Career Paths for Welders
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 60 percent of the nation’s welders work in manufacturing; however, there are numerous other career paths a welder can take. Whether it’s repairing small parts of military equipment or welding enormous steel girders in the belly of a ship, you can be sure to find work in an industry that you enjoy.
Hyperbaric and Underwater Welding
Hyperbaric welding is welding done in a dry, high-pressure underwater chamber. Any welding technique can be used in this environment, although gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) is the most common. Conversely, with underwater welding—that is, when the welder is not in a dry chamber—only shielded metal arc welding or flux-cored arc welding can be used.
Welding underwater, whether dry or wet, is a very dangerous job. Divers are at high risk of pressure injuries and face the possibility of electric shock, hypothermia or drowning. It does, however, provide steady work: underwater welders are in high demand in coastal states such as Washington, Alaska, Florida and Texas. Many jobs in this field are in the oil and gas industry and in shipbuilding.
Maritime Welding (Shipbuilding and Maintenance)
Shipyards have welders working around the clock, building and repairing various types of ships. One of the challenges with shipyard welding is working in uncomfortable spaces, like confined areas or high on girders; these awkward work areas also mean that welds may be at difficult angles. Skilled maritime welders are always in demand, though. Available jobs are centered around major ports, including Los Angeles, New York City and Detroit.
Maritime welders are also needed to maintain working ships, such as cruise ships and freighters. While this comes with the same challenges as shipyard welding, onboard jobs give welders a chance to travel while earning a paycheck.
Oil and Gas Industry
Welding in the oil and gas industry usually involves pipeline building, pipeline installation and repairs to pipes, machinery or rigs. This is also an industry where underwater welding is in demand.
Work is done on-site; this often means spending weeks at a time offshore or in remote locations. On-shore jobs are readily available in Texas and North Dakota, as well as Alaska, California and New Mexico. Work on oil platforms can be found off the coasts of California and Alaska, in the Gulf of Mexico and abroad.
All four branches of the military offer opportunities for welders. However, because the Marine Corps has a lesser need for welders, marines assigned to a welding position may wind up working with another branch of the military. Tasks within each branch are varied and could include building and maintaining ships, working on vehicles, fabricating parts or doing emergency repairs in the field.
There are two training locations for military welders: the Naval welding school in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. As well as receiving high-quality training in exchange for a period of active service, you will gain valuable experience in a variety of settings.
Welding Machine Operator
With advances in technology, there has been a movement toward the use of automated welding machines. While this may seem like it’s putting skilled welders out of jobs, in reality there will always be a need for knowledgeable machine operators. Working as a welding machine operator requires experience in welding, an understanding of the machinery you’re working with and the ability and willingness to stay up-to-date on the latest technology.
Automated and semi-automated welding machines are often found in fabrication and manufacturing settings. Since manufacturing industries employ the largest number of welders and with more and more companies turning to automated welding, this could be a long-lasting career.
Choosing the Path That’s Right for You
Good skills are highly sought-after in every industry and every welding technique. These skills are best developed in a field that challenges you and keeps your interest, so look at a variety of industries and specializations before deciding where you want to work. Compare the physical demands, technical knowledge and day-to-day requirements of the job with your strengths and interests, because ultimately, welding is a demanding career that requires dedication to your craft.