Industry Highlight: Welding, A Hot Career Opportunity | Institute of Medical and Business Careers

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Industry Highlight: Welding, A Hot Career Opportunity

Welder with equipment.
A welder with safety equipment and welding tools.

Do you have an interest in welding? Did you know that as of May 2018, there were 389,190 people employed as welders in the United States? The mean annual income for welders, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is $44,360.

Does this grab your interest even further? The BLS also reports an expected increase in demand for welders over the next several years.

Keep reading to learn more about welding and how to enter this exciting career field.

What Is Welding?

The process of welding entails fusing two materials together. This process uses very high heat to create the “seam”. These bonds become stronger than the individual materials.

Welders use flame-cutters, hand solders, hand welders, or brazing equipment to fill holes or indentions. They also seam fabricated metal products together using various techniques.

Welding reinforces structures. These structures range from a child’s metal swing set to large military ships. They all rely on the proper welding of joints to maintain their integrity.

Welding helmet
A welding student’s protective gear hangs in the IMBC Erie Campus welding lab.

What Do You Know About Professional Welders?

Did you know that more than 50% of all man-made products need welding at some point in their construction? Welding is integral for:

  • Trains
  • Cars
  • Trucks
  • Plains
  • Buildings
  • Homes
  • Computers
  • Gardening equipment
  • Tools
  • Furniture

Factories need welders to complete the construction of their products. Welders work on building new items and repairing broken ones. They use both handheld and remote-controlled equipment to accomplish their tasks.

You can find trained welders working in a variety of settings. They work indoors, outdoors, and in workshops and factories. They also work on roadways and pipelines.

You will see welders working on high scaffolding constructing buildings and stadiums. Some work on oil rigs or ships out in the ocean. Others are part of race car teams.

Welding requires practice and focused attention to detail. Welders use very high heat and it is often even more challenging work due to the work location or environment. For example, they may be under cars or in ship passages that are narrow.

These situations can present dangers to the welder. Thus, it is important that trained welders know and follow all safety practices.

Welder working on a car
Welders are needed in many industries, including automotive.

What Is the Job Outlook for Welders?

The resurgence of manufacturing in the United States has created an increased demand for welders. The American Welding Society has voiced concern about a growing shortage of welders. As older welders are reaching retirement, employers are not finding enough younger welders to replace them.

The average age of welders in 2019 is 55 years. Less than 20% of welders are younger than 35 years. By 2024, the deficit is expected to reach 400,000 which means there are and will be great career opportunities in this trade, likely for years to come.

This creates a need for trained, skilled, and proven welders to enter the workforce. As the nation’s infrastructure ages, welders are integral for repairing and replacing damaged components such as tunnels, bridges, and buildings.

Skilled welders are also an asset to the energy sector employers, including alternative as well as gas and oil energy. They are responsible for building and maintaining pipelines, wind turbines, solar arrays, and other energy systems. Automation cannot replace the knowledge and hands-on skills of these craftsmen.

What Does Welding Training Involve?

Education requirements vary by employer and job site. Some companies require a high school diploma and completion of on-the-job welding tests. Some welders complete apprenticeships to learn the trade.

Others want a certificate or undergraduate degree obtained from a technical or vocational school or a community college. Completion of a formal program may provide you with:

  • Welding Certificate of Achievement and/or Diploma
  • Associate of Science in Welding Degree
  • Bachelor of Science in Welding Engineering Degree

These different programs may take from a few weeks to a few years for completion. Programs of study include instruction in the art of heating and shaping metals. Many courses also include instruction in:

  • Mathematics
  • Metallurgy
  • Blueprint reading
  • Welding symbols
  • Pipe layout
  • Safety practices

A welding practicum is often included as part of your program, which is a final project that demonstrates your mastery of the course material and training. Various methods and techniques are taught in welding classes. For example, students learn about arc welding, soldering, brazing, casting, and bronzing.

Programs also include instruction about the variety of tools used in welding. Students gain practical experience using oxyacetylene welding and cutting tools. In addition, they use shielded metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, and gas metal arc welding equipment.

Welder with safety equipment.
A welder uses a variety of safety equipment to protect against injury.

Safety Management in Welding

Welding represents a hazardous workplace activity. Thus, adhering to safety measures is imperative to decrease risks to yourself and others.

All welders must complete safety training. They are also expected to check all equipment before beginning welding activities.

The following describes the four most common welding safety hazards. Tips for avoiding and controlling these hazards are also included.

Exposure to Gases and Fumes

Severe health problems can result from overexposure to welding fumes and gases. Potential health risks include respiratory disease, cancer, and impaired speech and physical movement. Exposure control includes the following precautions:

  • Ensure adequate ventilation and an exhaust system to move fumes and gases out of the work area
  • Wearing approved respirators unless exposure limits are determined to be safe
  • Reporting all exposure concerns to a supervisor

Following these safety protocols is the employee’s responsibility. These rules are in place to provide protection. Speak up if you are working in a situation that lacks these required safety precautions.

Physical Hazards

Welders are at risk for various physical hazards. These include burns, eye damage, and wounds. They also may suffer crush injuries to toes and fingers. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) serves to decrease these physical hazards.

PPE includes:

  • Welding helmets and goggles to protect the eyes and head from hot slag, sparks, intense light, and chemical burns
  • Clothing that is resistant to fire and insulates from electricity
  • Hand shields
  • Welding gloves
  • Aprons
  • Boots
  • Pants without cuffs that cover the boots
  • Earmuffs and earplugs to guard against hearing loss related to noise

It is important to remember that repeated laundering of protective clothing can decrease the resistance to heat, fire, and electricity, so even your safety equipment must be properly maintained.

Electric Shock

The most immediate and serious risk to welders is electrocution. This involves a sudden discharge of electricity into the body, and it can result in severe injury and even death.

This risk can be minimized by a focused inspection of welding equipment and electrode holders before beginning work. When performing repairs, ensure that lockout and tag out procedures have been completed. Welding equipment service and repair should only be completed by qualified repair technicians.

Avoid touching metal parts of the electrode hold with your bare skin or wet clothing.

Fire and Explosion

The most prevalent cause of fire involves working around flammable materials. You can decrease this risk by cleaning the work area before starting to weld. Always know the location of fire alarms, emergency exits, and fire extinguishers in the work area.

Risk prevention strategies include:

  • Maintenance of a Class ABC fire extinguisher in the welding area
  • Ensure that the fire extinguisher is fully charged and not expired
  • If there is no fire extinguisher available, check for fire hoses, sand buckets, or other items to put out a fire
  • Place a piece of sheet metal or a fire-resistant blanket over any flammable material within 35 feet of the welding area
  • Designate someone to watch for sparks during welding if there is flammable material nearby
  • Do not leave the work area for 30 minutes after finishing welding to check for any fires or smoldering areas.

Prevention can never be overemphasized. Accidents often occur when someone lets down their guard.

Benefits of Being a Welder

Welder in the field
A welder on a building construction site wearing protective gear.

Becoming a welder offers many professional benefits. A welding career offers a steady and sizeable paycheck. The average hourly wage for professional welders is $19.89. However, welders just starting out who lack work experience typically earn less. Welders who have more experience, or work on more complicated or hazardous jobs can often earn more.

Once you gain experience as a welder, you can use your expertise to work in a variety of fields. These industries include construction, manufacturing, energy, and even art. You may also move into more specialized areas of welding.

Welding offers highly transferrable job opportunities. You can vary your location, projects, and industry. This helps keep the job fresh and challenging.

There are many opportunities for job advancement. As you build your skillset and learn more about how the industry works, you may climb the corporate ladder. Job opportunities can include becoming a supervisor, instructor, technician, or inspector.

You may even decide to open your own welding company. While working as a welder, you will gain knowledge about the business of contracting and sub-contracting. This can allow you to work with corporations to provide welding services.

If you enjoy working with your hands and building projects, welding may be the career for you.

Are You Interested in a Career in Welding?

Did this article increase your interest in the field of welding? If so, the Institute of Medical and Business Careers is ready to help you reach your career goal. We offer an on-campus welding training program Monday through Thursday in Erie, PA.

We are here to S.P.A.R.K.™ your career. Contact us today to ask questions and learn more about our programs.