If you’re looking into a career in welding, one of the motivating factors might be because you’ve heard it pays well. This isn’t wrong–many welders earn a living that’s equal to professionals with advanced degrees, like law or medicine.
But salaries in the welding industry also aren’t that simple. Welding salaries vary widely by job type, sector and demand level. Even where you work, geographically speaking, can play a big role in how much you make as a welder.
So your next question might be, ‘what is the highest paying welding job?’ Here, we’ll share what the average welder makes and show you how that salary stacks up against seven of the best paying jobs in the field.
How much do welders typically make?
The positions we’ll cover here are not your standard job welding parts together in a shop. That’s one type of welding work, to be sure, but it’s not the kind that will net you six figures.
This is important to understand so that you go into a welding career with the proper expectations–you won’t make the big bucks right out of high school or with only a basic knowledge of welding.
As with any field, it takes time, persistence and hard work to obtain the more advanced skills and to make the connections you need to land the higher paying gigs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average welder in the United States earns $42,500 a year, or about $20.40 an hour. Most welders have a high school diploma and receive some type of on-the-job training. There are about 425,000 welders (a category that also includes solderers and brazers) in the U.S.
Now that we’ve established an average baseline, it’ll be easier to explain how each of the next seven roles differs from your ‘typical’ welding job and what’s required if you want to go above and beyond into the higher earning tiers of the profession.
The 7 highest-paid welding jobs in America
1. UNDERWATER WELDER
One of the recurring themes you’ll notice with all of the highest paying welding jobs is specialization. The more niche the skill, the more you can make. Underwater welding is a textbook example of this–you don’t just need all the skills of a welder, you also need to be able to do the job while submerged in water.
Underwater welders perform one of two types of welding: wet welding, where the welder is actually submerged in water and creates welds using special tools, or dry welding, where the welder works within a closed, hyperbaric chamber while underwater using standard welding techniques.
In either case, the welder must also be certified as a commercial diver and have knowledge of things like pressure, gases, water conditions, and visibility that will greatly contribute to their ability to do their job.
Despite what the job title suggests, underwater welders don’t just weld–far from it, in fact. Most underwater welders are skilled in a variety of trades that might be necessary while they’re submerged, from carpentry to surveying to underwater photography.
All of these skills help build the underwater welder’s value to their employer and in turn, their earning potential.
The average annual salary for underwater welders is just under $55,000. The top 10% in the field earn $90,000 and up.
2. PIPELINE WELDER
Pipeline welders are notorious in the industry for their sometimes-massive paychecks. Because pipeline welders often work extensive overtime and also enjoy supplemental payments like per diem allowances and completion bonuses, they have the potential to earn significant sums in a short amount of time.
As the job title suggests, pipeline welders work on pipes that carry all sorts of substances, from fuel to water to gases. Most frequently, high-earning pipeline welders work in the oil and gas industry.
They often work outdoors and in distant locations, like in remote oil fields or on oil rigs in the middle of a body of water.
It’s important to note that pipeline welding work is rarely consistent, meaning that you won’t be getting the same large check every week of the year.
Rather, their earnings are typically more sporadic and they rack up the most while they’re working on a big project, where they might be on a job site for weeks or months at a stretch.
On average, a pipeline welder in the U.S. earns about $70,000 a year, with the highest segment of earners making six figures.
3. CERTIFIED WELDING ENGINEER
Much of a welder’s job involves completing welds to certain specifications; it’s a welding engineer’s job to develop those specifications.
Welding engineers must have a thorough understanding of different types of metals and how they react under various conditions so they can determine the best welding techniques to be used in any given scenario.
They must also stay up to date with the latest welding processes and technologies so they can make sure their organization’s welding operations are as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
The average certified welding engineer in the U.S. earns $75,700 a year. To become a welding engineer, you’ll need to complete the required education and have the prerequisite experience necessary to pass a certification exam from an organization like the American Welding Society.
4. CERTIFIED WELDING SUPERVISOR
If managing others is a skill in your wheelhouse, you may be well-suited to a career as a certified welding supervisor.
A welding supervisor coordinates all of the welders working on a given project, monitoring their progress and ensuring the work is done safely and within the correct specifications.
Getting a job as a welding supervisor usually requires certification, which not only verifies your knowledge of welding processes but will help you hone your leadership skills to better manage teams.
Welding supervisors typically earn between $55,000 and $73,000 a year, with the highest 10% making $80,000 or more.
5. MILITARY SUPPORT WELDER
One of the highest paying jobs on this list can also be one of the most dangerous–that of a military support welder.
Sometimes working in combat zones, military support welders assist the military with all their welding needs, repairing the machinery, equipment and weapons that help our service members protect our country.
In addition to being a welder, you’ll also need to go through all of the processes involved with becoming a member of the armed forces, like meeting the physical requirements and completing basic training.
Traveling is a big part of a military support welder’s job, and the highest salaries will be found in the riskiest regions. According to GoWelding.org, military support welders stationed in conflict-heavy places like the Middle East can earn as much as $200,000 a year.
6. CERTIFIED WELDING INSPECTOR
Safety and quality are two major considerations in the welding industry. After all, when you’re creating things like buildings, vehicles and bridges, people’s lives literally depend on it. A certified welding inspector bears a great deal of this responsibility, checking completed welds to ensure they’ve been done properly.
The welding inspector certification is notoriously rigorous, requiring a very specific body of education and work experience. Once you’ve passed the exam, though, you’ll be eligible for inspector jobs that pay an average of $73,000 a year. Many welding inspectors earn over $100,000.
7. AEROSPACE WELDER
We talked earlier about specialization and how it greatly influences your earning potential as a welder. If you have skills in welding the advanced materials used to build aircraft and spacecraft, you could be paid handsomely for your knowledge as an aerospace welder.
Though the average pay for a welder in the aerospace field ranges from $26 to $35 an hour (or between $52,000 and $73,00 a year), you’ll find significantly higher paying jobs as you work your way up the hierarchy in an established company like Boeing, Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman.
What kind of welding job should you go for?
Though it can be tempting to “follow the money” when deciding which welding job to pursue, our best advice is not to let pay be the number one factor.
While salary is certainly worth considering, you’ll have the best chance for success if you pursue a welding career in the field you’re most interested in, whether that’s cars or architecture or national infrastructure.
Why? Because the highest salaries in welding take time to earn, and you won’t stick it out that long if you’re in a field you don’t genuinely enjoy.