Welding has become a popular choice for those looking to start a new career in the trades. With a growing demand for certified welders across the country, there are lots of opportunities to start a new and rewarding career.
Welders play a very important role in many mechanical trades. Construction, automotive, and energy sectors are only a few of the industries that rely on welders to help build and complete their projects.
In this article, we’ll break down the welding education and training options to become a certified welder and highlight how they differ from one another.
Welding Education vs. Welding Training
To become a successful welder, you need to understand the different welding processes and produce quality work. Welding is a skill that takes time to learn how to do it safely and properly.
Employers looking to hire a welder may want an employee who has completed proper welding training and obtained a welding certification. However, you do not need a welding certification to be a good welder. And not all employers will hire only certified welders.
There are many different routes to go to learn welding. So what’s the best route? And do you need a welding certification or will training suffice?
One route includes enrolling in a trade school program at a local community college. You can also choose to pursue an apprenticeship and jump right into on-the-job training.
No matter how you learn to weld, you can always continue on the path to obtaining your welding certification from the American Welding Society or another nationally recognized welding organization. It really comes down to which avenue makes the most sense for you.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Welder?
There are many different paths to becoming a certified welder. And the time it takes you to get there will depend on how you choose to obtain your welding certification and training.
There is no minimum education or length of studies that you need to meet to successfully pass the American Welding Society’s Welding Certification. The certification test is entirely performance-based. You simply need to be able to demonstrate that you meet the standards necessary to safely perform different welding procedures and can produce quality welds.
Becoming a certified welder is more than just passing a test; it also includes training. The amount of time it takes to train to become a certified welder will depend on if you complete an apprenticeship or a formal program at a trade school, your other time commitments, and your personal life.
A welding apprenticeship usually takes anywhere from 1-6 years to complete. Most welders complete their welding apprenticeship in about 3 years. If you enroll in a trade school, these programs generally take about 2-4 years to complete depending on the type of program and school.
Welding Apprenticeships vs Trade Schools
It doesn’t matter if you choose to start a welding apprenticeship or enroll in a trade school. Both paths can help you become a certified welder.
For a lot of welders, the path they choose to take often comes down to where they are in their lives. If you’re just coming out of high school, you likely have fewer commitments and obligations than someone looking to start a second career. At the same time, that also means you have less life experience and might not feel ready to jump into the real world just yet.
When it comes to deciding which path is right for you to take, you need to consider three key
factors—entry requirements, length of the training, and the costs to complete your education.
Each welding training and education path has different requirements to get started. Most companies require apprentices to have a high school diploma at a minimum. Trade schools on the other hand require students to have earned their GED.
Length of the Welding Program
Every trade school is different and program length can vary. In most cases, it takes about 2 years to complete a program. When you’re done, you’ll have a certificate and credits that you can use to continue your education and enroll in more advanced programs or transfer to a different school. That could result in another 2-3 years of education and training.
An apprenticeship includes a mix of on-the-job training and periods of study at a school. Most welding apprenticeships last around 3 years to complete all the training and pass your welding certification exams.
Training and Education Costs
Training and costs can vary based on the path you take. Some online welding classes are affordable and will get you started on your path to becoming a professional welder.
Depending on the route you go, you may be required to acquire tools and work gear, which would otherwise be provided to students attending classes at a community college. This could be great for those who want to go into the trade as an entrepreneur. However, this can be an extra, unexpected cost.
Comparatively, trade schools can include added costs like textbooks or shop fees. In either case, both welding apprenticeships vs trade schools typically range between $4000-$6000 per year.
Learning on the Job: Welding Apprenticeships
If you’re looking for the most “real-life” learning experiences, starting a welding apprenticeship, rather than enrolling in a trade school, is the way to go. Getting an apprenticeship with the right company will have you working with different welders to get trained on different welding processes. You’ll work with journeymen who specialize in MIG welding, TIG welding, and stick welding to build a well-rounded set of welding skills.
Welding apprenticeships aren’t for everyone. For instance, if you’re just coming out of high school, you might not feel ready or that you have enough experience to jump into the workforce full time. If that’s the case, a welding program at a trade school is likely the way to go.
A welding apprenticeship requires your full commitment and you won’t make as much as a full-time certified welder when just starting out. If you are switching careers but have other financial obligations to take care of, it might be best to stay at your current job and attend night classes at a trade school to build your skills and experience.
Pros and Cons of Welding Apprenticeships
Starting a welding apprenticeship offers many benefits including:
This welding training allows you to work on real projects and learn from experienced welders on the job.
Career Advancement Opportunities
As you progress through your apprenticeship and welding training, there may be opportunities to advance and take on bigger roles. You may also have opportunities to acquire other welding certifications through the company.
Gain Real-World Experience
Training as an apprentice allows you to gain real-world experience and learn about things that can only be experienced on the job site.
Many Employers Prefer To Hire Apprentices
Every company is different and many prefer to hire apprentices that they can train and mold to meet their specific needs. As an apprentice gains experience and progresses through their welding training, they can begin to take on bigger and more important projects for the company.
While there are many benefits to starting a welding apprenticeship, there are also some drawbacks that should be considered.
The cons of a welding apprenticeship include:
No Degree or Transferable Courses
When you complete welding training through an apprenticeship you don’t earn a degree or diploma like you do at a community college. Trade schools provide you with the credentials and course credits to continue your education at other community colleges or universities and transfer credits to expedite your education at a higher level.
Purely Technical Certificate
Completing a welding apprenticeship provides you with a purely technical welding certificate. It does not require you to learn other skills like accounting or marketing that may be helpful if you ever want to start your own welding business.
Welding Trade Schools
Welding trade schools offer their own set of benefits to those looking to earn a welding certification. Many people enroll in trade schools with the goal of learning specialized welding skills like pipe welding, boiler making, or plumbing.
If you are looking to start a second career, night classes are a popular way to learn the welding skills needed to become certified and start welding full-time. Rather than committing to an apprenticeship, trade schools can offer flexible schedules to help you learn at your own pace and allow for other commitments.
Pros and Cons of Trade Schools
The pros of attending a welding trade school include:
Welding Instructors Are Always There To Help Guide You
When you first learn different welding processes, it’s natural to have questions or want some feedback. When you enroll at a trade school, you’ll have instructors in each class willing to answer your questions and provide feedback.
During an apprenticeship, you’re actively working on a job and sometimes your employer may be too busy to take the time to thoroughly teach you different skills. In that case, your work may end up just being good enough and not great.
Flexible Class Schedules
Trade schools offer different class schedules to meet your needs. Whether you want to take courses in the evenings or full-time during the day, you can build a schedule that works for you.
Apprenticeships on the other hand are full-time jobs that have set hours you have to follow.
Learn About The Theory Behind Different Welding Processes
Trade schools do more than just teach you how to complete different welding processes, they make sure you understand how they work. Rather than just getting practical experience, you’ll build a knowledge base that will help you later on if you want to obtain other certifications like becoming a welding inspector or instructor.
Increase Your Earning Potential
Most people enroll in a welding program at a trade school to obtain a specialization like boiler making or pipe welding. If you complete a program to acquire a certain specialization, it makes you more valuable to an employer. By doing so, you’ll be able to earn a higher wage than someone with just general welding skills and knowledge.
When apprentices are starting out, they earn less than the other experienced welders on the job. As the apprentice progresses, their pay slowly increases until they make the same as other certified welders. By enrolling in a trade school, you’ll avoid the apprentice wages and may be able to start your career at a full-level salary.
Start Working Full Time Upon Graduation
A lot of companies recruit people right out of trade school. If you go in to obtain a specialized skill like pipe welding, for example, oil companies and others may participate in job fairs at the school and allow you to interview for positions before you graduate.
Trade schools aren’t all sunshine and rainbows though. There are a couple of drawbacks you should be aware of.
The cons of welding trade schools include:
They Cost More Than An Apprenticeship
Working as an apprentice allows you to earn money as you learn. However, enrolling at a welding trade school comes with tuition, shop fees, and textbook costs. There may be grants or financial assistance available to you but you will have to pay more than you would training as an apprentice.
Employers Like Apprentices
There are different benefits to employers if they hire an apprentice. A big one is cost. An apprentice will earn less than someone that holds a welding certification and has some experience to back it up.
Obtaining Your Welding Certification With The Help of Welder101
To become a certified welder, you’ll need to successfully pass a welding certification exam at an AWS accredited testing facility. The certified welder exam offered by the American Welding Society is a purely skill-based exam that allows you to demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to safely work as a welding professional.
You can use the online training courses from Welder101 to build your base of welding knowledge and improve your skills. A Welder101 membership provides access to a growing library of more than 50 training videos and welding articles that are updated on a frequent basis.
Your membership also provides you with:
- 30+ years of welding experience into entertaining and educational welding resources to help you master different welding processes and skills. You can use these resources at your own pace, spending as much or as little time as you need developing any one skill.
- Access to our private Facebook group where you can connect and interact with welding experts and other Welder101 members.
- Savings on different welding merchandise and equipment from some of the industry’s most reputable manufacturers including Welder Up, USAWeld.com, and many more!
If you’re eager to learn welding, then start with Welder101 as soon as possible. This online course combines many of the benefits found in apprenticeships and formal welding education without the hassle. It can also prepare you for an apprenticeship or to pass your certification exam. Do not waste another second and enroll today!