Welders join pieces of metal by applying extreme heat to melt the edges
or surfaces of the metal.
This process creates a permanent joint, increasing the strength and improving
the appearance of metal products. Welding allows us to have sleek modern cars
-- they couldn't have been put together using rivets.
What kinds of people are well suited for a career in welding?
"People who are a little mechanically inclined and who like to build,"
says Kim Buchan. He has been a welder for more than 30 years.
"Just like a carpenter, if you like to build things, and you like to build
them in metal, then you'd be very interested in [welding]," says Buchan.
There are many different kinds of welds, but most use what is called a
"filler rod." This is a rod of metal that is melted to fuse two pieces of
Arc welding is a type of welding that uses a filler rod. Arc welding uses
a machine to supply electricity, and an electric arc is formed between the
object being welded and the filler rod. The edges of the object are melted
and the filler rod supplies extra metal for the bead. The bead is the raised
portion formed by the added metal from the filler rod.
In contrast, oxyacetylene welding is a type of welding in which the metals
are joined together by heating their edges with a flame. The flame melts the
metal and the pieces are joined.
Welders have to cut and weld all types of metals, such as aluminum and
steel. They work on all kinds of objects, including high-pressure pipes, construction
machinery and submarines.
"Nowadays, especially with so many exotic metals, there's so much you need
to know, because each metal will have a particular welding process," says
Buchan. "So you're reading constantly to keep up to date with that stuff."
Welders use different methods to fuse metal together. They also know how
to finish a weld. The edges are ground off a weld because the bead can be
sharp or jagged. The weld is often painted with a primer coat to protect the
Welders can work at mines, industrial sites, construction sites, small
or large mechanic shops, shipyards, logging camps and many other locations.
Welders work anywhere that metal is used to construct products or where metal
objects need to be repaired. Those who are trained in welding can later do
other types of jobs as well.
"There are so many opportunities to veer from the welding," says Buchan.
He's the coordinator of a welding program at a college.
"A lot of welders that leave here, they may not end up going into a welding
career totally -- it's given them a stepping stone to go to heavy duty mechanic
or millwright or pipe fitter, because they all require some form of welding.
"Every trade needs welding at some point," Buchan adds. "If you look in
the papers, when they're advertising for a heavy duty mechanic or a millwright,
many times it says welding would be an asset."
Bill Komlos agrees. He started his career as a welder and is now a welding
inspector with a US Patent to improve the performance of welds.
"You don't get stuck in any one position in being a welder," says Komlos.
He says you could start your own welding business. You could get into welding
equipment sales. You could become a welding educator.
"Just because you learn how to weld does not mean you're just going to
be a 'Sweaty Eddie' with a hood on all day," says Komlos. "That's just the
beginning. Welding is not a closed-end, drudgery kind of job."
Shop welders usually work a five-day week, often starting at 8 a.m. and
working through to 4 or 5 p.m. If there is extra work, they may have to come
in on weekends. Many of those working in production companies do shift work.
The industry can be seasonal. Welders are busy in the summer months when
roads are being constructed and houses are being built. The work can slow
to a trickle during winter months.
The vast majority of welders are male. But more women are starting to enter
the field. "I'd say it's changing quite a bit because my class in particular
is half girls and half guys," says Melissa Gosse. She's a second-year welding
engineering technician student.
"[A] non-traditional job is something that more women are
interested in these days, instead of just a typical job."
It's a tough job. Welding shops are usually dirty, hot and smoky. Welders
have to lift heavy objects and climb around large machinery. And they often
suffer from burns.
"In general, you have to wear protective clothing, so that means I've got
to wear one and two and three layers, and a helmet, and a hood, safety glasses,
and I've got a 3,500-degree arc in front of me... and I'm wearing gloves,"
says Steve Mattson. He's a district director for the American Welding Society
and the owner of a welding repair service.
"Now the problem is, it's not 25 degrees everywhere I go in this country,"
Mattson adds. "The problem is, I'm welding in the boiler house (for example).
That boiler house is 85 to 90 to 100 degrees. So, it is demanding -- extremely
demanding. It takes a driven individual to want to do that."
"There are not enough welders and other [skilled laborers] out there to
actually do the work that engineers and the country needs to have done," says
Bill Komlos. He's a district director for the American Welding Society. He's
also a welding inspector.
"There'll be a shortage of more than 450,000 welders and welding related
personnel in the next 10 years," says Komlos. "We're at a crisis. We've been
talking about this crisis in welding now for 15 years. It finally hit the
U.S. about five years ago, when the country was really humming along. You
couldn't find welders to do the jobs. All the shops had signs out -- 'Welders