September 16, 2008
Welding is a craft that requires both proper training and practice. Training your welders can have a very positive effect on your operation. A well-trained welder is more likely to produce high quality welds efficiently and weld safely. He also may be more satisfied with his job and stick around longer
As a provider of welding training in the U.S. for many years, I have found managers have a common misconception about their welding operators. This misconception is that anyone who has performed welding for a period of time is a skilled welder. After all, anybody can weld, right? Well, if you said "right,' it's good that you're reading this.
A welding trade union has never existed, largely because welding is a part of many trades. Diversification has led us to believe that welding really isn't a craft, but simply a practiced skill. And this leads us to a false perception that there are no real standards for weld quality, and in many cases, neither management nor the operators realize they are doing substandard work.
Contrary to popular belief, years of experience do not guarantee a higher quality of workmanship. In fact, practice really doesn't make better—only good practice makes better. You can perform the same welds over and over incorrectly and get the same result—poor welds. Improving weld quality requires training.
Keep in mind that not all people have the necessary aptitude, or natural ability, to become skilled welders.
Welder training is important for several reasons.
Improved Weld Quality and Efficiency. Quality of workmanship is enhanced when a welder understands exactly what a good weld is and has received over-the-shoulder instruction in the proper technique required to produce quality welds.
A well-trained welder spends less time setting up equipment and rewelding, which leads to greater efficiency.
Safety-consciousness Work Habits. A training benefit often overlooked is the higher level of safety awareness among trained welders.
Welding presents some serious hazards that can cause loss of life and significant property damage.
Oxyfuel equipment poses the most serious concerns, with as many as nine out of 10 operators (based on my experience) not understanding safe setup and operating procedures. Related to this is compressed-gas cylinder handling in general.
Among other safety concerns are electrical hazards and eye protection. Obviously, downtime can be costly, but the most important issue here is that of protecting your employees. Remember, you are only as safe as your most unsafe operator.
Less Liability. Perhaps the biggest benefit of welding training is the decreased likeliness of liability. Very specific welding procedures must be followed when welding on structural members, and these procedures are found in welding codes developed by governing organizations, such as the American Welding Society.
Based on my welding training experience, most welding operators do not understand and have not been trained to perform welding that meets the requirements of these codes. It is crucial that welding operators, not just the engineering staff, understand the established standards. A welder can have good welding skills but produce failed welds because he used improper procedures. For example, he may have used the incorrect electrodes, failed to prepare the metal properly, did not maintain the minimum base metal temperature, or did not achieve the proper weld sizing.
This raises the issue of having qualified, or certified, welders. Not every weld requires a certified welder, but many do. Any structure that is walked on, climbed on, or could fall on someone must be welded by a documented qualified welder.
Even if your operators are certified, liability still is an issue if they aren't following correct procedures, or if they are taking short cuts that would be considered negligence in a lawsuit.
It's not just a matter of how many years' experience your welding operators have, but how well they understand quality issues and the procedures required for code acceptance. Unfortunately, we often don't find out there's a problem until a welded connection fails.
Welder certification is a subject too broad to cover in this article, but hopefully my brief comments about the topic will generate some questions. A lot of welding would appear to be a simple job, but there always is more to quality than what meets the untrained eye!
Job Satisfaction. Receiving training leads to greater job satisfaction. If you know more about what you're doing, can do it well, and you understand the importance of your job, you enjoy it more and work harder at doing it better.
Good welding training gives the trainee a sense of his or her potential as a valued employee. A comment I've heard several times from managers is, "We don't want to spend a lot of money training someone and then have them quit and go somewhere else!' This certainly is a valid concern. But in reality, if you don't train them well, they may leave someday anyway, because they don't feel valued or become bored with their job.
Employers should ask, "How much benefit do I want to receive from this employee while he's here?' No matter how you evaluate it, training doesn't cost – it pays!