Welders play an important role in construction, manufacturing, shipbuilding and oil and gas excavation. To become a welder, you must undergo extensive training and acquire a great deal of skill. Welding wages often vary according to specialization and location. Many of the highest paid welders work overseas, under the sea and in educational institutions.
Common Welding Jobs
Many welders work in common welding positions, creating buildings, ships and aircraft, and constructing infrastructure such as bridges and highways. Using metal inert gas (MIG) and tungsten inert gas (TIG) welders, which produce arcs of electricity and tungsten electrodes to melt filler rods, welders fill holes or seams to join pieces of metal.
The welding craft requires expert knowledge of construction principles, as well as the physics behind heating and cooling metal. Welders must understand how to read blueprints and follow builders’ specifications.
Welding is a complex profession. Depending upon the types of metal she needs to join, a welder might choose one of more than 100 welding processes. Welding conditions also play a major role in the type of welds a welder must make. For instance, an oil pipeline welder must choose a welding process that minimized the chances of igniting the fuel.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, welders earned a median salary of around $40,000 in 2017. The median salary represents the middle of the welder pay scale. In a survey of all welders, top earners made around $63,000, while welders at the bottom of the pay scale took home less than $30,000.
6G Pipe Welder Jobs
Among numerous opportunities, a few welding jobs offer the best opportunity for an above average income.
6G welding positions are among the highest paying welding jobs. The term “6G” relates to the position and angle the welder must assume to join two pieces of metal. Commonly used in pipeline construction and repair, 6G welding requires the welder to join two pieces of pipe set at a 60-degree angle, a feat that requires extensive training and practice to master.
The 6G process calls for a steady hand and patience, as the welder slowly works around the diameter of the pipes to make three interlocking welds. The difficulty of the weld often depends on the location of the pipes, welding rod angle, position the welder must assume to make the weld and obstructing elements such as angle irons and mounting bases.
Welders who can perform a 6G weld have an advantage over their colleagues, because the process combines all pipe and structural welding positions, a skill few welders have. Certified 6G pipe welders have the opportunity to land high paying welding jobs, particularly if they are willing to travel.
For example, Innovative Refrigeration Systems, a refrigeration systems company, offers 6G pipe-welding jobs that pay $67,000 to $87,000 per year, at the time of this writing. The position requires extensive travel to job sites.
Most employers seek 6G welders with several years of experience, often requiring candidates to pass a pipe-welding test.
Underwater Welder Jobs
Underwater welding jobs require expert welding and scuba diving skills. Oil and gas companies that operate offshore excavation rigs often need underwater welders to install and repair structures and pipelines.
Underwater welders perform wet and dry welding techniques. Dry welding involves building a chamber around the welding location and filling it with a type of gas, which enables the welder to work in a dry environment. However, dry welding also increases pressure, which requires the welder to undergo a decompression process before rising to the surface.
Using the wet welding technique, welders perform welds in the water. Welders who perform wet welds often face the challenges of murky water and obstacles such as rocks, sea vegetation and coral. They must guard against the dangers of differential pressure, which can occur when water pressure changes. In some cases, divers affected by differential pressure can suffer hypothermia or drown.
Some schools offer training that combines diving and welding skills. For instance, Divers Institute of Technology offers a seven-month underwater welding program in Seattle, Washington. The program does not require prior diving experience. The school offers financial assistance, accepts veteran’s benefits and assists students in finding temporary housing. Welders who successfully complete the course can earn certification by the Diver Certification Board of Canada, an organization that certifies occupational divers, which enables them to qualify for international underwater welding jobs.
According to the jobs website PayScale, underwater welders earn an average salary of nearly $80,000 per year. Oil and gas companies that operate rigs in the Gulf of Mexico often offer underwater welding jobs.
Overseas Welder Jobs
Accepting an overseas welding job can lead to an adventure, along with a hefty paycheck. Oil and gas companies often recruit American welders to work in the oil fields of the Middle East. For example, at the time of this writing, the jobs website Naukri listed several welding positions in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. One offers an annual salary of $57,000 to $100,000, while another pays $42,000 to $71,000. Companies in the oil and gas industry usually seek welders with several years of welding experience, and often pay for housing, insurance and meals.
At times, you can find high-paying welding jobs in exotic locations. For example, another Naukri posting offers a welding job at a Fiji bus manufacturing plant, which pays $57,000 to $71,000 per year. The position requires a candidate with at least three years of experience in the automobile manufacturing industry.
Nathaniel Travels and Academy Private Limited offers job placement for medical, information technology and engineering professionals. One Nathaniel Travels listing offers a welding position for a manufacturing factory in German. The job pays $200,000 to $214,000 per year, and includes medical benefits and free housing.
Typically, overseas welding jobs require you to sign a contract, often for at least one year.
Welding Instructor Jobs
Many welding instructor jobs pay substantially higher wages than common welding positions do. For example, a search of the jobs website Indeed returned a listing for a welding teacher at Victor Valley College in Victorville, California, which pays $57 to $62 per hour.
Another listing offers a $65-per-hour teaching position at Lee College in Baytown, Texas. Yet another Indeed posting advertises a welding instructor job at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, which pays $60 per hour.
Typically, schools seek welding instructors who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and who have a few years of welding work experience. Some educational institutions accept candidates who have associate’s degrees, if they have many years of welding experience, particularly in pipe welding.
Many teaching positions only offer part-time employment. Nonetheless, an instructor who works 20 hours per week, for $60 an hour, can earn an annual income of $62,000 per year.
Employers usually look for welders who have at least a high school diploma. Many prefer candidates who have received on-the-job training, or graduates of welding programs offered by technical schools or community colleges. Typically, welding programs include coursework in mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, physics, metallurgy, mathematics and chemistry.
Welders who received training in high school or the military can also qualify for many welding positions.
Many employers prefer certified welders. Certification can boost your career by adding credentials to your resume. Many technical school and community college welding courses led to some type of certification. The American Welding Society offers many certifications, including certified welding inspector, certified welding supervisor, certified radiographic interpreter, certified welding engineer and certified welding educator.
Welder Job Outlook
According to the BLS, jobs for welders should increase by around 6 percent, through 2026. BLS estimates account for employment increases in all welder jobs, but these estimates do not offer specific data about the high-paying positions mentioned here.
High-growth areas for welders may include infrastructure projects such as highway, power plant and bridge construction.
During economic downturns, some industries reduce their construction staffs. However, because of the versatile nature of the welding profession, many welders can easily transfer their skills between industries.