A welder is someone who joins separate pieces of metal together using a variety of different methods which include Arc and Tig welding. In all types of welding, intense heat melts two touching or very close edges of metal and bonds them together. A good weld creates a very strong join capable of holding very large weights.
The role of a welder can vary considerably depending on where they are employed. A welder could be making small welds on individual components in a production line, working from detailed drawings to create whole products or working as part of a big assembly such as in ship building. Welders generally must be able to work from detailed technical drawings without supervision and complete projects to a high degree of accuracy. Good manual dexterity is a
bonus, as is a good eye for detail.
Being able to create strong welds is obviously important in any of the roles in which a welder might find himself/herself so technical ability and consistent quality levels are expected in anything other than an apprentice position. In many cases welds are the weak point of the product or construction and you may be required to perform quality control on your own work after you have finished a set task.
The working environment of a welder can also vary greatly. Due to the nature of the job, it can often be hot, noisy and dirty, both indoors and out. If working within the construction industry you must be careful of all the normal hazards associated with that industry, but even if working off-site, the materials are usually still heavy and dangerous if not handled properly. If working on a fixed structure, etc. you may be required to work in cramped and awkward spaces.
The industry has traditionally been dominated by men, but there really isn’t anything to stop women becoming welders. The job is often physically demanding, and as mentioned above, hot, dangerous and dirty. It is probably these factors which keep the industry male-dominated, rather than any other reason.
In general welders will be expected to work an average of 38-40 hours a week. Usually this will be in normal 9-5 days, but there are often opportunities for shift work and overtime. In some cases you may be required to work out of normal working hours, if needed to make emergency repairs to machinery for example. This information should be included in any job description you apply for and your pay-rate should rise accordingly.
Depending on the welding job you are applying for, you may be expected to be familiar with one or more of the main welding technologies.
Mig welding is probably the most common type of welding used on steel. Mig welding uses a torch through which a thin wire is passed when the trigger is pulled. As the wire touches the metal being welded, electric current passes into the material. This melts the material around the point the wire touches and allows it to bond to a second piece of metal. In addition to the electrode wire, an inert shielding gas is fed through the torch to stop atmospheric gases such as oxygen affecting the quality of the weld.
Tig Welding is considered to be one of the hardest types of welding to master. Tig welding involves a torch with a fixed electrode which is held just above the material being welded. A filler rod in your other hand is held at the point of the electrical arc and this melts to bond the weld. As with Mig welding, a shielding gas is blown out of the torch to prevent atmospheric gases spoiling the weld. Tig welding is most often used for joining aluminium, stainless steel and copper alloys, rather than mild steel.
MMA (stick) Welding
Stick welding is probably the simplest type of welding, requiring no additional shielding gas. An electric current is passed through a consumable electrode which is coated in flux. As the current passes from the end of the electrode, the flux disintegrates and the vapours act as a shielding gas. The flux also creates a layer of slag on top of the weld, further protecting it from atmospheric gases. Stick welding is widely used in the construction and heavy engineering industries.
There are several other specialist types of welding, but the three techniques mentioned above probably cover 80% of the welding jobs advertised in the UK.
The salaries for welders start at around £13,000, rising to £25,000 depending on experience. Very experienced or specialist welders (such as pipeline welders) can earn over £35,000. As with most jobs this varies according to geographical location.
Depending on where you are working, you could be responsible for any or all of the following:
- Measuring and cutting metal
- Selecting metal components to weld
- Following technical drawings
- Choosing the correct welding method for a particular task
- Self-inspecting your own cuts and welds
- Finding and re welding broken joins
- Checking measurements and angles on welded components
Employers will generally expect some formal training in welding or engineering. Engineering apprenticeships will often include learning welding to a good level, but their availability varies depending on location. There are several welding qualifications available across the country which most employers will recognise. These include the ABC Certificate in Welding, City and Guilds Certificate in Welding and the BTEC National Diploma in Manufacturing Engineering (Welding and Fabrication).
Once you are working as a welder, you could also extend your training with one of the following NVQs:
- Fabrication and Welding Engineering levels 2 and 3
- Performing Engineering Operations levels 1 and 2
- Fabrication and Welding Level 3 Welding Level 3
In many cases you will be required to pass a test with your prospective employer to show you have the technical ability required for the job in question. The Welding Institute has more details on training and qualifications in welding and engineering.
- Good level of manual dexterity
- Good level of hand/eye coordination
- The ability to read measurements correctly
- The ability to work unsupervised and check your own work
- The ability to read technical drawings
- Good knowledge of safety procedures
- The ability to use all equipment safely and correctly
The working conditions for a welder can vary greatly depending on the type of work they are doing. Typically the working environment will be hot, dirty and hazardous. You could be exposed to the elements or working in cramped and awkward spaces.
In all areas of the industry you will be required to use safety and protective equipment to prevent burns, etc. One particular hazard of welding is “Arc Eye”, caused by looking at the arc without a proper protective screen. This is painful and unpleasant and can cause permanent damage to the eye. Traditionally, welders wear protective leather aprons, gloves and boots. Other safety equipment may include ear protectors, goggles, hard hats and dust masks. Some welding jobs will also require you to use safety harnesses
In construction and heavy engineering, the risks for the welder increase. You could be working with very heavy components or at height, or both. Good awareness of your working environment and the correct safety procedures is essential.
The experience required will vary depending on the position being applied for. However, many employers will be looking for at least some on the job experience to go with any welding qualifications you have. In some cases, 4 years practical experience could be required, although this is not the norm.
There are no major nationwide employers within this sector.
Good welding skills are required in a range of industries, and as most welding skills are transferable, experienced welders have a good choice of jobs to help their career advance. Engineering, civil engineering, construction, agricultural engineering, shipbuilding and vehicle manufacturing and repair all present opportunities for good welders.
Within any of those industries you could advance from welder to foreman or supervisor, workshop manager or shift manager. There may also be the chance to move into inspection, testing or quality control with the right experience.
If you have a good eye for detail, the ability to produce consistently good work and a good attitude, there are always jobs out there for qualified welders.
Also known as…
What’s it really like?
Roger Ware, 57, is a Welder/ Fabricator. He gives us the inside story on being a welder.
How long have you been a welder?
I started working for a local steel fabricator in 1993, designing and constructing steel gates, balustrades and fire escapes. I spent a couple of years learning the trade before starting my own company, ARH Metalcraft, in 1995. Since then I have slowly reduced the amount of structural steelwork I have worked on, concentrating instead on high quality gates, railing and balustrades.
What made you decide to do this job?
I hadn’t particularly planned to become a welder but the opportunity arose and it seemed to be a job that paid well if you were prepared to work hard. I already knew several people who were welders or fabricators so it just seemed like a good idea. The idea of making something like a fire escape for a hotel which would remain there for many years also appealed to me. In my previous job working for a china clay company, I never really produced a product.
What do you do in a typical day?
My days are usually split between working at the workshop, designing and building the gates and balustrades, and going out on site to fit, repair or alter steelwork. In many cases we receive our work from builders on behalf of home-owners, and they will provide technical drawings for us to work from. I spend several hours a week working out steel quantities for successful tenders and providing quotes for work as requested.
What do you like about the job?
Although the job is physically demanding, it is rarely dull. There is always something different to do or a particular problem to figure out. I also get great satisfaction from seeing a gate or railing fitting as it should and improving the look of a property.
What do you dislike about the job?
As mentioned above, the job is physically demanding, especially for a chap my age. Even with gloves, etc. it is all too easy to get burnt, cut or knocked about if you are not careful. Even working on non-structural steelwork as we do, everything is heavy and awkward to move around, even in the workshop.
What advice would you give someone thinking of becoming a welder?
Learn the techniques of welding properly and practise them in different situations. It is all well and good to be able to weld nicely on a flat bench in a workshop, but welding a steel beam on a building site, while the wind is blowing and fumes are swirling about is another matter entirely.
Do you have any plans to change jobs?
Hopefully not. I plan to retire and hand the company on to my son who currently works with me. He has been working with me for several years now and has become a good welder/fabricator. He can choose to continue the business, work as a fabricator for someone else or even do something else entirely.