Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts. Heat is applied to the pieces to be joined, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength, welding is used to construct and repair parts of ships, automobiles, spacecraft, and thousands of other manufactured products. Welding is used to join beams when constructing buildings, bridges, and other structures, and pipes in nuclear power plants and refineries.
Welders use all types of welding equipment in a variety of positions, such as flat, vertical, horizontal, and overhead. They may perform manual welding, in which the work is entirely controlled by the welder, or semi-automatic welding, in which the welder uses machinery, such as a wire feeder, to perform welding tasks. They generally plan work from drawings or specifications or by analyzing damaged metal, using their knowledge of welding and metals. They select and set up welding equipment and may also examine welds to insure they meet standards or specifications. Some welders have more limited duties. They perform routine production work that has already been planned and laid out. These jobs do not require knowledge of all welding techniques.
In many production processeswhere the work is repetitive and the items to be welded are relatively uniformautomated welding is used. In this process, a machine performs the welding tasks while monitored by a welding machine operator. Welding machine operators set up and operate welding machines as specified by layouts, work orders, or blueprints. Operators must constantly monitor the machine to ensure that it produces the desired weld.
The work of arc, plasma, and flame cutters is closely related to that of welders. However, instead of joining metals, cutters use the heat from burning gases or an electric arc to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. Cutters also dismantle large objects, such as ships, railroad cars, automobiles or aircraft. Some operate and monitor cutting machines similar to those used by welding machine operators.
Welders and cutters frequently are exposed to potential hazards. They use protective clothing, safety shoes, goggles, helmets with protective lenses, and other devices to prevent burns and eye injuries and to protect them from falling objects. Automated welding machine operators are not exposed to as many hazards. A face shield or goggles generally provide adequate protection. Because some metals may give off toxic gases and fumes as they melt, Federal regulations require ventilation to meet strict guidelines to minimize these hazards. Occasionally, some workers are in contact with rust, grease, and dirt on metal surfaces. Some welders are isolated for short intervals while they work in booths constructed to contain sparks and glare. Welders often work in a variety of awkward positions, having to make welds while bending, stooping, or working overhead. In some settings, however, working conditions are much better and few hazards or discomforts are encountered.
Welders, cutters, and welding machine operators held about 416,000 jobs in 1994. About 9 out of 10 welders and cutters were employed in manufacturing, services, construction, or wholesale trade. The majority of those in manufacturing were employed in transportation equipment, industrial machinery and equipment, or fabricated metal products. All welding machine operators were employed in manufacturing industries, primarily fabricated metal products, machinery, and motor vehicles. Almost 2 of 5 welders are employed in six States: Texas, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and IllinoisStates heavily dominated by automobile and fabricated metal products manufacturing, and by the petroleum and chemical industry.
Training for welders can range from a few weeks of school or on-the-job training for low skilled positions to several years of combined school and on-the-job training for highly skilled jobs. Formal training is available in high schools, vocational schools, and post-secondary institutions such as vocational-technical institutes, community colleges, and private welding schools. The Armed Forces operate welding schools as well. Some employers provide training to help welders improve their skills. Courses in blueprint reading, shop mathematics, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry, and metallurgy are helpful.
Some welders become certified, a process whereby the employer sends a worker to an institution, such as an independent testing lab or technical school to weld a test specimen to specific codes and standards required by the employer. The testing procedures are usually based on the standards and codes set by one of several industry associations the employer may be affiliated with. If the welding inspector at the examining institution determines that the worker has performed according to the employer's guidelines, he or she then certifies that the welder being tested is able to work with a particular welding procedure.
Welders and cutters need manual dexterity, good eyesight, and good hand-eye coordination. They should be able to concentrate on detailed work for long periods and be able to bend, stoop, and work in awkward positions.
Welders can advance to more skilled jobs with additional training and experience. They may be promoted to welding technicians, supervisors, inspectors, or instructors. Some experienced welders open their own repair shops.
Opportunities for those who wish to become welders, cutters, and welding machine operators should be good through the year 2005 as the number of qualified (certified) welders graduating from technical schools is expected to be in balance with the number of job openings resulting from the need to replace experienced workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Employment of welders, cutters, and welding machine operators is expected to decline through the year 2005.
In certain industriesconstruction, wholesale trade, and repair services, for exampleemployment of welders and cutters will increase (see accompanying chart). The level of construction is expected to expand, as is the number of metal products needing repair, increasing the need for welding and cutting. This work is generally less routine and more difficult to automate than other welding jobs. Greater use of welding automation in manufacturing using simple repetitive welds could cause manual welders to be replaced by or retrained to become welding machine operators. Automated welding systems are expected to cause a decline in the employment of welding machine operators. Despite the welding jobs eliminated by automated welding systems, manual welders, especially those with a wide variety of skills, will still be needed for the maintenance, repair, and other work in manufacturing that cannot be automated. Certified welders, especially those certified in more than one process, will have much better employment opportunities than non-certified welders.
Welders, cutters, and welding machine operators in construction and manufacturing are vulnerable to periodic layoffs due to economic downturns.
Median earnings for welders and welding machine operators were about $460 a week in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $345 and $597. The top 10 percent earned more than $786, and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $281.
More than one-fourth of welders belong to unions. Among these are the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada; and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America.
Welders and cutters are skilled metal workers. Other metal workers include blacksmiths, forge shop workers, all-round machinists, machine-tool operators, tool and die makers, millwrights, sheet-metal workers, boilermakers, and metal sculptors.
Welding machine operators run machines that weld metal parts. Others who run metalworking machines include lathe and turning, milling and planing, punching and stamping press, and rolling machine operators.
For information on training opportunities and jobs for welders, cutters, and welding machine operators, contact local employers, the local office of the State employment service, or schools providing welding training.
Information on careers in welding is available from:
American Welding Society, 550 NW. LeJeune Rd., Miami, FL 33126-5699.
For a list of accredited schools that offer training in welding, contact:
Career College Association, 750 1st Street NE, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20002.