The Growing Demand for Specialized Welders and Welding Engineers

October 19, 2015

By Audrey Jenkins – guest author

If you’ve driven by a construction site and seen a shower of sparks being generated by a man who seemed to wear a metal mask, you’ve seen a welder at work. For more than a century the welder has been an essential part of the American industrial work force. Joining metal together in a permanent bond is the essence of the welder’s profession.

Today, a shortage of skilled welders affects both U.S. and Canadian companies, creating a significant demand for new welders trained in the latest technologies. And this career area is also resistant to downturns in the economy. New and exciting ways of welding, combined with high demand and competitive salaries, as well as increasing sophistication of the market, makes welding an intriguing career choice for people who love to work with their hands.

Valuable Welding Skills 

While the future of a career in welding is bright, individual success, including benefits and job security, will usually require specialized training in the field of welding. So what are the options? This infographic from Tulsa Welding School lays out the career path you can take to start a welding career.

Here are some of the duties you might have as a professional welder:

  • Evaluating blue prints and construction plans to calculate the amount of and type of welding needed
  • Inspecting materials and structures that utilize welding, both before and after the job
  • Filling a vital maintenance role for equipment and machinery
  • Working with robotic welders
  • Managing projects
  • Handling sales and contract bidding

One of the more attractive aspects of the field of welding is that you do not need a college degree to get started. Rather, you can gain your welder’s certification in as little as seven months. After this first step, your advancement will be based on your own skill level and experience. Often, you can get a job simply by passing a field test.

For those willing to attend one of the few United States universities offering 2 or 4 year degrees in welding engineering (also called materials joining), check this out: many industries compete long before graduation to hire nearly all of the roughly 100 nationwide graduates. These unique engineers are in high demand for their abilities to turn scientific welding knowledge into new products and higher profits, to interpret and apply welding codes, to interface with other engineers and managers, and to organize, structure and train welders and welding technicians into a highly competitive team.

Welding in Different Industries 

Welders are employed in virtually every field of manufacturing, construction, shipping, and other trades and markets. This range of industries allows you to work with the military, onboard ships and in shipyards, on pipelines and oil rigs, programming welding robots, or responding to industrial needs for repairs and upgrades.

Along with solid job security, your expertise as a welder can allow you to earn a healthy income, as much as $51,000 or more at the high end of standard jobs. Additionally, the more extensive your training and experience, the more you can earn, even up to $200,000 or even $300,000 a year in some of the more specialized fields such as underwater applications and military support functions. Welders who are willing to travel and work in remote locations also have a higher earning potential.

Degreed Materials Joining (welding) Engineers usually graduate earning roughly $60,000 – 70,000 and can eventually earn well over $100,000 a year as senior engineers or engineering managers.

See the infographic below, and click on welding school links to the right, to learn more about the field of welding as a profession.

Welding-career-guide.jpg

The above Welding Career Guide graphic is courtesy of Tulsa Welding School. Visit them at http://www.WeldingSchool.com

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Is Welding Engineering a good career? Where should I get my Degree?

October 14, 2014

People considering a Welding Engineering career are most likely to ask me one or more of these three questions:

What is welding engineering like?  Is Welding Engineering a good career choice?  Where should I get my degree?

Here’s a concise answer to all three questions.

As far as the W.E. profession, it’s wide open, industry is starving for them, the norm is that over 90% of W.E. grads have accepted an offer months prior to graduation, it pays better than most degrees, and there are many different industries to choose from. That’s the upside. One downside is that you might tend to move or change jobs more frequently than some other professions.  But this is due to another downside that is strange and unexpected in engineering careers:

Since most companies don’t understand that welding is by far their most complex process, and needs to be a central focus for building core expertise, they typically don’t empower or appreciate Welding Engineers anywhere near what would be wise, sustainable and profitable for the company’s future and growth. As a result, a Welding Engineering career can tend to be a frustrating journey through ignorant companies making dumb welding decisions… and yet there are some great successes in the battlefields along the way.

Welding Engineering is also called Materials Joining Engineering – that’s what both Ohio State University and LeTourneau University call their degrees now.  How are the schools different?  OSU offers only engineering, Ferris State University offers only engineering technology, and LeTourneau offers both.  OSU tends to be very science and metallurgy heavy while being too neglectful of the value of manual welding experience that’s needed to catalyze the sciences into a realistic comprehension of what is happening in the molten puddle and how to optimize it. FSU is very hands-on heavy and a great preparation for any manufacturing floor role or code-shop, but they are light on metallurgy and a good span of all the welding processes. LeTourneau has always tried to be a great practical blend of both science and personal skill, producing the most well-rounded graduate, and they are not allergic to transfer students. That’s just my perspective, based on exposure and the historical norms of the various programs.  I don’t know enough about Weber State University or Penn State’s programs to comment, but at least one reader has been through Weber States’ accredited program (Manufacturing Engineering Technology, Welding Emphasis) and thinks it’s solid.  There are a few other programs out there, but in general most of the other available programs are limited in focus, staff, equipment and exposure, and consequently are not ABET accredited.  (Check the sidebar to the right for links to the WE programs.)

William Roth, PE and CWI added this in blog comments, to explain “the difference between an engineering degree (welding or otherwise) and an engineering technology degree. The engineering technology degrees normally don’t have the heavy math and physics in their curriculum as does a regular engineering degree. In most cases, having an engineering technology degree will either delay or prevent one from being able to sit for the professional engineers exam. While most jobs do not require a PE license, there are limitations to what work you can do without one. In some states, you can’t market yourself as an engineer or open a company with the name engineering in it if you don’t have a PE License. Getting an AWS Certified Welding Engineer qualification is nice, but is not recognized by any state as a license.”

There are many industries with extensive welding, and there is value in broad exposure. One eventual decision that can be helpful along the way is to realize the major segments in the profession and focus in the areas that you find to be the most fun or most interesting or most stable… depending on your priorities. Plate thicknesses, or gauges? Manual or automated? Volume products or custom challenges?  Steel, stainless, aluminum, or copper alloys – or exotic super alloys?

If you notice, I didn’t say one word there about any industry. That’s because Welding Engineering is much more about the physics, sciences, metallurgy, techniques and variables than it is about which particular industry you happen to be involved in at any given point.  And THAT is a key point that defies the HR/management logic in most business segments – you’re not really in agricultural equipment or automotive or appliance or medical equipment: you’re in welding engineering, and they are in the business of selling their expertise at manufacturing welded assemblies. How smartly are they doing that? Most companies barely have a clue, which explains why they aren’t trouncing their equally ignorant competition or seeing the flashing neon signs of opportunity: blind people can’t see signs without touching them or running into them.

I think if you identify your interests based on the divisions of the physics and skill-sets, and then look at industries which must typically bow to the laws of physics in those ways, you’ll be more successful.

Many companies are driven by their ignorance to search for a welding engineering wizard who will give them a special blessing and a potion that allows them to defy the laws of physics as they see fit. The more persistent they are in searching for this wizard with the power to grant them their wishes, the more likely they will shipwreck themselves and be just another sunken vessel on a business map. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is often to educate them that the glorious path of legendary profitability and growth is in the direction of learning and serving the laws of physics better than any of their competitors.

Finally, there are several other good articles to help with these questions. The popular “Difference between a Welding Engineer and a Certified Welder” has over 50 valuable comments/discussions.  Other articles are easy to find using the Tag Cloud in the righthand sidebar – just click on a subject to view a list of related articles.


Ten HR Questions for Welding Engineer Candidates

December 1, 2013

One of the common Welding Engineering searches online by HR or staffing professionals is looking for questions to ask Welding Engineering candidates.  Since such searches turn up little information, I’ve offered these ten questions for staffing professionals in HR roles to ask a Welding Engineer or Materials Joining Engineer:

  1. How did you become a Welding Engineer?  (This seems overly basic, but since ~70% of titled “welding engineer” positions have little or no training in the field, this is a vitally important question.)
  2. Which welding processes have you had formal training in?
  3. Which welding processes are you comfortable with?
  4. What materials have you commonly welded?
  5. What material thickness ranges have you worked with?
  6. Can you describe the types of welding training that you have conducted personally?
  7. What degrees or certifications have you received?
  8. Can you give me an example of how you’ve saved a company money, or increased profitability in welding operations?
  9. What do you see as the broad responsibilities of a welding engineering role in our industry?
  10. What could you do for us that most welding engineers can’t?

Bonus questions for experienced welding engineering candidates:

  • Based on your training, skills and experience, how comfortable are you in structuring and executing world class welding in an automated welding environment?
  • Based on your training, skills and experience, how comfortable are you in structuring and executing world class welding in a manual welding environment?

Keep in mind that some questions may not be as applicable in some companies – you might ask an engineer for help in selecting or modifying the best questions. But in general, these are great questions.  Sadly, questions like these are often a competitive advantage. Why?  Companies interviewing for these positions are selling their expertise at manufacturing complex welded assemblies, but don’t even know that describes their core business competency needs. So these questions are a plus to qualified candidates, who will get the impression that your company at least has a clue about the need and value of welding engineering.


The Weld Shop Role of CWI’s and NDT Inspection Techs

September 24, 2009

As an AWS CWI/CW Level II, Dustin Sharp contacted me with this question:

“I have read your blog and would appreciate your perspective on the need for skilled non-WE technicians/inspectors in the industry.”

This started a valuable discussion that I think others could assist with:

Dustin –  Thank you for your comments and question. If you were implying that this area is thinly covered on my blog, you are exactly right. As with many uncovered but valuable areas, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

There is no question in my mind that there’s a great need – as you say – for “skilled non-WE technicians/inspectors in the industry”. The level of that need depends on what the exact industry is, more specific than the “welding industry” which includes everything that gets welded. The more welding codes involved, the more exotic the materials, the thicker the materials, the more demanding the customer application, and the lower the annual volumes, the more likely it is that many or all of the customers will require a CWI environment in order to assure quality and reduce risks. (On the other hand, the more basic the materials, the thinner, and the higher the annual volumes, the more likely it is to be a welding automation environment with fixed pre-agreed quality procedures in which CWI’s are not considered to be value-added.)

In manual welding environments these skilled technicians provide valuable, accurate on-the-floor analysis of welding quality, and to varying degrees a source of techniques and hands-on training. In many cases (especially true if there is no WE), it takes a CWI to establish facts of welding quality in the floor culture, and dissolve mythical opinions and expertise which are “tribally” assigned, like union seniority, to “Survivor” game-players who have “been around welding a long time” – rather than to people who are qualified and know what they are talking about. In the absence of these technicians, a Welding Engineer will spend a great deal of time in welding, yet be stripped of a lot of time to engineer.

(Brian)

Brian – Well stated, and thank you for the response. As someone who continually aspires to stay on the forefront of industry knowledge, I value your opinion.

I agree that in cases in involving; high tolerances, exotic materials, short run productions that a non-WE weld specialist should, or can be quite valuable. The industries that I would think to be most benefited through this function would be, as you stated, ones that deal with strict/exacting codes and standards. Aerospace, Nuclear, Oil&Gas, Pressure Piping/Vessels, and to some extent Large Scale Construction (Building,DOT) all present these code challenges and demand a highly skilled weld group (welders, supervisors, inspectors, engineers.)
Now, that is what I have thought to be true concerning the need for these non-WE specialists.

The absence of not only skilled WE, but knowledgeable specialists can be detrimental or at the very least counterproductive in many industries. Being a welder/fabricator for the duration of my career I have seen first hand the effect of “tribally assigned experts” bringing at times nothing more to the table than inflexibility, rhetoric, and limited knowledge of why a process/procedure is or is not working well.

Now trying to market yourself as more than just an overqualified welder — that’s a challenge.

(Dustin)

That’s been our discussion so far.  Since I’ve spent the last 15 years in welding automation, I’ve had no need to get a CWI certificate or build a CWI environment.  But that’s all going to change over the next several months as I move into a highly mixed production environment with thousands of welded assembly designs.  Meanwhile, please feel free to contribute in comments!


The Differences Between a Welding Engineer and a Certified Welder?

March 21, 2009

After reading my recent article about Welding Engineering Compensation salaries, Garrett asked me some great questions: 

What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate? Would it be difficult for one to get into a school for W.E.? And where is W.E. offered? Thank you for your time.

 

Garrett –

Many people have those questions, and I don’t know of any central place to send you for complete answers.  So here are my answers, and if any of our rapidly growing audience can add comments or valuable links to the discussion, please do!

 

What is a welding engineer?  What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate?

In my mind, a “welder with a certificate” has been trained and tested in personally making specific types of welds on specific types of materials with specific welding processes requiring specific qualification test types.  A welding certificate is usually very limited in scope, and the focus is on physically making the welds needed for those exact types of parts – there is nearly zero training on the sciences of physics, chemistry, electricity or photonics, or on the design, maintenance and troubleshooting of the welding systems and equipment. Extensive training in those areas is all part of a “4-year” Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in welding, plus extensive exposure in all types of welding processes, thermal processes (like cutting and heat-treating), and materials joining (including polymers and ceramics).

 

The National Center for Welding Education and Training is an important new effort that I’ve linked to in my sidebar.  They do a superb job of explaining some of this, like in these job descriptions for various types of careers in welding.  And their welding career videos should be seen in every high school in the country.  But breaking it out further, here’s what I would add:

Read the rest of this entry »


Advice for Recruiter Client’s Welding Engineer position – #2

March 7, 2009

This is the SECOND in a series of responses from my e-mail archives, which I’m publishing because the Recruiters noted them as helpful advise and perspective on their client’s Welding Engineering search. Most recruiters and even most HR Managers have little experience or exposure to the Welding Engineering segment because it’s so small. It’s my hope that these will help increase understanding of some of the realities, needs, obstacles and rewards in finding and retaining degreed welding engineers.

I read the job description you sent, and Wow. To softly summarize, your Asian-car-company client would be well advised to change their strategy on this position. Why not wisely select a Smart Welding Engineer and let them do their job?

OK, let me take the velvet gloves off for a minute. Don’t take this wrong, but after reading the job description, here’s my very blunt assessment:

“Welding Specialist” is a bad start for the job title. It might be simple ignorance, it could be an inadequate Asian cultural translation, it could be mimicking poor practices in the “Big Three”, or it could be someone’s “clever” idea to save money, but that job description is the role of a BS-degreed Welding Engineer. That’s what they are trained to do: the average BSWE (or equivalent) has 3,000 – 4,000 hours of classroom and hands-on training in the welding processes.  Filling that welding engineer role with anyone else is like taking a CFO position, relabeling it as “Financial Supervisor”, and requiring candidates to have any Bachelor of Arts degree instead of an MBA.  Yeh, a stunning cost-savings idea there.

If they don’t hire a BS-degreed Welding Engineer for this position, it will probably save them $20-40k a year and cost them a minimum $500k (if not several $M) in the first 3 months of startup alone, vs a qualified Smart Welding Engineer. But unfortunately, as that happens, there’s rarely anyone around who’s qualified enough to recognize the losses and missed opportunities and attribute them to targeting and hiring an unqualified person. Even if the “Welding Specialist” knows it, are they likely to be explaining to management that they can’t do their job justice? 

Read the rest of this entry »


Advice for Recruiter Client’s Welding Engineer position – #1

March 2, 2009

This is the FIRST in a series of responses from my e-mail archives, which I’m publishing because the Recruiters noted them as helpful advise and perspective on their client’s Welding Engineering positions. Most recruiters and even most HR Managers have little experience or exposure to the Welding Engineering segment because it’s so small. It’s my hope that these will help increase understanding of some of the realities, needs, obstacles and rewards in finding and retaining degreed welding engineers.

Regarding the “#41XXX Welding Engineer Position”, if I could offer some advice for your client as a degreed W.E. with 21 years experience who has interviewed roughly 200 Welding Engineers to hire about 10 W.E.’s in the last 5 years…

A salary range of $44-55k is unrealistic for a degreed Welding Engineer with 3-5 yrs experience unless their cost of living is 20-50% below the national average.

There are only three ABET accredited W.E. universities in the nation: LeTourneau University, Ferris State University, and The Ohio State University. At OSU (for example), the average starting salary is about $60k for a brand new (2008) graduate. Recent LeTourneau University graduate majors are Materials Joining Engineering instead of Welding Engineering. After 3 years experience, average 2nd position starts at about $70k. With 5 yrs experience, a good degreed W.E. with the capabilities they’re looking for is likely going to be in the $65-$80k range.

Keep in mind that there are only about 100 W.E. graduates a year, totaled from the 3 schools. That’s why about 70% of the “Welding Engineers” in industry are only titled as W.E.’s. Those 70% are people, some with other engineering degrees and some with none, who can ENABLE the welding processes. However, of the 30% of degreed Welding Engineers, only about half of them can optimize processes for excellent profitability and quality. That’s why the best W.E.’s, with experience, make $75-120k base salaries: they are the only ones who can make profitability differences measured in millions of dollars.

Most recruiters and even most HR Managers have little experience or exposure to the Welding Engineering segment because it’s so small. So I hope that helps. If you have any other W.E. position openings that could benefit from strong expertise with a history of dramatic process improvements beyond the “benchmark” performance standards, let me know…

Brian Dobben

2nd in this series:  https://weldsparks.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/advice-for-recruiter-clients-welding-engineer-position-2/