If you have little to no experience in welding, taking classes in a technical welding school (or learning from an apprenticeship) is essential. It’s important to understand the tools, safety procedures and applications, before taking on welding as a career. This article will focus on how long the education process will take the average student, as well as what to expect during that timeframe.
Welding can be an interesting career prospect for anyone with a hands-on, practical mindset. Not only does it pay well (you will earn up to $45k USD a year on average), it is also greatly in demand in many types of industries around the globe. The best part? It doesn’t need to take long before you can land your first job or apprenticeship.
How Long Welding School Takes
Welding school would take up to 6-8 months to complete if you follow all relevant courses. Each welding course would take 3-4 weeks on average. However, a complete welding education takes up to 3-4 years when pursuing an apprenticeship and official AWS welding certification.
Please be aware of the fact that everyone’s educational path is unique. Also, the length of the courses might differ depending on the school you choose. For example, the most popular educational institution for welders-to-be in the USA, Tulsa Welding School, would take 7 months in total.
How Long A Welding Apprenticeship Takes
Welding apprenticeships would take a minimum of 2,000 hours per year, plus a minimum of 144 hours of classroom instruction per year. An apprenticeship would take a few years to finish, for a total average apprenticeship length of 6,000 to 8,000 hours in 3-5 years.
Since every apprenticeship location is different and education paths might differ, so can the total length of your apprenticeships be structured differently than described above. The numbers are based on a full-time workweek of 40 hours a week. Just be aware that it’s pretty common to follow this work-education path for multiple years, with relatively low pay.
Becoming A Welder With No Experience
Anyone can learn the essentials of welding, but it will take good education to get to the next level and increase your career prospects. There are a lot of practically oriented technical schools that can train you up to a welding professional. The best course of action to take is to earn yourself an official welding certification from the American Welding Society (AWS). The following education path allows you to obtain such certification:
- High school graduation (prerequisite): Before you are even considered for a follow-up education, you need to have successfully graduated from high school. If you are adult and do not possess a high school diploma, don’t panic. Americans can often get state-funded high school diploma as adults. If you live outside of the USA, similar adult-focused programs often exist.
- Welding degree: Consisting of multiple courses (at least 3, but taking as many as possible is recommended) at a local or state-level technical school. Some degrees will already have the apprenticeship option incorporated into their curriculum, which is recommended and often mandatory to take. Successfully finishing your degree will give you a school certification, but it’s recommended to move on and obtain your AWS certification as well.
- Apprenticeship: During the course of multiple months or even years, you’ll learn and work at an organization or corporation of your choosing. You would need to apply for it as if it were a real job, because it is a real job. Apprenticeships won’t make you a high-paying wage though. So be prepared to work for a relatively low amount (roughly $14-$15 USD an hour).
- AWS welding certification: It’s finally time to get that much sought-after piece of paper. This requires you to follow a (rather expensive) exam at the American Welder Society (AWS). On the official AWS website, you will find all the details on how to obtain this certification. To complete the exam, make an appointment at one of your local AWS-accredited testing facilities. If you’re inside the USA, find your local test facility here (or use the international list here).
Obtaining an AWS certification is not only a benefit on your CV to obtain a job quickly. In some US states, having such certification is mandatory by law. So even if you are a skilled welder already, it can pay off to follow the education path described above.
Type Of Welding Classes To Expect
The focus of your welding school experience will be on the practical side of things. However, there is also a lot of theory to learn. Depending on your specialization, this will differ. In the basic program, you can expect classes focused on the following aspects:
- Metallurgy: A fundamental theoretical course on how metals behave chemically and how basic physics apply to heat, weld techniques, and different types of metals.
- Joining & Cutting: What you learned in theory from metallurgy, you will also put into practice. Different types of metals, alloys and end result paths will be discussed and executed. You will familiarize yourself with the tools and what they can do for you.
- Weld Techniques: This speaks for itself. You will learn about topics like arc welding, brazing, oxy-fuel cutting, and laser welding (among many others).
- Design: It’s very useful to get to know the theory, tools, and techniques. But actually designing products from metal is what welding is all about. That’s where design classes come in handy.
- Robotic & Industrial: Welding is commonly used by big industry corporations. A lot of this is robotized and automated. You will learn about robotics and how to handle large-scale industrial welding.
- Quality Control & Codes: Anyone can stick to bits of metal together with some heat. But doing it professionally is taking things to the next level. You will learn what it means to weld with quality standards and how to follow codes to the dot for optimal results.
- Health & Safety: Paying attention to courses related to safety seems self-evident. This is a class that is absolutely mandatory to take and pass flawlessly, otherwise, you can put yourself and others around you in potential danger.
Now obviously, your weld school might choose to place a priority on some of these topics over others. As basic themes, however, the above list is pretty standard and is exactly what you will at least learn in some of the courses you take. Also be aware that throughout your education, tuition fees need to be paid.
How Much Does It Cost To Go To Welding School?
Welding school can be taken at community college or a local technical school, which will cost anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000 USD a year, for a total of two years. Bachelor degree welding school costs between $10,000 and $25,000 USD a year, for a total of four years.
These costs will often include materials and tuition fees. If you would rather take the apprenticeship path because these costs are too high, you will require an investment between $0 and $1,300 USD total. These programs (as mentioned) typically last between three and five years.
If you wish to pursue the AWS welding certificate exam after that, you will need to invest another few hundred US dollars per exam attempt. The fees for this type of exams will differ every year. You can find an exam cost list for the year 2019 using this PDF file. That will give an indication of the costs you can expect, but the prices are likely to go up in the years after. This has to do with inflation and the more stringent quality checks.
Pursuing A Welding Career
If you wish to pursue a career as a welder, it is obvious that some investment in both time and money is required. But most of all, you will have to enjoy the process ánd really want to work with your hands. It also requires some technical insight and dedication to the craft.
If you’re a natural welder like me, you will have no problem at all following this educational path. However, if you’re only in it for the money and wouldn’t also fiddle with welding in your spare time, I think the process will be a lot harder to complete. Becoming a welder is for people passionate about making things. For those that like to work with tools. For people that are creative and fearless.
If that’s you, I’d certainly consider welding as a potential future career. This blog is obviously filled with welding-related information, so it’s a good resource to start looking around and see if welding is something you’re interested in. I’d also advise you to invest in some welding gear yourself and (cautiously) try to work with metals yourself. Ask around in your social circle if anyone is willing to help guide you. Good luck on your journey, wherever it may take you. And as always, weld on!
Featured Image Credit: Sheppard Air Force Base