Some people have no problem sitting in a classroom listening to a professor lecture, going home to study from a textbook, and coming back to take a test with hundreds of questions on a form.
After all, it’s the chosen education path for millions of college students around the world. But here’s what they don’t tell you in school: it’s not for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Some people don’t learn well in a traditional classroom setting, picking things up much more effectively when they’re able to learn by seeing and doing. Others find it stifling to sit at a desk doing the same thing day after day. For many, the cost of a traditional college education is impractical or downright out of the question.
If you relate to one or more of these scenarios, you’re not alone.
Whatever your reason for shying away from the conventional college path, we’ve got good news pertaining to your career options: welding is a reliable, well-paying field that welcomes professionals from all backgrounds, including those who haven’t studied it in school.
What education do you need to become a welder?
You don’t need a diploma to get a welding job. Instead, you’ll prove your qualifications in other ways.
A major step for many welders is to get your welding certificate from a professional organization like the American Welding Society (AWS).
AWS’ welder certification program is open to anyone with a talent for welding, with no prerequisites. So, if you’re self-taught or have learned to weld from a previous job, friend, or family member, you’re eligible to apply.
To get certified, you’ll need to register in advance and pay an application fee, then show up to an accredited testing facility at a designated date and time.
At that time, you’ll be asked to perform one or more welds testing your knowledge in the area of your choice, which can include structural steel, petroleum pipelines, sheet metal, and/or chemical refinery welding.
You can also test to a specific employer’s procedures if you’re getting certified as part of a job requirement.
Your weld(s) will be examined by an AWS certified welding inspector (CWI), who will assess its adherence to the appropriate welding procedure specification (WPS). You’ll learn right away if your weld passes muster; if it does, you’ll receive your certification card in a few weeks.
Another route to learning the ropes needed to break into welding is to go to community college or vocational school. These schools have programs dedicated specifically to preparing students for a welding career, which can be completed in anywhere from a few months to two years. With a two-year program, you’ll typically also leave with your associate’s degree.
Unlike a typical four-year university, you won’t be required to take a laundry list of additional credits that are irrelevant to your field of study. Instead, you’ll learn about science as it pertains specifically to welding, then apply what you’ve learned in a hands-on setting practicing actual welding techniques.
Most of these programs culminate with getting your welding certificate and will set you back just a fraction of the cost of a four-year degree.
The first two paths we’ve mentioned are great options to start your career as a welder. Unfortunately, though, unless you’ve got some money saved up or someone else is paying your bills, you’ll probably have to pursue them while working at the same time.
There’s a third option that allows you to work while simultaneously building your welding skills: apprenticeship.
An apprenticeship is an education-meets-professional program that combines classroom learning with onsite work experience. It’s a structured program completed under the supervision of a professional organization, union or employer. You’ll be paid an hourly wage for the time you spend in the program, and if you successfully complete it, you’ll be eligible to be hired on full time.
While apprenticeships are competitive to land, they’re a best-of-both-worlds option that allows you to bring in a paycheck while simultaneously building your resume with the skills and experience you’ll need to take the next step in your career, not to mention making valuable professional connections with teachers, mentors, and managers.
Where can welding take you furthest as a career?
There are many cities where you can earn significantly more than the national average as a welder, but you have to also weigh the quality of life and cost of living if you want an accurate analysis.
Take Kahului, Hawaii: it has some of the highest welding salaries in the nation and some of the most breathtaking scenery, but it’s also one of the most expensive places a person could choose to live.
We’ve analyzed the numbers to settle on some of the spots where your career as a welder can take you the furthest in terms of job prospects and how much you’ll get for your money.
Situated along the Ohio River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Wheeling, West Virginia has the highest average pay of any metropolitan area in the nation for welders. Welders here earn an average hourly rate of $41 and an annual salary of $85,310.
Your dollar will also stretch far here; the cost of living is just 75% of the average at the national level. The mean national home price, for example, is around $231,000, but in Wheeling, it’s a fraction of that, with an average home price just under $90,000.
BATON ROUGE, LA
Rich in southern tradition and ripe with offshore welding jobs, Louisiana’s capital city is a great place to start your welding career. Welders here earn an average of $31.90 per hour or $66,360 a year.
The cost of living in Baton Rouge is about 10% cheaper on the whole than the national average, with housing and utilities being significantly more affordable than elsewhere in the country.
Located at the junction of the San Juan, Animas and La Plata rivers, Farmington is known for stunning natural vistas and ample outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s also an oil and gas industry staple, which makes it a lucrative place for welding jobs. The average hourly pay for welders here is $29.90, while the annual mean welding salary is $62,190.
Farmington comes in with a lower-than-average cost of living, so you’ll get more for every dollar you earn. The median home cost here, for example, is $191,500, which is about 17% less than what it costs to own a home on average in the U.S.
Other misconceptions about welding as a profession
IT’S A DEAD-END JOB
Think welding is just a job for people who couldn’t get into college? Think again.
If you’re going to learn a skilled trade, welding is one of the smartest options you could choose. It’s applicable in a huge range of settings, from construction to manufacturing to aviation, and a projected shortage of more than 400,000 workers means welders will be in high demand for many years to come.
If you aspire to move into a more senior role, welding is also a skill that can set you up for a number of high-paying positions. Welding inspectors, welding engineers, nondestructive testing technicians, and shop owners often get their start as welders.
IT’S TOO DANGEROUS
While there are inherent risks with any job where you work with heavy equipment, welding is a safe occupation when the proper protective steps are taken and preventative measures followed. The biggest risks happen when welders get sloppy or try to take shortcuts, which are never advisable no matter what kind of project you’re working on.
On a reputable job site, safety is paramount. Most companies have a designated safety officer who’s responsible for making sure the site is compliant with all guidelines from organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which are designed with workers like welders in mind.
ROBOTS ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER
Robots are certainly taking on an increasing role in the field of welding, but this is an exciting opportunity rather than a drawback. Robotic technology makes it possible to complete repetitive welds faster and with greater precision, freeing up human welders to focus on more interesting, technical work.
What’s more, the field of robotics opens up a new realm of jobs for welders, like robotic weld technicians and robotic programmers, which pay well and offer strong job security.