent burns and eye injury. Proper ventilation of the work area is important because welders must sometimes work with toxic gases. Welders who work in construction do a good deal of standing, stooping, reaching, and climbing. Welders often come into contact with dust, dirt, grease, and paint on metal surfaces.

Where to Go for More Information

American Welding Society
550 NW LeJeune Rd.
Miami, FL 33126
(800) 443-9353

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers
753 State Ave., Ste. 570
Kansas City, KS 66101
(913) 371-2640

International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America
8000 E. Jefferson Ave.
Detroit, MI 48214
(313) 926-50007

United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada
901 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001-4397
(202) 628-5024

Welding Research Council
P.O. Box 1942
New York, NY 10156
(216) 658-3847

Earnings and Benefits

Welders' earnings vary greatly. Factors include the level of skill of the welder; the industry in which the welder works; the size of the company; and the location of the job. The median income for welders in 2004 was $14.72 per hour. Union workers had higher wages than nonunion workers. Many experienced welders are in business for themselves and earn higher wages than salaried workers. However, there are many expenses for independent workers, including equipment, trucks, and health insurance and other benefits. Benefits for salaried workers usually include paid vacations and holidays, pension plans, and health insurance.

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