Leaving college degrees aside, one of the trades that earns a good amount of money is a certified welder. Welding skills are always in demand, and a certification in welding can increase your earning capacity by 50% or more.
Here are some key stats on becoming a certified welder:
- A certified welder earns an average of $63,000 per year, compared to an uncertified experienced welder who earns around $45,000 per year on average.
- The welding profession is projected to grow 6% annually from 2016 to 2026.
- 83% of certified welders do it as their full-time job.
- The North American market for certified welders is vast, covering everything to oil & gas, construction, shipbuilding, high-tech manufacturing and automotive fabrication.
There are hundreds of education institutions throughout the U.S. that provide welding certification under the auspices of the American Welding Society (AWS). Employer certification is also available, but an AWS certification is the most widely recognized and transferable from job to job.
Now that you’ve got the facts about the upsides to welding certification, let’s dig in.
How To Become a Certified Welder?
Becoming certified in a high-end specialized skill like welding is challenging. You need to be serious and passionate to become a certified welder. Here the 6 steps you need to take:
Step 1: Commit To the Goal
The first thing before you start your journey is to be sure you’re fully committed to becoming a certified welder. It will be challenging, time-consuming, will cost some money and takes dedication. So you need to be in the mindset that you are going to focus and persist until you get there. If you slack off or take too much time, or get unmotivated, then your effort won’t get you to the goal.
Welding is a serious job. People’s lives (not to mention your career) depend on the quality of your welds. It requires physical strength, teamwork, commitment, productive drive, adaptability and a passion for quality.
Before you do anything, ask yourself “Am I really committed to this? Do I want to do it for the next 3, 5, 10, 20 years?” If the answer is yes (and it should be) then get yourself prepared for some hard work.
Step 2: Get Practical Experience
The welding profession is generally performance-based. You don’t need to be certified to weld, and thousands of certified welders begin every year by welding at farms, on the job or in their garages.
If you work at a company that has a practical welding track or apprentice program, that’s a fantastic place to start. Otherwise, you can self-teach or take a community college welding class, or even go to a local trade school.
In this early practical experience time, try to focus on one area of welding and get good at it. Whether it’s stick welding, MIG or TIG (or even brazing), it doesn’t matter. What matters is you get enough experience to lay down a consistent strong weld so you’re capable of taking a welding exam.
Step 3: Select Your Welding Certification
The American Welding Society (AWS) offers multiple welding certifications. They have 11 different certifications by category. These include:
- Certified Welder (CW)
- Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CRWT)
- Certified Radiographic Interpreter (CRI)
- Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS)
- Certified Welding Engineer (CWE)
- Certified Robotic Arc Welding (CRAW)
- Certified Associate Welding Inspector (CAWI)
- Certified Welding Inspector (CWI)
- Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI)
- Certified Welding Educator (CWE)
- Certified Welding Sales Representative (CWSR)
The basic certification is the Certified Welder (CW) that costs $35. It is 100% performance-based, with zero prerequisite courses or certifications required. It focuses on testing welding skills used in the structural steel, pipeline, sheet metal and refinery areas.
The Certified Welder (CW) program has 12 different sub-certifications that you can get, focusing on different materials and methods commonly used in industry. These include:
- SWAW Plate
- GMAW Plate
- FCAW Plate
- GTAW Plate
- Structural Steel (S.S.) 18 Gauge through 10 Gauge
- SMAW Pipe
- GTAW Pipe (Carbon Steel)
- GTAW Pipe (Stainless Steel to Carbon Steel)
- GTAW Pipe (Stainless Steel)
- GTAW/SMAW Pipe (Carbon Steel)
- GTAW/SMAW Pipe (Chrome PWHT)
- GTAW/SMAW Pipe (Chrome Carbon Steel)
See this PDF for more details on each sub-certification.
Once you’re ready, you simply sign up and take the exam in-person at one of the U.S. AWS-Accredited Testing Facilities.
Step 4: Employer Certification
Another path you can take, if available, is to go through your employer’s welding certification program. This will let you get paid while you learn, and gain new skills quickly with practical experience. Large companies like Chevron, United Technologies, etc. have big welding programs with many instructors and highly experienced welders to learn from.
After getting enough knowledge and moving up the employer welding certification ladder, your mission will be to move up to a new salary and responsibility level in the same company. Or you can move to another company actively recruiting skilled welders.
One important thing to consider here: Your employer certification should come from a well-known company in the field. This gives you credibility with other companies in that field, or broadly across different industries. If you got certified as a welder in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then this will be well-recognized wherever you go in your career. Another good example is Boston Iron Group welding and fabrication services in Boston, MA. A small 2-employee company’s welding certification program might be challenged or ignored when you go looking for a better job.
Step 5: Adapt and Expand
Once you get your initial certification, keep perfecting that part of your welding skills. Then expand them, learning new welding techniques and materials doing side jobs. The goal of these jobs is to earn money and learn at the same time.
Ideally, you could team up with another welder who is more experienced in the area you’re expanding into. He or she will have the specialized tools and techniques to share, in exchange for sharing your skills and experience.
Adapt and gather new knowledge as fast as possible and apply it to your professional work field. Then take more AWS certification exams.
Step 6: Keep Your Journey Going
There is never an end to learning and applying new welding skills. The journey of becoming a certified welder and perfecting your capabilities can be a life-long pursuit. You can move up from a Certified Welder to a Certified Welding Instructor, and then on to a Certified Welding Inspector. The AWS certifications, combined with your on-the-job experience in many different situations, will give you the foundation for a long-term career growth.
Who Can Certify A Welder?
Welding certifications can only be granted by highly experienced welders having the requisite equipment, skills and testing structure.
In the U.S., Canada and the U.K., the main welding certification organizations are:
- American Welding Society (AWS) www.aws.org
- The United Association www.ua.org/welding
- Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) www.cwbweb.com
- The Welding Institute (TWI) www.twitraining.com/home/certification-schemes
Is a Welding Certification Worth It?
Almost every large field related to the industrial manufacturing, construction, aerospace, mining or oil & gas needs welders, from building skyscrapers to spacecraft and runnig factory welding machinery. The demand for skilled certified welders is constant.
According to Indeed, the average welder without a certification earns $17.90 per hour. The typical salary level goes up twice or more with a welding certification.
Here’s a table of the top 5 U.S. states that pay the highest welding salaries:
Earning these levels of money is only possible when you are a certified welder. This makes a welding certification very valuable, as it virtually guarantees a constant stream of work and raises over the long term.
Even if you lose your job, you can earn a solid living as a certified welder by working for yourself, or contracting to multiple companies.
Hopefully this article has answered How To Become A Certified Welder, and you’re farther ahead in your professional goals.