What is a Welder?
The simplest definition of a welder is someone that works with metal. These skilled tradespeople join and repair metal using various techniques that include gas, lasers, electricity, and much more.
Welders work in many different industries. It’s common for welders to work at construction sites, for oil and gas companies, and in harbors where they repair ships.
Welders can be skilled or unskilled. Unskilled welders tend to work in assembly line applications and perform the same types of welds over and over again. Skilled welders might learn upwards of 100 different types of welding applications.
Most welders work in the manufacturing sector. Some are employed in the repair and maintenance field, while others are self-employed contractors that work with a variety of clients to meet their welding needs.
Since welding is dangerous - it involves very high heat and bright light - welders have to take many precautions to ensure their safety and the safety of the work site. It can be a stressful job, too, given the level of danger to personal safety and the need to do high-quality work for projects that can range from working on a skyscraper to working on airplanes.
It can be a rewarding job, though. Welders can make a great salary, can work in virtually any industry, and can even travel for work, too.
What are the Pros and Cons of Being a Welder?
Being a welder comes with its pros and cons - just like any job. But, most prospective welders find that there are many more benefits derived from this career than negative aspects. Here’s a look at some of the most common pros and cons of being a welder.
Pro No. 1 - No Formal College Education is Required
Perhaps the biggest benefit of working as a welder is that you don’t have to go to college/university to become one.
Many prospective welders start by enrolling in a vocational/trade school program or simply start with an apprenticeship program with a master welder. You will spend a few years working side-by-side, learning the trade as you go. What you learn during your apprenticeship will help you build a long-lasting career as a welder.
The nice thing is that you can begin an apprenticeship right out of high school. Your on-the-job training builds off of the high school welding courses you took and allows you to develop the skills you need to be effective, get better jobs, and become certified in specialty areas of welding.
Pro No. 2- There are Many Types of Welding
The different avenues you can take with welding are another benefit of this career. You can specialize and get certified in any number of welding applications, from basic welding to specialties like Gas Metal Arc Welding and Flux-Cored Arc Welding, to name a few possibilities.
Since there are so many paths you can take, you can pursue the type of welding specialties and certifications that fit your skill set. Likewise, you can work in many different industries, so you can apply what you know about welding to your specific areas of interest.
Pro No. 3 - Welders are Needed Just About Everywhere
Experienced welders are often in demand in many different applications. Welders work in agriculture, manufacturing, and the aerospace industry. Some welders work on oil rigs, for architectural firms, and in the mining industry as well.
Again, just like with many types of welding, you can choose the industry in which you work to best fit your skills and interests. The more interested you are in your job, the better you will be at it and the happier you will be doing it!
Pro No. 4 - Welding Offers a Lot of Flexibility
As mentioned above, there are many ways that you can enter this line of work. Similarly, there’s many different paths you can take in terms of your employment.
For example, you can work for a welding contractor as one of their employees. Alternatively, you might be self-employed and work for clients on a job-to-job basis. You could also mix the two and work regular hours for your employer and take on contract welding jobs to make more money on the side.
Pro No. 5 - There’s an Opportunity to Travel
Welding isn’t necessarily a location-specific job. This is especially true if you work for a large company or work for yourself.
As an example, if you specialize in welding for oil rigs, you might find that you work in North Dakota for a while, then work in Texas, and then head to Canada for a few months.
Likewise, if you work on shipping vessels, you might spend time in various ports in the United States, then travel abroad to work in major shipping ports in Europe, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. If you like to travel, this type of work could be for you.
Pro No. 6 - You Can Have a Lot of Free Time
In day-to-day situations, many welders enjoy a typical 40-hour work week. You might have nights and weekends off, holidays free, and ample vacation time, too.
Other welders might work in unique situations that require them to do a lot of work in a short time. For example, if a shipping vessel needs an emergency repair, you might be called in to make the repair under a very tight timeframe.
However, welders that work in these situations are typically paid very well for their services. So, you might find that you work 36 hours over the course of three days, but you might make more than a week’s worth of salary doing it. This frees up the other four days of the week to have fun!
Pro No. 7 - It’s a Relatively Low-Stress Job
Most of the time, being a welder is a pretty low-stress job. Sure, there will be times when work gets stressful, but this is usually the exception rather than the rule.
Welding isn’t a terribly mentally taxing job, either. You use your experience and training to perform physical work, as opposed to doing a lot of analyzing and problem-solving.
Pro No. 8 - You Get to Work With Your Hands
Some people are adept at working in office situations. Others prefer to work with their hands. If you’re the latter, a career in welding could be a good choice.
Welding gives you the opportunity to immediately see the fruits of your labor, which can give you a lot of satisfaction in what you do. Plus, the bigger picture reinforces your work, too - you can see the welds you make immediately, but when a skyscraper is finished, you can take pride in knowing that you helped make it happen!
Pro No. 9 - You Often Work Independently
Welders typically do their work independently with little to no supervision. This can be a distinct advantage because you can focus on your work, get your tasks done, and move on to the next task without having to flesh it out with your co-workers.
This isn’t to say that welding is always done independently - you’ll need to work with many other stakeholders to complete a big job. But, by and large, you can enjoy the freedom of independent work.
Pro No. 10 - You Can Enjoy Good Job Security
Skilled welders are virtually always in demand. This being the case, if you choose to go down this path and become a welder, there’s a good chance that you’ll have continuous job prospects over the course of your career.
Pro No. 11 - Welding Teaches You Other Marketable Skills
As a welder, you need to be able to follow blueprints, meet deadlines, communicate effectively, and demonstrate an ability to do good work. These are all skills that can be used in other careers. If you get into welding and decide to switch careers, you can rely on the skills you’ve developed and the connections you’ve made with other professionals to make the switch to a new career a little easier.
Con No. 1 - Welding Can Be a Hard Job to Leave
One of the pitfalls of this job is that, while you might learn some general skills that can be used in other industries, your training is very specific to welding. And since a formal college education isn’t required, you might find it difficult to pursue other careers without going to college or trade school first.
Likewise, welders don’t do much training in things like computers, computer programs, and other digital mediums that are so prevalent in many jobs today. Again, without the knowledge and skills of the modern workforce, making a career change might prove difficult.
Con No. 2 - Welding Can Be Dangerous
Welding can be a physically taxing job, but it can still be dangerous. Welders work with electricity and gasses and are exposed to flammable materials and blinding light. If proper safety precautions aren’t taken on the job, you could find yourself sick, injured, or worse.
Con No. 3 - You Might Have to Work in Challenging Conditions
Welding obviously isn't a cushy office job. You shouldn’t expect to work in a climate-controlled area! In fact, you probably shouldn't expect to work indoors, as many welders are out in the elements as they do their work.
From deserts to the arctic cold, underwater to working in confined spaces, some welders have to ensure challenging conditions to get the job done. The discomfort that results from this makes welding a challenging job for most.
Con No. 4 - Most Welders Don’t Make a Lot of Money
As discussed in more detail in the next section, welders, on average, don’t make much money. In fact, some welders have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
On top of that, some welding jobs don’t come with very good benefits. You may or may not have health insurance for you and your family. Retirement might be part of your employment package, but it isn’t a guarantee for every job.
To earn more money, you have to spend more time training and getting on-the-job experience. And while that’s a doable scenario, it takes time and doesn’t result in more money right now.
How Much Does a Welder Earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a welder is $47,010. The lowest ten percent of earners make around $31,350, while the highest ten percent of earners make a median salary of $63,660.
However, welding specialists can make far more in earnings. In fact, some welding specialists can earn in excess of $200,000. Specializations in underwater welding, rig welding, and nuclear welding are often the highest paying.
The pay you can expect depends on other factors, too. Your level of training and experience will strongly influence your hourly and yearly wage. Where you work - both geographically and the company that employs you - can impact your earnings as well.
The industry matters, too. As noted above, rig welding is one of the highest-paying specialties. If you work for an oil company, the chances are good that you’ll earn a higher-than-average salary.
It’s worth noting that union membership can affect your salary as well. Unionized welders make more than those who have not joined a union.
Is Being a Welder Worth It?
As noted earlier, there are many benefits of being a welder. While it’s a physically demanding job and isn’t a get-rich-quick occupation for most people, there are many reasons why you might consider pursuing a career as a welder.
Welding is a solid career with steady growth. Because welders are needed in many different locations and industries, there is decent job security. Even if you’re laid off by one company, the chances are good you can find employment with another.
Additionally, welding is a field that really has no ceiling. As noted earlier, you can specialize in types of welding that open up additional job opportunities and much higher pay grades. And, if you like to travel, good welders are often needed in all parts of the nation and the world. You could find yourself in a situation in which you get to travel for work and see the world.
As we discussed above, becoming a welder is relatively easy, too. You just need a high school diploma or a GED to begin vocational/trade school. After a few months, you can graduate and find entry-level work.
Alternatively, you might start an apprenticeship program and get on-the-job training. Apprenticeships usually last a few years. Either way, there’s a relatively low educational threshold to get started in this career.
What is the Job Outlook for Welders?
If you’re interested in a career in welding, the job outlook is about average for the next few years.
The BLS estimates that job growth will occur at an eight percent rate through 2030, which is roughly average for all jobs.
On the one hand, there isn’t a tremendous need at this point for welders. But on the other hand, as the Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age, it’s expected that the number of welding jobs will increase.
Likewise, the BLS notes that the aging infrastructure in the United States will need more and more repairs and replacements in the future. This could bode well for welders in the coming years, as an emphasis on improving infrastructure might lead to a growing number of good-paying welding jobs.
As noted above, welders with a good mix of training and experience are often paid the most. They are also the ones employed the most. If you want to improve your chances of getting a welding job, get the necessary training, specialize if you can, and get an entry-level job that allows you to build the experience you need to move into higher-paying positions.