A “Hot” Job
Along with Trucking, Welding is one of those jobs you seem to see first whenever there is a news piece on blue collar jobs with a shortage of workers. It is one of those jobs that can be just fascinating to watch. (You should, BTW, never stare too closely at a welder working, staring at the arc, even from a distance, can be very dangerous.) You have a guy holding a stick, making an arc that is near as hot as the surface of the sun. Somehow, he is not only not killed, but makes two pieces of metal become one, with a nice bead joining them.
What is the Need?
There are about 412,000 people employed in various forms of welding in the USA. Various sources show a shortage of 200,000-30,000 welders by 2020. Retirements are driving a lot of this, along with just general growth. Part of what happened is starting in the 1980s, welding was seen as dying. I remember being told that robots would be doing so much of it that there was no reason to go into the field. Robots have virtually taken over in assembly line work, not to mention more and more cars are being “glued” and not even welded. This drove people away from the trade.
Today, we know better. Much of welding simply cannot be done by robots. Robots only work when the task is repetitive and similar. I can hear some people saying. “Yes, for now……” Meh. We live in today, and trust me, it will be a generation or more before a robot can do custom and differentiated tasks. Following the other advice on this site, you may well be retired by then.
How to Break In?
The simple answer is a trade school. Even in the glory days of US Manufacturing, you had to get some trade school training to weld. There was specialized training, but if you could not strike an arc and run a bead, they hired the people who could. There is a progression here. Take an intro class (I did) and you will learn a touch of theory. The other 90% of the time you will just burn rods. Over, over, and over. 20 hours of this and perhaps you get to start to join 2 pieces of metal together. Boy, that made me happy, something new!
I have some schools listed below, but consider your community college system first. The community college will be cheaper, but the school might be faster. 9-12 months should get you working at a decent wage, far faster than a 4 year degree! Instruction may be similar, the class I took the instructors from the college and the trade school down the road covered for each other when they were out.
Specializing Will Be Key to Earnings
Whatever training you take, “stick welding” is probably where you will start. These guys make a living, but they stay at the lower end of the pay scale. Move beyond that!
- Tig Welding. TIG stands for Tungsten Inert Gas and is technically called Gas Tungsten Arc Welding or GTAW. They make mid-$30000 per year, Not tearing things up, but not bad for no college. It is what many white-collar college grads make to start. These are the welders that do more fine work, the better you do at that the more you make. Said work is easier on the body than wrestling with heavier work.
- Pipeline Welders. Just what it says, welding oil or natural gas pipelines. Travel is a must. You may need to buy your own rig and a heavy-duty pickup to haul it. $50,000-100,000 is realistic.
- Underwater Welder. This is one of the most manly jobs imaginable. Work with electricity, underwater! To get trained I would say join the Navy, training will NOT be cheap. Earnings will be $50-100,000 per year, while you are not talking Cadillac, you are going to be able to eat out whenever you want.
- Nuclear Plant Welding. Pay should be similar to underwater welders. I heard about this one in class. The neat thing here is you work maybe 2 hours but get paid for the entire day as you get decontaminated. Nuclear fuel is dangerous stuff, but the NRC really keeps the standards good. A danger may be if things go really bad and you have to risk your life to save many other lives.
Here are some schools and resources: