Building skyscrapers, assembling sports cars from scratch and working on top-secret projects for some of the biggest electronics companies in the world sounds like fun, right? These are just a few of the things you might do during a normal day on the job as a certified welder.
Welding is a career that can take you around the world and give you an important role in creating some of the most innovative and essential products we use in our daily lives. But does it pay? We’ll tell you exactly how much you can make as a certified welder, what it takes to become one and where the best jobs in the field can be found.
What is a certified welder?
A certified welder is a welder who holds proof in writing–a.k.a. certification–that they can produce welds to specific standards. These welds must be performed using a welding procedure specification (WPS), which is a formal document that directs the welder on how the weld should be completed.
Practically speaking, welding certification verifies that all of a company’s welders are qualified to safely and reliably perform the types of welds they’ll routinely need to do on the job.
There are as many different kinds of welding certifications as there are types of welds: pipeline certifications, aerospace certifications, structural certifications, and many more. Broadly speaking, though, most people who reference a general Certified Welder (CW) credential are referring to American Welding Society (AWS) certification.
The AWS is a nonprofit organization that unites and promotes the welding industry, and one of its core functions is to certify welding professionals. However, certifications are also available through specific employers and other third-party organizations.
You don’t have to be a certified welder to get a welding job. However, many employers prefer or require it. What’s more, oftentimes the person doing the hiring for a job isn’t a welder themself. If they’re comparing two similar candidates–one with certification, one without–the one with certification is going to have the advantage.
Finally, it pays to get certified since certified welders generally earn more and qualify for better jobs than their non-certified colleagues, and your initial certification puts you in a position to earn more advanced credentials that can benefit your career.
What is the average certified welder salary?
The average certified welder in the U.S. earns a base rate of $20 an hour, or about $41,700 a year. Welders on the highest end of the earning spectrum bring in $56,000 a year or more.
One thing to know about certified welder salaries, though, is that the base rate doesn’t tell the whole story. Many welding jobs are project based and pay by the hour. These jobs typically include overtime pay for time worked beyond 40 hours a week, as well as per diem pay if you’re traveling on the job.
Let’s say you work a $20/hour project that pays overtime at a rate of 1.5x and offers $100 per diem. If your work week consists of five ten-hour days, here’s how it would shake out:
Base pay: $20/hour x 40 hours = $800
Overtime: $30/hour x 10 hours = $300
Per diem: $100/day x 5 days = $500
Total weekly pay = $1,600
As you can see, the resulting take-home pay is actually twice as much as the flat base rate of pay would be for a standard 40-hour work week. So, these are factors to consider when calculating how much you’ll realistically earn as a certified welder.
Other factors that play into certified welding salaries including increasingly advanced certifications, specialized training and length of experience in the field.
How to become a certified welder
GET HIRED BY A COMPANY THAT CERTIFIES WELDERS
The first way to become a certified welder is to do it on a company’s clock. Many companies choose to certify their own welders because it allows them to set the exact specifications the welders will be tested to.
For example, if your primary job will consist of 4G overhead welds, then it makes sense for the company to test you to that exact weld using their required specifications.
Getting your certification through an employer will save you money, but there is one problem with going this route: there’s no guarantee your certification will be any good at another job (in fact, that’s usually not the case). So, you would probably need to get certified every time you apply with a new company.
TAKE THE AWS EXAM
You can also become a certified welder on your own by going through an AWS accredited testing facility. There are no prerequisites required; you register in advance, pay a fee and take the test, which will involve demonstrating your skill by performing a weld based on a provided WPS.
The weld will then be inspected by an AWS certified welding inspector for fit-up, assembly and positioning, and you’ll either pass or fail the test.
AWS certifications are transferable, meaning they’re not limited to a specific employer or location. Employers wishing to verify your certification can do so through the AWS National Registry of Welders. Information on where you can take an AWS certified welder exam is readily available online.
What industries hire certified welders?
Manufacturing is by far the biggest employer of welders, with an estimated 60% of welding jobs being manufacturing-based. Welding’s versatility and wide array of applications make it the ideal choice for quickly and affordably joining the diverse range of materials used to manufacture consumer and industrial goods.
Welding is used in the manufacturing of everything from heavy-duty machinery to tiny electronic components; even the iPhone relies on tiny welds to attach its rear glass and camera to the plastic housing.
OIL AND GAS
The oil and gas industry is another major employer of welders in America. From the industry’s millions of miles of pipelines to its steel platforms to the drilling machinery itself, all of it is made from metal, and most of those metal components are joined via welding.
Welders work in all aspects of the oil and gas field, including engineering, drilling, construction, fabrication, service and equipment supply. Their work environments are highly varied, from construction sites to offshore rigs to the inside of refineries.
Oil and gas work frequently involves travel and long hours, making it one of the fields we mentioned where overtime and other add-on pay can be quite lucrative.
The construction industry relies heavily on steel, with more than 50% of the world’s steel being used to build residential and commercial structures. This means there’s a strong demand for structural steel welders on construction sites.
Structural steel welders construct the framework for everything from office buildings to stadiums, giving them an important role in building the complex web of infrastructure that supports modern life.
In addition to building structural frameworks, welders in the construction field have a hand in assembling the electrical, plumbing, ventilation and fuel systems of a building. They’re also needed to maintain and repair the many pieces of machinery and tools used on the job.
From the steel tube frames of the earliest commercial aircraft to the intricate and complex bodies of modern spacecraft, welding has long been a fixture in the aerospace industry.
Technology has advanced such that even the tiniest, most sophisticated aerospace components can be assembled using lightweight yet sturdy welds suitable to withstand the extreme forces of air and space travel.
Welders in the aerospace industry work for some of the most prestigious companies in the world, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and can command premium salaries for their highly skilled work.
ROLLER COASTERS/AMUSEMENT PARK ATTRACTIONS
Welding isn’t just for building practical work and living spaces; roller coasters and amusement park attractions are some of the most creative, fulfilling welding jobs out there. From Six Flags to Walt Disney World, nearly every attraction used to delight families of all ages requires welding to hold together.
Most coasters are constructed from steel, and even wooden coasters require welding, as they still run on steel tracks. If you’re a welder looking to have a bit more fun with your welds, putting together roller coasters might just scratch that itch.
Where do certified welders make the most?
According to salary data from Indeed, these three cities offer some of the highest wages for certified welders in the nation.
Welding jobs in Tacoma can be found in aerospace, shipbuilding and with the U.S. military. The Local 86 chapter of the Ironworkers Union has a strong presence here and is also a good source of well-paying jobs for welders.
The average pay for certified welders in Tacoma is $27.79 an hour, or about $55,600 a year, while the cost of living there is 8% higher than the national average.
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Manufacturing accounts for 8% of the jobs in Rhode Island, many of which belong to welders. The shipbuilding and maritime products industries also have a major presence.
Certified welders in Providence make an average of $27.39 an hour, or about $54,800 a year, and the cost of living is 22% higher than the national average.
It should come as no surprise that the “valley of the sun” is a great place to get a certified welding job, since agriculture, oil and gas and manufacturing are all major industries here.
The average certified welder in Phoenix earns $22.34 an hour or $44,680 a year, and the cost of living is 5% lower than the national average.