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Cal Trade Welding School

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Mike Graham: I noticed your helpful reply to Christophe. My 18 year old son has just began welders school at the Louisiana Votech School . Would you be kind enough to send him a few words of encouragement regarding the field he has chosen? Welding is a wide career, do you have any recommendations (or opinions) of where he should go in welding (specialties?). Thanks from the father of an 18 year old.

Welding is generally considered to be a skilled trade. This varies by area; technically, in the province of Canada that I live in it is a semi-skilled trade. If your son is learning at a vocational school, then I would suspect that it is a semi-skilled trade in your area as well. In areas where welding is a skilled trade you begin in an apprenticeship for several years. The field of welding is very broad, and the financial rewards are quite broad, too. The low end of the financial scale is generally manufacturing where you do the same thing, welding the same beads, over and over. When unions are involved, of course, these jobs can pay significantly higher. Welding in a manufacturing setting generally doesn't require knowledge; if you have the skill to make the bead where they tell you to make it, then that's all the manufacturer is worried about. The more interesting and challenging fields for me are repair welding and welding in a fabrication setting. Repair welding is quite variable, and requires a broad knowledge base in addition to skill. This knowledge can be gleaned from books and classes held by the American Welding Society. The other weldors in the shop will also be a good resource if they have been maintaining their knowledge base. Other trades such as pipefitting and boilermaking use a lot of welding as well, and these might be a possibility if 'regular' welding turns out to be unrewarding. New alloys, new machines, and new processes come along all the time. If you want to be a good repair or general fabrication weldor you really should keep your knowledge base current; know what the new machines can do, and what the pitfalls of the new alloys are. Getting certification for your skills is important if you want to be able to market your skills. Saying you've been in business for umpteen years is great, and a lot of people will respect that, but it doesn't help you when you're just starting out, so you need paper. Repair welding can be quite rewarding, but it can be treacherous, and very demanding. A weldor I know is a very successful repair weldor in these parts for gravel-pit machinery, and he's had to crawl over 100 feet up a crane to do a repair. I routinely have to slog through muddy fields to get to a broken combine or tractor. That doesn't happen every day, but you might be pulling yourself through pipes or crawlspaces to get at the problem. Your working environment is not always easily controlable. Fabrication welding is usually a bit easier from an environmental perspective. You work in a shop most of the time, and you can be fairly certain that you're not going to be wading knee-deep through a cowshed to get to the repair site. A good fabrication weldor should have a top-notch ability to read and understand blueprints and welding symbols. Fabrication is often one-off production, so what you're doing this week isn't what you'll be doing next week. Different materials, perhaps, different processes. In many shops (particularly union shops, so I have heard) a fabrication weldor works in partnership with a fabricator who does the blueprint reading and marks out the welds on the piece for the weldor. This situation in some ways reduces the role of the fabrication weldor, but it's a great way to learn fabricating. The plum job, I suppose, is doing small-scale TIG work where you can sit in a chair and do precise work in a warm environment. Ultimately, you probably won't want to be still burning rod 30 years down the road. You'll want to be the supervisor, or a fabricator, or an inspector. These jobs require knowledge. Hone your skills, certainly, but never ignore your knowledge base. Subscribe to a trade journal and read about new processes. Browse the AWS (American Welding Society) web-page and look into the courses offered to learn welding inspection and other knowledge-tasks.

A lot of what I do, personally is farm-repair welding. I also fabricate feeders and things like that on the side. When you're self employed you need to think things through just like any other business; what do you have to offer that a regular manufacturer doesn't? If somebody can go to the co-op and order a bull-gate for $50 less than I can reasonably charge, then I need to make sure that I'm offering something extra. Maybe I use heavier materials, or maybe I'm willing to customize the size of the gate to exactly fit the opening in their barn. The value-added aspect is important in a welding business just as in any other.

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