OK. So you’re thinking, “I could see getting into welding.” But you also may be thinking, “How do I make it happen? How do I get from here to there?”
The good news is there are plenty of routes you can take. Of course, like any trip, it depends on where you start. Some people are almost born into welding. It’s part of them. Maybe you grew up on a farm, where there is always something to build or repair. Or maybe your dad does construction, works in a factory or messes around with cars.
For others, like Branden Muehlbrandt, it’s a freak thing that gets them hooked on welding.
“I was 13, on a family vacation. I watched a guy repair a dump truck. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen,” says Muehlbrandt. Now he trains pipe welders at the Mechanical Trades Institute in Atlanta.
For a lot of people though, welding is something you get your first look at in high school. If that’s where you are now, here’s what you should do: take every shop course you can in welding and metal fabrication.
Y ou’ll learn about the different types of arc welding, like Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), frequently referred to as TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) and Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), frequently referred to as MIG (Metal Inert Gas). There’s nothing like hands-on experience with a good instructor to convince you welding is awesome.
And don’t forget about your other high school classes. You’ve got to have good math skills to do well in any welding job. You don’t need to know just addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; you also have to be good at problem solving and know basic geometry.
Science is key, too. After all, when you come down to it, welding is a kind of science. You need a basic understanding of how and why welding actually works before you can do it.
It’s also a big plus to be a well-rouned person. You’ll find out that in just about any welding job you need to work with other people. To be able to talk a problem out. To be part of a team. Being a good student helps with that.
So, if you’re in high school and thinking about welding as a career, take whatever shop classes you can. Keep up with your math and science. Be well-rounded. Also, look for chances to find real work experience with welding. Maybe find a part-time job in an autobody or tractor-repair shop.
Here’s something else: Ask your shop teacher about courses you could take at a local or regional career-tech school, or a technical school or a community college.
Muehlbrandt, for instance, took a lot welding classes in his high school in St. Petersburg, Fl. and ended up as an applied welding technology graduate of the Pinellas Technical Education Center in Clearwater, Fl.
Muehlbrandt or anyone else who’s done well in welding will tell you that what got them ahead was a little extra drive. A little ambition. The courses they took in TIG and MIG welding. Perhaps stuff they learned about welding from their first boss.
When you graduate from high school or career-tech school you’ve got a few options. Get a job that uses the basic welding skills you’ve got. Or get more welding training at a technical school like the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology in Troy, Ohio.
At a welding school like Hobart, you’ll spend about 20% of your time in the classroom and the other 80% doing hands-on welding, says Martha Baker, the manager of library and Internet services there.
“Some students come to us with no welding knowledge at all,” says Baker. Some come with a few welding classes in high school under their belt. Some come from career-tech schools. And some already have been working in welding.
training at a technical school is geared to where you want to go. For instance, there’s a five-month program for guys and girls interested in structural welding and fabrication. And there’s a nine-month program for pipe welding.
Something you should know: Technical schools offer financial aid. Some scholarships are out there. And a lot of companies will pay for you to get training. So will a lot of unions.
Cajun Seeger can tell you about that. He’s the welding director for United Association Local 72 in Atlanta. Welders who sign on as apprentices there work four days a week, and on the fifth day they go to school—as part of the apprenticeship training program.
“They get paid to learn,” says Seeger. And they get college credits for every class they take. When the program’s done, Seeger says, they get “journeyman’s status and journeyman’s pay scale.” In other words, even better money. Not a bad deal.
You need two hands to work your way up a ladder, right? Well, you need both experience and training to move up in welding. And certification. Because employers have to be sure you’re qualified to do what you say you can do.
The American Welding Society offers a wide range of certs, beginning with one that identifies you as a “certified welder.” You take a test that shows you can create a sound weld.
AWS also offers certifications for welding supervisors. And welding inspectors. And for robotic arc welding. And welding sales representatives (yeah, there are sales jobs in welding, too).
Here’s something you should remember: The more you know how to do in welding, the more you are worth to an employer. Say you’re a year or two into your first full-time job. You know how to do arc welding. To get ahead, get to know more about TIG. Take a training course. Or two. Or three. Become an expert
And go after some training in MIG welding, too. And laser welding. And robotic arc welding. Step back a second. Remember how there are a lot of different routes to a good career in welding? Another one is going straight from high school to a four-year college. Or going from high school to work and then to college.
There are a lot of great jobs out there for people with welding talent and an engineering degree. Listen to Caleb Roepke.
Roepke’s a graduate student in the Department of Metallurgical and Material Science at the Colorado School of Mines’ Center for Welding, Joining and Coating Research in Golden, Colorado.
As you might guess from that last sentence, Roepke is neck-deep into the science behind welding.
He got his undergraduate degree in welding and metallurgical engineering from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. (You can major in that field at several other colleges, too, including Ohio State University in Columbus, Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.)
“I like engineering, but I really wanted to be in something that’s very hands-on,” says Roepke. Welding/metallurgical engineering is like that.
Roepke’s thesis—the big report he has to write to get his Ph.D.—is about hybrid laser-arc welding. Serious stuff. After school he hopes to land a goodpaying research-and-development job with a big company, maybe one that manufactures heavy equipment.
You’ve probably got the point. No matter where you are in life right now, there are a lot of options out there for you in the field of welding.
There’s a pattern to it all though. Getting ahead in welding is all about being open to opportunities. Taking courses. Working hard. Learning on the job from welders who have been doing it for a living. And taking even more courses so you know more, get better and can offer more.
Because the more you know, the more you can offer, and the better your chances are of doing well. And being happier.