Learn about welding and the requirements to become a welder.
Welding is a fabrication process that uses intense heat, pressure or both to fuse two distinct elements into a single unit. The resulting bond is strong and reliable. According to the American Welding Society, there are more than 100 different welding processes and process variations used during some stage of manufacturing or repair throughout the industrial world. Welding requires manual dexterity, physical strength, and the willingness to work in a potentially hazardous environment. The employment outlook for welders is favorable due to a shortage of trained welders. This article provides information for those interested in welding, from a basic job description to required training and employee outlook.
A welder applies heat to the surfaces of two separate pieces, typically metal, to melt and subsequently fuse them together into one solid piece. There are many usable heat sources, but the most common is electricity, used in a process called arc welding. The welder uses an electric current to maintain an arc between the base metal of the work piece and a coated metal electrode, commonly referred to as the welding rod. As the electrode is passed over the metal, the intense heat created by the arc melts the base metals and the electrode. The metals fuse and, as the piece cools, solidify to form a permanent bond.
Welding produces a bond that is stronger, lighter weight and less expensive than other joining processes, such as riveting or bolting. Welding is used across the industrial world to manufacture everything from computer boards to heavy equipment. Welding is used to join beams in the construction of buildings and bridges and to join pipes in refineries, power plants and pipelines. The automotive industry and the shipping industry rely on welders for the manufacturing and repair of their products.
A welder must work in difficult conditions. The workplace is hazardous; the welder is exposed to heat, intense light from an electric arc, and air pollutants such as silica and smoke that may contain heavy metal contaminants. When welding indoors in a manufacturing plant, the welder must tolerate a high level of noise. Outdoor welding for bridge and building construction often requires the welder to work in inclement weather from a scaffold or platform high off the ground. The welder must follow rigorous safety precautions and wear protective clothing such as boots, welding gloves, a welding hood with face shield, and hearing protection.
A low-skilled welding position requires only a few weeks of on-the-job training for the welder to follow instructions and sufficiently perform a routine welding job. Advanced skills are necessary to plan a weld that conforms to safety specifications and industry standards.
The advanced welder is proficient with welding technology and can adjust various parameters to control the quality of the weld. An advanced welder is familiar with a wide range of welding techniques as well as basic principles of electricity, chemistry, math and metallurgy. A skilled welder also has the ability to read blueprints, program a computer, and solve on-the-job problems as they occur. A welding career requires manual dexterity, physical strength, and the ability to work for long periods of time in awkward positions.
Welding training is offered by vocational-technical schools, community colleges and private welding schools. In addition, the U.S. Armed Forces offers welding training .A welding curriculum includes science courses, shop mathematics, mechanical drawing and blueprint reading, as well as courses in welding technology. A major component of a welding education is supervised welding practice. An apprenticeship is an excellent way to obtain on-the-job welding training. Apprenticeships are offered through trade unions or private industry, often in conjunction with a trade school or community college.
Through its Certified Welder Program, the American Welding Society (AWS) offers a voluntary certification based on a performance test administered by an AWS accredited test facility. During the test, the welder must produce a sound weld that meets the standards and specifications set forth by an AWS Certified Welding Instructor. The certificate is maintained through periodic submissions of forms that verify the welder's continued employment in the field. The credential may be maintained indefinitely.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment market for welders is expected to grow at a rate of 5 percent, which is slower than the average for all professions. The employment outlook is still favorable, due to a shortage of trained welders.
A skilled welder can work across industries, applying his or her skills where the demand is greatest. Automation is not a threat to job security, as welders will still be needed to program the equipment and to plan and inspect the weld. Custom applications and repair work are not easily automated, so the need remains for skilled manual welders.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that the median hourly wage in 2006 for a welder was more than $15. The lowest paid 10 percent of welders earned less than $10 per hour. The highest paid 10 percent earned more than $22 per hour. This differential reflects the wide range of skill levels in this occupation. A typical work week for a welder is 40 hours.