How to Become a Welder: The Definitive Guide to Choosing Welding as a Career in 2020

Welding as a Career in 2020
Choosing a career is always a tricky decision – but it can be even more daunting if there’s not enough information about your trade. Unfortunately, that’s true for the welding industry as well. To help you clear your doubts and better understand what you can expect from welding as a career in 2020, we ‘ve created this definitive guide.

In this guide, we’ll cover a lot of information on how to become a welder so feel free to make use of this table to navigate more easily.

Table of Contents

Welding As a Career: What Does it Involve?

Before you buy your welding equipment and apply for your first welding job, it’s important to know exactly what the job actually entails. When most people think about welding, they imagine dark and hot workplaces and a welding arc. However, that’s a more stereotypical view of welders and a lot has changed in the past few years.

Recent technological advancements mean that we now have a much more diverse range of welder jobs and roles. That said, welders can still be classified into two main groups, based on their skill and the scope of their responsibilities: unskilled welders and skilled welders.

Unskilled Welders

Despite the industry name, unskilled welders are not lacking skill by any measure. The term refers more to the scope of their responsibilities. For instance, unskilled welding jobs usually involve more repetitive tasks that do not require any additional specialized training or management skills.

Here are some of the responsibilities of a modern-day unskilled welder:

  • Working on assembly lines, including supervising
  • Working on a range of different objects
  • Proficient in one type of welding (usually, MiG or stick welding)
  • Working in workshops, garages, and local factories

Skilled Welders

The key differentiating factor between a skilled and an unskilled welder is that the former has received additional training allowing them to make specialized welds. This training can be procured either through an apprenticeship or through education.

Here are some of the responsibilities of a modern-day skilled welder:

  • Inspecting the quality of welds
  • Understanding complex blueprints and doing design work
  • Operating advanced welding equipment
  • Working in highly specialized fields like aerospace welding.

It’s important to note that almost every welder starts out as an unskilled welder and being a skilled welder is more about specializing in a specific field or in a specific type of welding than anything else.

Skill Requirements for a Welder

If you’re planning on choosing welding as a career, it’s important to start early. One way in which you can do this is through upskilling or procuring new skills. As a welder, the following are some of the most useful skills to have:

Physical Endurance and Strength

Even with high-tech machinery, welding can be taxing, especially when working on an assembly line or workshop. The welding arc produces a lot of heat and so you’ll be working in hot environments without any direct fans. Therefore, endurance is an important requirement for a welder.

You’ll also need raw physical strength as the job will very likely involve lifting up heavy items and taking apart large objects. Other physical requirements include good eyesight, depth perception, and motor skills like hand-eye coordination.


Welding is a precise art and even tiny miscalculations can have severe repercussions. That’s why you’ll need good mathematics skills. Sure, you’ll have a calculator with you but you’ll still need to understand basic math concepts like fractions, decimals, geometry, etc.

Technical Knowledge

Even beginner welders will need to be technically inclined to be able to weld. Filler metals, gasses, flux, electrodes, welding temperatures, and procedures are just some of the things you’ll need to understand fully in order to make decisions on the job.

And More

Professional welders are also good at administrative tasks such as managing a team, meeting deadlines, resource management, and inventory control, teamwork, and customer satisfaction. Individuals who are innovative, methodical, and attentive to small things have an advantage as they are able to tackle any kind of problem with a solution.

Specializing in a skill requires a lot of patience, endurance, and hard work. So, even if you feel like you have failed in a particular task, you should not feel disheartened but instead, focus on overcoming the problem and completing the task.

Different Types of Welding Jobs

Welding is a high-demand profession in a lot of industries (even NASA needs welders, albeit very specialized welders). Technology in the past couple of decades has also played a big part in expanding the industrial applications of welding. With more advanced, precise, and reliable welding methods available, a lot more jobs are available today.

This guide would be a lot longer if we listed ALL of the welding jobs out there – so instead, we’re going to list some of the most popular welding jobs in 2020:

Local Welding Companies and Fabrication Shops

Working for a local welding company or in fabrication shops is a great way for new welders to quickly upskill and get comfortable with using different techniques. Although the pay is usually on the lower end of the spectrum, this can be a great experience if you enjoy working on a lot of different objects.

Production Welding Jobs

Production welding jobs usually refer to jobs that involve working in an assembly line. The pay for production welding jobs can be anywhere between $20 per hour to well over $30. However, the pay is mostly dependent on the company you’re working for as well as the location.

Factory Shutdown Welding

Factory shutdown welding refers to niche welding jobs that usually involve maintenance work on factories that are temporarily shut. The pay is higher compared to other welding jobs on the list but that is because welders in this sector tend to travel a lot across the country to where the factory is located.

Ship Building

Shipbuilding welding is a specialized form of welding for which you’ll require a certification. However, these can easily be received after completing an apprenticeship from a shipbuilding company. Shipbuilding yards are mostly on the coasts in the USA and the pay starts at around $20 per hour.

Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal is required in all types of automobiles, trucks, airplanes, medical apparatus, etc. and it is the job of the welders to provide the sheet metal that has been properly assembled for further construction.

Structural Iron Workers

Structural iron & steel workers require a lot of physical strength as their job requires them to erect, join, and work on steel girders, columns, and other pieces to form structural frameworks. This job requires a minimum of approximately four to five years worth of on-the-job training.

Industrial Maintenance Welders

Any structure or building can be a victim of irregular maintenance and cause thousands of dollars worth of damage. Therefore, managers ensure to hire maintenance welders for a routine inspection in order to avoid damage.

Motorsport Welders

Well, if you’re interested in race cars and welding then this can be the job for you. It has become a popular and viable option for many as it has a lot to offer.

Manufacturing Welders

Also known as production welding, it is used in a variety of manufacturing and construction industries and that gives you a large surface area of job opportunities.

Military Welders

Military welders are one of the top five paying welding jobs in the country. However, while choosing this option, make sure to research well as each branch (army, navy, air force, & marines) offers a completely different experience.

Underwater Welders

Underwater welding is one of, if not, the most challenging and dangerous welding jobs in this list. This kind of welding takes plus under wet or high-pressure environments like seafloors. On average, diver welders earn over $25 per hour. However, more challenging projects like on offshore oil platforms can fetch welders over $30,000 in just a few months.

Some more welding jobs that are in demand in 2020:

  • Construction Welders
  • Aerospace Welding
  • Boilermakers
  • Pipefitters
  • Rig Welders
  • Robotic Welding

What is the Average Welder Salary?

Welder salaries vary on a number of factors. For instance, your particular salary as a welder might depend on the following factors:

  • Industry: Different industries have different requirements and specializations which means the salaries vary as well.
  • Job location: Minimum wage, cost of living, and job opportunities all affect welder salaries and depend on the job location.
  • Experience: More experience generally (not always) results in eligibility for larger projects and thus higher salaries.
  • Working Hours and Overtime: Different jobs have different working hours and since welders are mostly paid by the hour, this has a big impact on the salary.
  • Certifications: Like experience, more certifications help unlock specialized welding jobs that are almost always higher paying.
  • Bonuses: Benefits and bonuses vary by country and employer and though these incentives may not be directly monetary, they’re valuable and can be constituted for a part of your salary.

That said, looking at the average welding salary in your state or country is a reliable way of getting an idea of what the pay is like. Here is a list of average salaries for welders in the United States:

Note: You can press CTRL-F (Windows) or CMD + F (Mac) to search for your state.

What are the Necessary Qualifications to be a Certified Welder?

Welders are tradesmen which means their vocational skills are more important than a college education. That said, education is still important for any welder and it can actually help you gain crucial certifications and become eligible for high paying specialized jobs. Let’s take a look at some of these qualifications.

In welding, the educational qualifications may vary depending on the need of the employers, however, there are still some basic educational requirements that one would need in order to qualify as a welder. For instance, it is imperative that people who want to pursue welding need to have a high school diploma.

Here is the list of necessary qualifications that are required to be a welder:

  • High school diploma: One of the basic requirements to start off your welding career is a high school diploma. Many high schools, vocational schools, and community colleges provide specialized training courses for welding and metal fabrication.
  • Specialized training: Welding Certificate Programs allow students to learn in a class environment about practical applications. This program usually lasts from six to eighteen months and the cost of the program varies highly but most courses range from $3,000 to $5,000.
  • On-the-training experience: This is the apprenticeship period where students are required to get hands-on experience under a qualified welder and learn the welding dos and don’ts. Apart from learning about welding, there are also other important skills that one learns including customer management, teamwork, patience, organizing, etc. You can also earn from your apprenticeship which is always great.

Do You Need to Be Certified?

While there are a few states that require welders to be certified in order to work, this is not the case for the vast majority of the states in the USA (and many countries outside). That said, it is important to bear in mind that earning a welding certification does provide a lot of opportunities and provide customers with noticeable substantiation.

The following are the two methods of acquiring a welding certification:

American Welding Society (AWS) Certification

The American Welding Society (AWS) has a very unique and standardized way of testing a welder’s skills and talents and due to this, the certification has gained widespread recognition throughout the nation. Another great thing about certification is that people of all skill levels can apply, and because the examination is focused on performance, there are no prerequisite courses and certifications that are required. Today, many employers prefer using AWS certification instead of their own tests. Therefore, it is recommended to acquire the certification as it is a good indication of your performance level as well as dedication to the trade to prospective employers.

The AWS Certification is much more detailed and rigorous as compared to its traditional counterpart – employer certifications. Under this test, the students are judged on their practical knowledge as well as their knowledge of safety. In order to pass the examination, the students are required to get a 75 percent in practical knowledge and 90 percent in the safety section.

As welding is primarily a physical job, the AWS certification also has a hands-on practical test in addition to the abovementioned written test.

Now let’s take a look at the certifications that are offered:

  • Certified Welder (CW): The test has to be taken at an AWS Accredited Testing Facility and the cost of the test is approximately $50 (as per the 2020 pricelist).
  • Certified Welding Inspector (CWI): In order to qualify for the CWI, you need to pass a vision test and have a combination of qualifying education and work experience. The cost of the test is different for members and non-members and it ranges between $300 to $1800 (for different inspector positions).
  • Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI): In order to qualify as an SCWI, candidates need to have been certified as a CWI for a minimum of six (6) years out of the previous eight (8) years. Apart from this, the candidates are also required to have a minimum of 15 years’ work experience in at least three of the areas listed in AWS B5.
  • Certified Welding Educator (CWE): The test for the CWE is quite similar to the CWI test, however, Part C portion is not required for the CWE certification. The cost is $770 for members and $1,025 for non-members.
  • Certified Welding Sales Representative (CWSR): In order to take the CWSR exam, you need to have a high school diploma at least five years of experience in an occupational function in direct relation to the sales of welding equipment, cutting equipment, and supplies and other related services. The cost is $370 for members and $458 for non-members.

Employer Certification

Compared to the AWS certification, the employer certifications have been around for a lot longer. Under this test, the welder is required to demonstrate skills in one welding process, position, metal, and thickness range. Note that each and every employer certification may vary, so it is recommended to know what you will be tested on beforehand.

Let’s look at the different types of certifications that are offered under this certification:

  • Different welding processes
  • Different types of metals
  • Range of thickness
  • Filler Metal
  • Specifications
  • Different processes with shielding gas
  • Welding positions
  • Joint designs
  • Welding currents

How to Get a Welding Apprenticeship?

Once you’ve completed your high school education, your apprenticeship is going to be your next step, where you’re going to have hands-on experience under a qualified and skilled welder.

There are numerous ways to look for an apprenticeship, however, the most trusted are the U.S. Department of Labor’s website and the AWS website.

Another popular and recommended method is to visit the local welders in your area and apply to be their apprentice. This method has a lot of benefits and is often considered a much viable option for many people.

Wrapping Up

Welding is one of the most important jobs required in nearly every industry and right now it’s undergoing an exciting period of change with a lot of new and efficient welding technologies being adopted. The result of these changes include better working conditions, better pay, and greater safety. However, the barrier of entry has risen as well. Certifications and apprenticeships are now more important than ever but also more accessible.

In this article, we’ve covered the details of most of these requirements, however, we do recommend reading up more before talking to a prospective employer. You can find great resources on how to become a welder on the official American Welding Society’s website.