The closer you get to graduation, the more people seem to ask you, “What are you doing after high school?” It can be a really hard question to answer. A four-year college isn't the right path for everyone – especially when the average college student graduates with around $30,000 of debt.
If you want a career that you can start quickly, is in high demand, and offers both a good starting salary and opportunities for advancement, then you need to look into the welding industry.
What does a welder do?
On a basic level, a welder takes two pieces of metal and joins them together so they are as strong as one piece. This can be done with a few different processes, either by hand or with robotic equipment. Welders can work anywhere from inside a fabrication shop to an outdoor job site around the world.
Being a welder isn't as simple as nailing two pieces of wood together. Welding involves complicated chemistry to make sure that the metals are going to hold together properly. It also takes training and skill to lay down a strong weld to build a car, bridge, ship or many different structures we use every day. For these reasons, and more, welding is an exciting job that can also pay very well.
How much does a welder make?
Salaries for welders can vary based on where you live and the type of work you’re doing. Looking at national averages, most new welders make between $27,000 and $34,500 per year. Full-time jobs can also come with important benefits like health insurance.
Of course, that's just the starting point. As you gain more experience and perhaps different certifications, welding offers even higher earning potential. The average salary of all welders in the US is around $44,000 – but it's possible to make $100,000 or more depending on what type of welding you specialize in.
As you can see, you can make a very good living being a welder. So how do you get started?
How to become a welder
Most welding training schools and jobs will require you to have a high school diploma or GED. While you’re still in high school, taking extra math and science classes will come in handy (and help you earn more money) once you start welding.
In most cases, there are three main ways you can get training to become a welder:
- Attend a technical school – There are many technical schools around the country where you can focus on welding. You will learn about the properties of metals, different welding processes, safety and much more. You can usually finish the program in less than a year, and technical schools are significantly less expensive than four-year colleges.
After graduating from the program and practicing your skills, you can sign up to take the AWS Certified Welder test. Once you pass and become certified, employers will know you are qualified for a good-paying job.
If this path sounds interesting, you can search for a welding school near you.
- Attend a community college – Your local community college may offer a welding program. The big difference between this route and technical school is that you may have to take some general, non-welding classes at a community college to earn an associate degree.
This additional education can be valuable when you look for a job but it usually takes about two years to complete a community college welding program. You’ll also want to pass the AWS certification test. Two years may sound long but it's still half the time it takes most students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, so you're still getting a head start on your career.
- Participate in an apprenticeship – Welding apprenticeships are available through employers or sponsored by trade organizations. The program includes classroom lessons and on-the-job training where you work alongside experienced welders. It can be a great way to gain hands-on experience to build your skills and learn important safety practices.
Going the route of an apprenticeship can take longer to complete than a technical school or community college – usually about four or five years. But there are also some big benefits. First off, you’ll most likely get paid while you get trained. Also, you could complete your program with a specialty such as ironworking, pipefitting or boilermaking, which can help you advance your career faster.
Other things you need to know
- After graduating, be ready to apply your welding skills in an interview, showing employers that you can produce quality welds.
- Many entry-level welding jobs will require on-the-job training to learn specialized skills.
- You can advance your career by earning certifications or other credentials for different welding techniques, specialties or industries.
- Just like in any other career, having a polished resume and good interviewing skills are important for landing the job you want.
Take the next steps
When deciding what to do after high school, you have many options. Becoming a welder is one way to start a career within a year of graduation and make good money right away.
This article originally appeared on WeldingDigest.com