How to Become a Welder

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Welders use more than 100 techniques while working, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Welding must be meticulous — they can benefit from good eyesight, hand-eye coordination, and physical fitness. Welders often must stand for long periods and carry heavy pieces of metal.

Without proper safety training, welders risk electrical shock, welder's flash, and exposure to chemicals such as lead and arsenic.

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People hoping to become welders need a high school diploma or GED certificate to get started. Employers may train inexperienced welders on the job, but many want workers who graduated from a trade school or apprenticeship program. Learn more about becoming a welder, including how long training takes and the salary prospects.

Welding Requirements

Postsecondary education and certifications let employers know that welders have general and specialized welding training. People often pursue welding training in classroom settings, but this is not the only pathway. Manufacturers, trade contractors, repair and maintenance, and other employers often offer on-the-job training.

High School Diploma or GED Certificate

Earning a high school or GED diploma serves as the first step to becoming a welder. Employers often hire future welders right after high school. Graduates who took secondary-level welding technician courses have a greater chance of landing a job.

Postsecondary Education

Future welders can gain skills in blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and metallurgy at community colleges or vocational schools. Employers recommend and often require applicants to complete a welding program at a postsecondary institution. There, students may earn welding certificates and associate degrees in welding.

The skills future welders learn from these programs can prepare them to work at art studios, boiler companies, ironworks companies, and plumbing companies. If welding candidates do not complete postsecondary training, employers may require licensure or certifications instead.

Certification

Employers often require candidates to be certified through the American Welding Society (AWS), which offers a performance-based general certification test. AWS also has specialized credentials so a professional can become a certified welding inspector, certified resistance welding technician, or certified radiographic interpreter.

Workers do not need to complete any prerequisite courses to become AWS certified welders. Candidates need to pass a test at an approved testing location. The test covers structural steel, sheet metal, and chemical refinery welding industries.

What Does Welding Training Look Like?

Welding training can take place in the classroom or on the job. Trade schools offer programs either in the day or evening since many students balance work while in school. Welding students learn about reading engineering prints, safety techniques, and welding processes, such as oxyacetylene welding, shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, and advanced shielded metal arc welding. Most often, welding students learn hands-on techniques in the shop.

Employers offer apprenticeships to untrained welders who have no experience. While training apprentices, companies may provide them salaries and benefits. Apprentices often perform welding jobs and entry-level duties such as general labor, grinding, and assembly line tasks. Apprenticeships also take recent welding school graduates.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Welder?

Depending on the training program, becoming a welder takes 7-24 months. Future welders can access training immediately after high school at postsecondary schools. They may apply to community college or vocational school programs or pursue on-the-job training by landing a position.

Certificates and diplomas in welding can take anywhere between three weeks and 18 months to earn. An associate degree program in welding usually takes two years to complete. The length it takes to gain certification varies by the professional organization, but all welders pursuing certification usually take an exam.

Welder Salary

A welder's pay varies based on industry, company, and educational experience. According to the BLS, the bottom 10% of welders earned less than $30,640 per year in May 2020, while the top 10% made more than $66,250.

The most lucrative industries for welders include specialty trade contracting, repair and maintenance, and manufacturing, which paid median annual salaries of $42,650-$48,420 in May 2020.

Welders sometimes must work in the evenings and on weekends; companies usually have 2-3 shifts every day. According to the BLS, welders earned a median annual salary of $44,190 in May 2020. The organization projects positions for welders to grow 8% — or as fast as average — between 2020 and 2030.

Frequently Asked Questions About Welding

Is learning how to weld difficult?

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Welding, if done incorrectly, can be a safety hazard. This is why it takes years of welding training to become an expert. The trade requires workers to repeat the same techniques, develop a steady hand, and practice building specific equipment.

Are welders in high demand?

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According to the BLS, welders are in demand. Some 418,200 welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers worked in the U.S. as of May 2020. The BLS projects employers will add about 49,200 welders every year between 2020 and 2030 to fill new positions and those left open due to workers retiring or changing jobs.

Is it worth going to trade school for welding?

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Yes. Employers often prefer to hire welders with technical training from a trade school. Like apprenticeships, trade schools teach future welders vital skills and can help launch graduates into the skilled trade industry.

Feature Image: Hill Street Studios / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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