More than 6 out of 10 jobs are found in manufacturing industries.
Training ranges 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.
Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average.
Job prospects should be excellent as employers report difficulty
finding enough qualified people.
Nature of the Work
Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts.
In this process, heat is applied to metal pieces, melting and
fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength,
welding is used in shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and
repair, aerospace applications, and thousands of other manufacturing
activities. Welding also is used to join beams when constructing
buildings, bridges, and other structures, and to join pipes in
pipelines, power plants, and refineries.
Welders use many types of welding equipment set up 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 semiautomatic welding, in which the
welder uses machinery, such as a wire feeder, to perform welding
There are about 100 different types of welding. Arc welding is
the most common type. Standard arc welding involves two large
metal alligator clips that carry a strong electrical current.
One clip is attached to any part of the workpiece being welded.
The second clip is connected to a thin welding rod. When the rod
touches the workpiece, a powerful electrical circuit is created.
The massive heat created by the electrical current causes both
the workpiece and the steel core of the rod to melt together,
cooling quickly to form a solid bond. During welding, the flux
that surrounds the rod’s core vaporizes, forming an inert gas
that serves to protect the weld from atmospheric elements that
might weaken it. Welding speed is important. Variations in speed
can change the amount of flux applied, weakening the weld, or
weakening the surrounding metal by increasing heat exposure.
Two common but advanced types of arc welding are Tungsten Inert
Gas (TIG) and Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding. TIG welding often
is used with stainless steel or aluminum. While TIG uses welding
rods, MIG uses a spool of continuously fed wire, which allows
the welder to join longer stretches of metal without stopping
to replace the rod. In TIG welding, the welder holds the welding
rod in one hand and an electric torch in the other hand. The torch
is used to simultaneously melt the rod and the workpiece. In MIG
welding, the welder holds the wire feeder, which functions like
the alligator clip in arc welding. Instead of using gas flux surrounding
the rod, TIG and MIG protect the initial weld from the environment
by blowing inert gas onto the weld.
Like arc welding, soldering and brazing use molten metal to join
two pieces of metal. However, the metal added during the process
has a melting point lower than that of the workpiece, so only
the added metal is melted, not the workpiece. Soldering uses metals
with a melting point below 800 degrees Fahrenheit; brazing uses
metals with a higher melting point. Because soldering and brazing
do not melt the workpiece, these processes normally do not create
the distortions or weaknesses in the workpiece that can occur
with welding. Soldering commonly is used to join electrical, electronic,
and other small metal parts. Brazing produces a stronger joint
than does soldering, and often is used to join metals other than
steel, such as brass. Brazing can also be used to apply coatings
to parts to reduce wear and protect against corrosion.
Skilled welding, soldering, and brazing workers generally plan
work from drawings or specifications or use their knowledge of
fluxes and base metals to analyze the parts to be joined. These
workers then select and set up welding equipment, execute the
planned welds, and examine welds to ensure that they meet standards
or specifications. They are even examining the weld while they’re
welding. By observing problems with the weld, they compensate
by adjusting the speed, voltage, amperage, or feed of the rod.
Highly skilled welders often are trained to work with a wide variety
of materials in addition to steel, such as titanium, aluminum,
or plastics. Some welders have more limited duties, however. They
perform routine jobs that already have been planned and laid out
and do not require extensive knowledge of welding techniques.
Automated welding is used in an increasing number of production
processes. In these instances, a machine or robot performs the
welding tasks while monitored by a welding machine operator. Welding,
soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders
follow specified layouts, work orders, or blueprints. Operators
must load parts correctly and constantly monitor the machine to
ensure that it produces the desired bond.
The work of arc, plasma, and oxy-gas cutters is closely related
to that of welders. However, instead of joining metals, cutters
use the heat from an electric arc, a stream of ionized gas (plasma),
or burning gases to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions.
Cutters also dismantle large objects, such as ships, railroad
cars, automobiles, buildings, or aircraft. Some operate and monitor
cutting machines similar to those used by welding machine operators.
Plasma cutting has been increasing in popularity because, unlike
other methods, it can cut a wide variety of metals, including
stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium.
Welding, soldering, and brazing workers often are exposed to
a number of hazards, including the intense light created by the
arc, poisonous fumes, and very hot materials. They wear safety
shoes, goggles, hoods with protective lenses, and other devices
designed to prevent burns and eye injuries and to protect them
from falling objects. They normally work in well-ventilated areas
to limit their exposure to fumes. Automated welding, soldering,
and brazing machine operators are not exposed to as many dangers,
however, and a face shield or goggles usually provide adequate
protection for these workers.
Welders and cutters may work outdoors, often in inclement weather,
or indoors, sometimes in a confined area designed to contain sparks
and glare. Outdoors, they may work on a scaffold or platform high
off the ground. In addition, they may be required to lift heavy
objects and work in a variety of awkward positions, while bending,
stooping, or standing to perform work overhead.
Although about 52 percent of welders, solderers, and brazers
work a 40-hour week, overtime is common, and some welders work
up to 70 hours per week. Welders also may work in shifts as long
as 12 hours. Some welders, solderers, brazers, and machine operators
work in factories that operate around the clock, necessitating
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Training for welding, soldering, and brazing workers 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 postsecondary institutions, such
as vocational-technical institutes, community colleges, and private
welding schools. The Armed Forces operate welding schools as well.
While some employers provide basic training, they prefer to hire
workers with experience or more formal training. Courses in blueprint
reading, shop mathematics, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry,
and metallurgy are helpful. An understanding of electricity also
is very helpful and knowledge of computers is gaining importance,
especially for welding, soldering, and brazing machine operators,
who are becoming more responsible for the programming of computer-controlled
machines, including robots.
Some welders become certified, a process whereby the employer
sends a worker to an institution, such as an independent testing
lab, equipment manufacturer, or technical school, to weld a test
specimen according to specific codes and standards required by
the employer. Testing procedures are based on the standards and
codes set by industry associations with which the employer may
be affiliated. If the welding inspector at the examining institution
determines that the worker has performed according to the employer’s
guidelines, the inspector will then certify that the welder being
tested is able to work with a particular welding procedure.
Welding, soldering, and brazing workers need good eyesight, hand-eye
coordination, and manual dexterity. They should be able to concentrate
on detailed work for long periods and be able to bend, stoop,
and work in awkward positions. In addition, welders increasingly
need to be willing to receive training and perform tasks in other
Welders can advance to more skilled welding jobs with additional
training and experience. For example, they may become welding
technicians, supervisors, inspectors, or instructors. Some experienced
welders open their own repair shops.
Welding, soldering, and brazing workers held about 429,000 jobs
in 2004. Of these jobs, more than 6 of every 10 were found in
manufacturing. Jobs were concentrated in fabricated metal product
manufacturing, transportation equipment manufacturing (motor vehicle
body and parts and ship and boat building), machinery manufacturing
(agriculture, construction, and mining machinery), architectural
and structural metals manufacturing, and construction. Most jobs
for welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators,
and tenders were found in the same manufacturing industries as
skilled welding, soldering, and brazing workers.
Employment of welding, soldering, and brazing workers is expected
to grow more slowly than average for all occupations over the
2004-14 period. Despite this, job prospects should be excellent
as employers report difficulty finding enough qualified people.
In addition, many openings are expected to arise as a large number
of workers retire over the next decade.
The major factor affecting employment of welders is the health
of the industries in which they work. The manufacturing sector,
which employs the most welding, soldering, and brazing workers,
is expected to continue to decline as more manufacturing moves
overseas. Because almost every manufacturing industry uses welding
at some stage of manufacturing or in the repair and maintenance
of equipment, this overall decline will affect the demand for
welders, although some industries will fare better than others.
The construction industry is expected to have solid growth over
the next decade and an increasing demand for welders. Government
funding for shipbuilding as well as for infrastructure repairs
and improvements are expected to generate additional welding jobs.
Pressures to improve productivity and hold down labor costs are
leading many companies to invest more in automation, especially
computer-controlled and robotically controlled welding machinery.
This will reduce the demand for some welders, solderers, and brazers
because many repetitive jobs are being automated. The growing
use of automation, however, should increase demand for welding,
soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders.
Welders working on construction projects or in equipment repair
will not be affected by technology change to the same extent,
because their jobs are often unique and not as easily automated.
Despite slower-than-average job growth, technology is creating
more uses for welding in the workplace and expanding employment
opportunities. For example, new ways are being developed to bond
dissimilar materials and nonmetallic materials, such as plastics,
composites, and new alloys. Also, laser beam and electron beam
welding, new fluxes, and other new technologies and techniques
are improving the results of welding, making it useful in a wider
assortment of applications. Improvements in technology have also
boosted welding productivity, making welding more competitive
with other methods of joining materials.
Median hourly earnings of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers
were $14.72 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$11.90 and $18.05. The lowest 10 percent had earnings of less
than $9.79, while the top 10 percent earned over $22.20. The range
of earnings of welders reflects the wide range of skill levels.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers in May 2004
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
Agriculture, construction, and mining machinery
Architectural and structural metals manufacturing
Commercial and industrial machinery and
equipment (except automotive and electronic) repair and
Motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing
Median hourly earnings of welding, soldering, and brazing machine
setters, operators, and tenders were $14.32 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $11.73 and $17.78. The lowest 10 percent
had earnings of less than $9.63, while the top 10 percent earned
over $23.54. Median hourly earnings in motor vehicle parts manufacturing,
the industry employing the largest numbers of welding machine
operators in May 2004, were $15.43.
Many 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, Pipefitting,
Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada; and
the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America.
Welding, soldering, and brazing workers are skilled metal workers.
Other metal workers include Machinists; machine setters, operators,
and tenders—metal and plastic; computer control programmers and
operators; tool and die makers; sheet metal workers; and boilermakers.
Assemblers and fabricators of electrical and electronic equipment
often assemble parts using soldering.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on training opportunities and jobs for welding,
soldering, and brazing workers, contact local employers, the local
office of the State employment service, or schools providing welding,
soldering, or brazing training.
Information on careers and educational opportunities in welding
is available from: