With its blowtorches, molten metals and blinding flames, welding can be dangerous. That's why welders, who use heat and tools to connect metal structures, need specific training, certification, physical traits and skills. Women in particular may have welding-friendly attributes, including good hand control and an eye for detail. Yet, women made up just 6 percent of welders as of 2006, according to American Welder magazine. The field is also ideal for women who want job security. Job growth should be around 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Welders usually need formal training through a community college or technical school. It can take a few weeks to months to finish a program, which includes courses in welding shop math, blueprint reading, pipe layout and structural fabrication. Students also learn about flame cutting, heavy plate welding, pipe fitting and cutting, welding equipment maintenance and employment preparation. Once they complete their diploma or certificate, students can enter the field, or pursue certification in a welding specialty.
With additional training, welders qualify for work in specific areas. They can become certified pipe welders, building pipelines for oil and other energy sources. Welders can also specialize in arc-welding processes used in many industries. It can take 100 or more hours over one to three months to get certified. After they finish their coursework, students must pass an exam. Certification often comes through the American Welding Society. However, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Petroleum Institute also certify welders. Even local agencies certify welders; Los Angeles, for example, qualifies welders with its City Structural Steel Certification and License.
Welding demands strength and stamina. Many employers look for candidates who can lift as much as 100 pounds, and carry 50 pounds. What’s more, welders spend hours stooping, kneeling, crawling, walking and standing. In addition, welding may require work outdoors, in bad weather, or in confined indoor areas. Fine motor skills are critical. Welders need hand-eye coordination and the ability to manipulate torches and welding fixtures with small hand movements. Eyesight has to be 20/20, though corrective lenses are acceptable. Excellent depth perception is also vital. Some training programs recommend an eye exam before students begin classes. Also, welders have an above-average rate of on-the-job injuries from hazards including hot metals, intense light, gases and fine particles.
Certain skills help welders succeed in training and on the job. Reading comprehension is key, because welders need to study textbooks, blueprints and trade journals. Plus, communications skills are important, so welders can speak with and write to coworkers and managers in technical terms. Welders’ work also involves measuring with fractions and decimals, as well as applying basic geometry, so math skills are a must. Welders also need to know how to use analysis to solve problems. Finally, computer skills should help welders advance as employers turn to new technologies such as robotics.
The nation’s 337,300 welders practiced in a number of industries as of 2010. At 61 percent, most worked in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction employed 11 percent, while wholesale traders and repair and maintenance businesses employed 5 percent each. Specific employers may include utilities, defense contractors, theme parks and petroleum businesses. As they get experience and credentials, welders can advance to higher-skill positions such as welding technician, supervisor, inspector or instructor. Some experienced welders own repair shops.
- AVTEC: Pipe Welding Program
- Mesa Community College: Welding Technology
- Anne Arundel Community College: Certified STICK Welder
- Cerritos College: Welding-Frequently Asked Questions
- Butte College: Welding Program
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Work Environment
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook
- Des Moines Area Community College: Welding Skills Guide
- Central Oregon Community College: MATC Welding Certificate