Welders and their helpers or apprentices are in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the need for welders is expected to grow by 26% in 2020.
Welding is, of course, the process of permanently joining metal parts, using heat to melt and fuse them in an unshakeable bond. Different welding techniques are used in automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding, aerospace, construction, pipeline building, and many other industries.
While the welders are the stars, they couldn’t do their jobs without assistance from helpers or apprentices. As the welder concentrates on welding, the helper or apprentice does everything else, such as supplying or holding materials and tools, in addition to cleaning the work area and equipment.
For example, when it comes to pipeline welding for the oil and gas industry, a welder assistant might help the welder by cleaning and grinding the weld area. As the pipeline welder runs a bead, the helper or apprentice would remove the slag and run a grinder or brush all around the pipe. They might also look for flaws in the equipment and bring in a maintenance person to handle them.
As you look for welder helper or apprentice jobs, you will have a variety of job types and types of welding processes to consider. Some of the main forms of welding include:
- MIG welding. This is one of the easiest forms of welding to learn. Bare-wire MIG welding is used to join thin pieces of metal together. Flux-core MIG welding is often employed outdoors because it does not require a flow meter or gas supply.
- TIG welding. This is an extremely versatile and high-quality form of welding that takes a lot of skill. One hand of the welder feeds the rod, while the other holds a TIG torch, creating the heat used to weld metals that include aluminum, steel, nickel alloys, copper alloys, cobalt, and titanium.
- Stick welding. Also known as arc welding, this is an old-fashioned method that uses a stick electrode welding rod.
- Plasma arc welding. Like TIG welding, this is a precision technique often used in the aerospace industry, with the thin but tough metals in parts, such as engine blades and air seals.
- Electron beam and laser welding. These are extremely precise, high-energy welding techniques.
- Gas welding. Largely replaced by TIG welding, gas welding is only used occasionally for jobs like repairing car exhausts. Highly portable gas welding kits use oxygen and acetylene.
Since almost every industry relies on fabricated structures and equipment, there is a wide demand for the services of welders and their helpers or apprentices. Some of the available welding work includes:
- Construction welders. With all the metal used in the construction of buildings, bridges, and civil engineering projects, welders and their helpers or assistants have a major role to play. Residential construction welders perform smaller tasks, such as joining pipes that carry gas or water. A commercial construction welder does more challenging and complex jobs.
- Manufacturing welders. Manufacturing welders and helpers or apprentices are needed in agricultural metal manufacturing, mining, car-making, and many other sectors.
- Structural steel welders. A structural steel welder, or ironworker, is involved in fabricating and erecting the structural framework of buildings for industries that include construction companies, mining companies, shipbuilding companies, aerospace companies, and oil and gas companies.
- Sheet metal workers. These specialist welders and their helpers or assistants are responsible for creating, installing, and repairing sheet metal products. Sheet metal workers are commonly needed in maintenance work, including the servicing of air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems, and roofing repair.
- Boilermakers. Specialized welders are involved in making, then installing boilers and large containers that are designed to hold liquids and gases.
- Industrial maintenance welders. An industrial maintenance welder can help repair, modify, and fabricate industrial facilities and equipment. Industrial machinery and equipment can see a lot of use and must be repaired quickly if they break down.
- Industrial shutdown welders. If industrial machinery or equipment has to be shut down completely for repairs to be made, industrial shutdown welders are put into play. The process could take weeks to several months, depending on the size of the plant being inspected and the extent of the repairs needed.
- Rig welders. Whether onshore or offshore, oil and gas rigs have a big demand for welders and their helpers or apprentices.
- Pipefitters. Natural gas industries, oil and gas industries, electric, and water utility industries use pipelines to transport their products. Pipefitters are the welders who service this sector.
- Motorsports welders. Welders play an important role in the teams servicing professional racing cars.
- Shipyard welders. Welding is important for shipbuilding, as well as the repair and maintenance of ships. Shipyard welders are required for cargo ships, military vessels, research vessels, and other ships, often requiring them to travel between ports.
- Military welders. These welders are involved in the manufacture, repair, and maintenance of military vehicles, weapons, and facilities. They are often required to work in danger zones and must go through basic military training.
- Underwater welders. This is one of the most dangerous types of welding — working in deep-sea conditions to repair pipelines, ships, dams, offshore oil drilling rigs, sub-sea habitats, and even nuclear power facilities.
There are different ways to enter the welding profession. They include:
- Becoming a Welder Apprentice. If you know a veteran welder or can get introduced to one, snagging a welding apprenticeship is a great way to learn the trade from a seasoned pro. Even so, most jobs would be very hesitant to take someone with no training or experience and will often demand certifications from the American Welding Society.
- Becoming a Welder Helper. This position is usually found among pipeline welding jobs, assisting pipeline welders in grinding beads, prep pipe, and doing other sundry jobs. Welder helpers can earn a decent salary and, if they wish, can practice to become a pipeline welder themselves. However, these positions are in high demand and often require a personal connection from your network.
- Going to Welding School. Taking a college welding course is a fast way to learn the certified skills you need to become a welder or, at first, an assistant. Of course, this comes at a cost, which could mean student debt. Some schools will offer shorter, part-time options, such as covering a specific welding process, like stick or TIG.
- Learning Online. There are a lot of free how-to welding videos online where you can learn techniques and processes. This could involve investing in a small multiprocessor welder, which would cost less than college tuition. You can then test for professional certifications when you are ready. The American Welding Society also offers a comprehensive catalog of seminars, online courses, conferences, blogs, podcasts, and other educational materials.
Some important qualities for welder helpers or apprentices include having:
- Good hand-eye coordination. Holding metal steadily in place and accurately running a grinder. Other work requires a strong, steady hand and a good eye.
- A strong eye for detail. Welding consists of precision work that demands straight edges and few flaws.
- Physical stamina. The hours of a welding apprentice can be long and demanding, requiring endurance and strength. A welder helper or apprentice often must lift heavy equipment and endure long hours of standing or repetitive movement.
- Flexibility. Different kinds of welding work can be found all over the country. Getting a job may require relocating.
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