CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a welder.
Is becoming a welder right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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It is a common misconception that tradesmen and tradeswomen do not have to be well educated. That may have been the case in decades past, but with advancements in technology and rising competition for jobs, it is vital to have at least a high school diploma.
While in high school:
Take metal fabrication, welding, and other shop-related courses
Learn welding basics and get some hands-on experience. Determine if this is the right career for you. Ask your shop/welding instructor everything you want to know about welding.
Take math classes
Take algebra and geometry classes. As a welder, you will be measuring metal parts and making calculations.
Take science classes
At its core, welding is a science. High school science classes will help you understand how and why welding works.
Research welding jobs and the requirements of specific jobs
Common welding jobs take place in shipyards, factories, on construction sites, and along pipelines; although there are many more specialized options as well. If you're interested in a particular industry, but aren't sure of the requirements, simply look at job postings online or talk to someone employed in that field.
Research welding training programs
Visit the American Welding Society website (www.aws.org) and search the database of welding schools. Consult the website’s scholarship page. Get in touch with welding companies and unions, as they may also offer scholarships. Consider the three most prestigious private welding schools in the United States: the Tulsa Welding School (www.tws.edu), the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology (www.welding.org), and the Lincoln Electric Welding School (www.lincolnelectric.com).
Training / Education
Some employers may be willing to train new-hires on the job. Increasingly, however, most prefer applicants who have completed some formal instruction.
The following is an overview of welding education options:
These programs typically cover all of the basics of welding: specific welding technologies, how to safely use welding equipment, how to read blueprints and work orders, and how to work as part of a team. A welding certificate is generally sufficient to secure an entry-level position in the field.
Associate’s Degree Program
Associate’s Degree programs provide students with in-depth knowledge and a well-rounded skill set that prepare them for full-time work with a company of any size. They broadly cover multiple technologies and topics such as blueprint reading, drafting, metallurgy, and site safety. Many Associate’s programs include an internship.
Bachelor’s Degree Program
These programs expand on the subject material cover in Associate programs. They are designed to train and test students at the highest level and equip them with the skills to assume roles at the highest professional level. Welding engineers, inspectors, and educators typically possess a Bachelor’s. On average, welders with a Bachelor’s earn more than their counterparts with either certificates or an Associate’s Degree.
Apprenticeship / Employment
After formal training – particularly, after completing a certificate or an Associate’s program – many aspiring welders opt for an apprenticeship afterwards. It is generally easier to find an apprenticeship than a full-time job; allowing new graduates to get their foot in the door, get hands-on experience, learn best working practices, start earning money, and start enjoying the benefits of employment. Furthermore, it is quite common for companies to offer successful apprentices a full-time position. Even if this is not the case, an accomplished apprenticeship is the best experience to offer a potential new employer. Typically, fully completing an apprenticeship and rising to the rank of ‘journeyman’ takes around three years.
Certification & Continuing Education
In some areas, including certain U.S. states, you can start working as a welder without certification, but unless you have excellent job experience, you'll have a hard time competing with people with training certification. The Catch-22 is that it can be difficult to qualify for the exam without experience, but you can make up for that by attending school or an apprenticeship program.
Certifications awarded by the American Welding Society (AWS) are widely considered the accepted standard in the industry. Certified Welder (CW) is the credential most commonly pursued after completing welding school. The CW certification program tests AWS Standard Welding Procedures, company-issued, non-code welding specifications, or industry standard specifications. Some employers use AWS certification instead of their own tests, as it is more comprehensive.
The AWS Certified Welder program has two components:
Practical Knowledge Test – minimum required score is 75%
Safety Test – minimum required score is 90%
During the hands-on practical test, examinees have to choose the correct materials and prepare the welding machine and joints to be welded, in adherence with the safety protocols and the quality control standards they are being tested on.
To retain their CW credential, every six months welders must submit a maintenance form that verifies their continued employment as a welder.
Welders can also pursue more advanced professional certifications from the American Welding Society (www.aws.org/certification). Information on the website includes renewal and/or recertification requirements associated with each credential.
• Certified Welding Inspector
• Certified Associate Welding Inspector
• Senior Certified Welding Inspector
• Certified Welding Educator
• Certified Radiographic Interpreter
• Certified Welding Supervisor
• Certified Welding Sales Representative
• Certified Welding Engineer
• Certified Robot Arc Welding
Depending on the skills required for a particular position or job, an employer may test/certify potential new-hires in one or more of the following specific knowledge/skill areas:
Different welding processes
The most common processes are Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW), and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW).
Different types of metals
Welders can be certified in a process on one metal, such as steel, aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium.
Range of thickness
The thickness of the base metal on which a welder is tested will determine the range of thickness of base metal with which he/she is certified to work.
Filler metal specifications
Welders who test on one classification and size of filler metal may need to recertify for one with different certifications.
Different processes with shielding gas
Being certified in one process with one type of shielding gas does not mean that a welder is certified in the same process with other types of shielding gases.
How welders are tested depends on of they will be welding on plate ‘structural’ or pipe. Each type has codes for the numbered positions: (1) flat, (2) horizontal, (3) vertical, (4) overhead. There are additional codes for pipe welding indicating if the position is in a fixed horizontal position or a forty-five degree fixed position.
Welders can be certified in one or more specific weld types, such as groove or fillet.
Welder certification may be for only one type of power source, such as AC, DC, pulsed power, or high frequency.
These are four of the most common welding specialties in the United States:
Sheet Metal Welding
Sheet metal welders join sheet metals. This is the most common specialty in the field.
Structural Steel and Iron Welding
Structural steel and iron welders can be found at commercial and residential construction sites. Many also work under state and federal agencies that oversee the construction and maintenance of highway, bridge, and public building infrastructure.
High Tech Welding
Most high-tech welding takes place in the aerospace, medical, and automotive industries. It involves use of advanced technologies including robots and lasers.
Underwater welders repair structures under the surface of the water. They mostly work for oil drilling companies, fixing and joining pipes. Underwater welders need both a welding certification and a commercial diving certification.
How to become a Welder
Beyond a high school diploma or equivalent, welding education requirements vary by employer and by position.
Individuals hired by the trade to perform repetitive assembly-line tasks often enter their roles with no formal post-secondary training and learn via on-the-job apprenticeships. Some employers, however, seek job candidates who have earned a certificate or an undergraduate degree from a technical school, vocational school, or community college. This is especially true for skilled positons which call for knowledge of metallurgy, blueprint reading, pipe layout, welding symbols, advanced cutting and welding techniques, and occupational health and safety.
The American Welding Society (AWS) administers a national certification program. While AWS certification is optional, it is highly regarded in the welding trade. It is not uncommon for employers to conduct independent certification testing of their new-hires.
Sheet metal welding is the most common specialty in the field. Others include high-tech welding, focused in the aerospace, medical, and automotive industries; underwater welding, largely for oil drilling companies; and structural steel and iron working, on residential, commercial, and infrastructure projects.