The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that welding, brazing, and soldering professionals comprise over 10 percent of the aggregate workforce in manufacturing, shipbuilding, and heavy industries. As welding is often the best means of joining separate parts securely, welders are in high demand across several industries. They also enjoy many privileges and perks, which include competitive pay, job security, and a rewarding career without a college degree.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a welder, an apprenticeship is a great way to do so. Before applying for an apprenticeship, there are several things that you should know about. What qualities do employers look for in candidates? How can you gain an edge over others through a course or certificate? What type of jobs will you be performing on-site, and what skills do you need?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to get a welding apprenticeship.
The welding industry has several apprenticeship programs in place because there is a strong need to cultivate, nurture, and train a skilled workforce. At the moment, the US is facing a severe shortage of qualified welding professionals.
Although there is a rising demand for welders due to the growing industry, the supply of welders is dwindling. According to the Industry News, there were 570,000 welders in 1988, but that number had declined to 360,000 in 2012. Considering that the industry has grown immensely since then, there is a severe deficit between the demand and supply of welders.
The deficit is so significant that the American Welding Society has forecasted a 450,000 welder shortage by 2022.
One important reason for this is that many welding jobs have been occupied for decades by baby boomers who have now reached the retirement age. The average age of welders stands at 55 years, whereas only 20 percent of the welding workforce is below 35. The retirement of boomers can open up several possibilities for budding young welding enthusiasts.
What does this mean for you? Better pay, better job security, more significant opportunities, and a myriad of benefits that can make welding a fulfilling career path for you.
The good news doesn’t end here. It just keeps getting better. There will be more demand for welders than ever before, owing to the aging infrastructure. To restore this crumbling infrastructure, contractors need the services of welders to work on railways, roads, bridges, and transport structures. The burgeoning alternative energy industry needs multitudes of welders as well for wind turbines, pipelines, high tension line support structures, and other aspects.
What you should consider before applying for a welding apprenticeship
Before committing yourself to a long, intense, and grueling welding apprenticeship program, you need to think long and hard. Welding is not meant for everyone. It is an arduous job that requires a high level of mental and physical fitness. Are you willing to work in a harsh and hazardous environment that can be stressful and potentially dangerous? If you find yourself saying yes to these questions, then you can consider a welding apprenticeship where you can get paid while you are learning.
What welding apprenticeship programs teach
The industry gives due regard to apprenticeship programs to address the imminent and massive shortfall in jobs. These programs aim to teach several attributes in students and have specific goals. Here are some of them:
- Efficient use of conventional welding techniques
- Strict adherence to safety protocols and standards
- Safe and efficient use of welding equipment in challenging environments
- Ability to weld all kinds of metals and alloys
Apprenticeship programs typically have the following components:
- Class lectures
- Group instruction
- Live demonstrations by qualified professionals
- Hands-on practice under the supervision of experienced instructors
- Written tests and practical tests to validate the skills of students
As an apprentice, you have to realize the value of keen observation. You will be assisting a senior worker in their job role. This is an invaluable opportunity to watch the pros in action and learn how they go about their own business to get the job done. With careful observation, you will gain deep insights into what works and what doesn’t, as well as the best practices to boost your productivity and personal safety. As you help your mentor with materials, tools, and necessary procedures, you will understand the demands of this challenging field.
As a welding apprentice, you will review several manuals and standards for processes and safety. Whether you are practicing a new welding process of exotic alloys under the watchful gaze of an instructor or assisting your mentor with their day-to-day duties, there is plenty to learn if you are observant enough.
Qualities that you will gain from a successful apprenticeship
Welding requires a high level of technical skill and expertise. You will gain plenty of technological know-how through class lectures, demonstrations, and observation of your mentor. In short, the purpose of an apprenticeship is to provide all the technical knowledge that you will need to discharge your job responsibilities successfully.
However, you also need to gain several soft skills to progress quickly in your career and become a productive team member. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following capabilities of welders and skilled tradespeople that are in high demand.
- Keen ability to visualize 2D and 3D images by scrutinizing drawings, schematics, and blueprints
- Physical stamina, fitness, and strength to withstand strenuous workload and a harsh environment
- Excellent hand-eye coordination
- Sharp eyesight and attention for detail
These skills are necessary as they will facilitate the apprentice in making durable and reliable welds consistently. This will prevent them from making costly mistakes that require time, money, and resources. A lousy weld can also lead to a significant accident or failure later on if it goes undetected. Hence, there is a need to build up the skills mentioned above to avoid these expensive blunders.
A comprehensive welding program inculcates these critical attributes in apprentices.
Is formal education necessary to get a welding apprenticeship?
Although you do not need to go to a vocational school to find an apprenticeship, you can gain several benefits from formal education that will help you later on in your career. Hence, you should give high priority to school and make it a smart career choice.
You can gain the following advantages by completing a comprehensive technical program. The course will teach you how to make the best use of tools, materials, and best practices. You will learn a wide range of welding techniques and gain several skills before becoming an apprentice.
As a result, graduates are more suitable for several kinds of jobs and have a higher likelihood of getting an apprenticeship or even employment. It will be easier for you to get the job role that you are looking for in the company that you are interested in.
Some apprenticeships offer hourly pay or stipend while you complete your learning. With a formal education background, you are more likely to be entitled to these rewarding programs than others who have not completed their education.
Welding is a technical field that requires the application of science. A solid grounding in fundamental physics, chemistry, and mathematics will enable you to understand several principles behind welding processes. You will be able to apply these skills to welding. For instance, you need an understanding of fundamental mathematics and geometry to carry out accurate welding.
With this knowledge, you are also more likely to progress to a managerial or supervisory role that has a high demand for these skills. This knowledge will serve you well, helping you to climb the career ladder.
Formal education also equips you with practical skills and expertise that are in high demand for a wide array of industries and sectors. Hence, you will be able to transfer to different industries more easily with formal education whenever such a need arises.
In other words, formal education will make you a far more valuable and competitive candidate for an apprenticeship program.
Here is a brief description of how to choose the right school for your apprenticeship and welding career.
How to select a welding school
You can try looking for admission to your nearest vocational schools to brighten up your chances of landing an apprenticeship program. However, if you are willing to go the extra mile, you can even opt to travel to a different city or state to join a prestigious school, which will feature prominently in your resume and add value.
But if cutting costs is crucial to you, then you can locate the nearest community colleges and vocational centers, which offer similar courses at a fraction of the cost. Visit these centers in person and talk to career counselors about the welding programs available and how they can help you out.
They will provide you with a list of certificates, courses, and programs, as well as details on what you will be completed during the duration of these programs. Peruse the course description in detail and take note of the classes that are necessary for graduation.
If you do not hold an Associate of Science degree, you can go for a welding certificate. This way, you can save the time required for completing the extra 30 units of educational requirements. Welding certificates are also a feasible option since they can equip you with necessary practical skills and make you job-ready in a short time frame of just a few months.
Although academic knowledge is helpful, these practical skills have higher priority early on in your career since employers will pay close attention to them to determine your worth as a potential candidate. A 3 or 4-G certification, under the supervision of a certified welding inspector, can provide the skills that are necessary for getting you hired.
Junior colleges have significant advantages over trade schools due to the classes outside of the welding department, which can open up exciting career tracks. This includes, for instance, metalworking, Autocad drafting, agricultural mechanics, chemistry, and automotive technology.
You can pick these courses wisely so that they help you to complete an advanced degree, which will be of immense help in the future if you decide to train as a welding engineer. An AS degree is invaluable for getting promoted and earning more significant raises quickly.
Despite the advantages of advanced degrees, they also pose certain drawbacks. Since community and junior colleges place a stronger emphasis on class lectures, they limit lab hours to just a few hours per week. The quality of teaching can also vary between schools, and one-to-one assistance for hands-on training may not be available. At vocational centers, there is a higher likelihood of getting such aid and practical training, which can help you with hands-on training.
Whether you opt for a college or a vocational center, before finalizing your choice, you should ensure that all of the following courses are available.
- Introduction to SMAW or stick welding
- Flux-cored and MIG welding (FCAW/FMAW)
- oxy-acetylene welding and cutting
- Advanced stick welding, including pipe welding
- TIG welding or GTAW
- Shop drawings, welding schematics, and technical drafting
- Metalworking and fabrication
- Welding metallurgy, including heat treatment processes
One significant advantage of joining a vocational school or a community college is that they often go to great lengths to place an apprenticeship for you so that you can get started as soon as you complete the course.
An apprenticeship will help you apply what you have learned, build up your practical knowledge, and inform you of the best practices. Vocational schools and community colleges foster links with the industry to facilitate their graduates. Many instructors have several years of experience in the industry so that they can help you with internship and apprenticeship placement.
During your welding course, you will be in a prime position for enrollment in a good apprenticeship program. Employers and labor unions have apprenticeship programs in place for boilermakers, pipefitters, steelworkers, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, plumbers, and other technicians. You should aim to get enrolled in programs that offer you a stipend while you learn.
As an apprentice, you will have to go to the job site for at least one day of each week. You should put in enough hours into your apprenticeship program so that the requisite hours are complete when you finish your welding program. When these requirements are met, your employer will certify you as a journeyman.
To learn more details about available apprenticeships in your area, get in touch with the local chapters of labor unions. Your welding school will have complete information on these chapters.
For some programs, you will have to pass a basic test to get enrolled. If you qualify, your name will be put on the waiting list, where you will join the apprenticeship program as soon as there is a vacancy. Other unions prefer to conduct an in-person interview with candidates. In most cases, applicants in the age group 18 to 35 are eligible for the apprenticeship.
If you want to join as soon as possible, you can also try finding opportunities in the US Armed Forces. All three branches of the Armed Forces (Army, AirForce, and Navy) provide career tracks for those interested in welding, steelwork, and metalworking. You will have access to several paid-while-you-learn options. You will have better chances of getting a welding job at the Armed Forces, which compensate skilled tradespeople very well. You will also gain access to several benefits like paid vacation, bonuses, food, medical allowances, and accommodation.
The right apprenticeship program can open up the doors to all kinds of new welding occupations, including underwater, aircraft, pipe, and structural welding. Not only will you be eligible to join a wide array of industries, but you will also be able to travel the world as welding skills have high demand virtually everywhere.
Today’s apprenticeships are an extension of the age-old tradition wherein younger inexperienced entrants trained and acquired new skills under the tutelage of their experienced protégés. The quality of apprenticeships, however, is now rigorously controlled. Federal and state governments regulate these programs to make sure that they produce the same high quality of skilled welders and tradespeople across all states and counties.
Welding apprenticeship requirements
A typical apprenticeship requires at least 144 hours of classroom instructions and at least 2000 hours of instructions at the job site. An apprenticeship, therefore, resembles full-time employment lasting up to 40 hours per week. The duration of an apprenticeship varies across different trades. They often last between 3 to 5 years. After your apprenticeship requirements are complete, you will then have to pass an exam to qualify as a journeyman for these trades.
Welding apprenticeships have more requirements compared to other trades. Welding apprentices must complete 6,000 to 8,000 hours of training for 3 to 4 years. This means that they must 2,000 hours each year. This time must be spent at the job site where they will practice and learn welding skills under the close supervision of experienced master welders.
Classroom time is at least 25 hours per subject. Apprentice welders must cover different courses like metallurgy, basic chemistry, basic applied mathematics, technical drawing, and related topics. On-the-job training equips them with technical proficiency while classroom training builds up the theoretical background so that they can understand how it is happening.
Taking classes for programs offered by junior and community colleges can also be advantageous because prospective welding apprentices can learn about advanced manufacturing techniques and also about high-tech robotic welding. It is necessary to acquire this knowledge because the field of manufacturing sees rapid changes with the quick progress of technology.
Obsolete manufacturing methods are giving way to the sophisticated, state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, which is driving cost reduction and improvement in quality at the same time. There will also be radical changes to welding processes. As it is, a lot of welding processes, particularly in the automobile sector, are now carried out by computer-controlled robotic arms. Prospective welding apprentices should be updated with the latest changes that will be implemented in the welding field, and they should acquire new skills to remain relevant.
Welding has several subcategories, which require different certificates. You can gain some of the most valuable certificates from the American Welding Society, which provides certificates after you complete tests at approved centers and gives a successful demonstration of your welding skills. There are no educational or work experience requirements for the certified welder program. This means that you can enroll in this program even if your education is incomplete.
A strong emphasis is placed on these and other welding certification programs on your practical skills and welding quality. To maintain the validity of these certificates, you have to submit documents every six months wherein you specify your job role for the period to confirm that you are indeed performing welding processes for which you obtained the certificate.
How to apply for a welding apprenticeship
There are several ways to apply for a welding apprenticeship. Going to a trade school is an excellent way to begin, but remember that you can also apply for a welding apprenticeship based on your GED or high school diploma.
Apprenticeship opportunities also depend (to a large extent) on the state in which you are currently residing. Some state governments sponsor apprenticeship programs of companies while others do not. For instance, the Workforce Development Agency of the Michigan state government funds welding apprenticeships. If your state provides funding for these programs, you can visit your state government website to gather more details so that you can enlist in these programs.
Even if your state does not sponsor welding apprenticeships, you can still find such programs offered by labor unions and companies. So visit the websites of leading companies in your area as well as labor unions to find out more about the different apprenticeship programs that are currently available.
It is highly likely that labor unions will have such programs in place in your area since their primary purpose is to promote and support their profession. Apprenticeship programs are a viable way of realizing this objective. Any company that requires welders will also likely promote such apprenticeship programs because most industries heavily rely on welders.
To find a welding apprenticeship, you start by visiting apprenticeship.gov, which belongs to the US Department of Labor.
careeronestop.org is also part of the US Department of Labor and is another excellent starting point to hunt for the right welding apprenticeship program for you. You can visit these sites and enter your location. After that, when you search for ‘welders,’ a list of companies will show up, which shows relevant welding apprenticeship programs. In case you do not find any results for your state, then try visiting your state website where welding apprenticeship programs are likely to be found.
While perusing the list of welding apprenticeship programs, ensure that you also look for relevant information like the date on which the apprenticeship position was posted, company requirements for the job, contact information, company name, and available vacancies. There will also likely be a mention of the kind of welding process that will be carried out during the apprenticeship, such as flux-cored arc welding, stick welding, TIG welding, MIG welding, or others.
If you have to travel to other areas during the apprenticeship, then this will also be mentioned. Generally, you will find better pay and job opportunities if you are willing to travel and relocate. Make a list of all apprenticeships that suit your career goals and apply for the same.
What you will be doing during a welding apprenticeship
Although there are minor variations between different apprenticeship programs, the key features are the same. You will be given hands-on training to learn how to use welding equipment efficiently. You will also have to assist your welding expert by moving around equipment, supplies, and tools. You may also be required to do other things like ensuring that the workpieces are clamped securely before welding.
During this time, you should display avid interest and make a list of questions that you would like to ask. Never cut corners and always follow all the safety procedures and rules.
During your apprenticeship, you will learn about troubleshooting tips, basic electrical concepts, metalworking techniques, welding processes, industry standards, safety procedures, measurement techniques, basic math, and a host of other skills that can help jumpstart your welding career.
How to increase the odds of finding better welding apprenticeship programs
If you don’t find enough welding apprenticeship programs in your area, then you should consider relocation for better prospects. For instance, if you want to become a maritime welder and live in a small town like Tyro, Kansas, then you should relocate. You can move to places like:
- Mayport, Florida
- Jacksonville, Florida
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Mobile, Alabama
- San Francisco, California
- San Diego, California
- Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
- Norfolk, Virginia
- Newport, Virginia
Moving to big coastal cities with these major dry-dock and shipbuilding yards can help seek a maritime welding apprenticeship.