Advice for Ken about his welding career

January 25, 2012

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Are you among those who "like" The FABRICATOR page on Facebook? If so, you may have seen the January 11 post from Kenny Johnson, who wrote: "Where does everyone see the future of fabrication in the U.S.? Certified welders, or welders with degrees but no certifications? I ask this because I am looking at taking some classes and getting certified."

Perhaps no one is more qualified to answer Ken's questions than  readers of the "Welding Wire," e-newsletter. We put the questions in the January issue, and here's what some of the readers had to say.

Carl said, "When I got out of the Army in 1968, my Dad thought I was going to be a bricklayer like him. I didn't; I went to school to become a welder. After completing welding school in 1970, I got my first welding job. From 1970 to 1983, I worked at just about all kinds of welding. In 1983 the construction job I was on ran out. I came to work for the company I'm with and have been with them ever since. I TIG weld turbine aircraft engine parts.

"No matter how many certifications you have under your belt, you will have to test at any job. To comply with the Federal Aviation Agency, I have to test every year, in six metal groups—two tests per group. I personally feel that experience is better than a pocket full of degrees." 

Melissa offered the following advice: "I would say if you’re going into teaching, then a degree is the way to go.  If you want to travel and be able to use your skills everywhere you go, then get the certifications, as many as you can get in all positions and all processes." 

Paul said, "My advice to Ken is go for it! You can most certainly enjoy a challenging and rewarding career in the welding trade. You can also take many different routes in the trade. You can inspect, instruct, be an engineer and metallurgist, and the welding trade crosses most other trades as well, for example, millwright.

"As you move into a career in welding I will tell you this … acquire as much knowledge and theory you can. This will put you in a much higher place in the trade and will allow you to do much more. I was a welding instructor for more than five years to people from many different walks of life—young and old, experienced and nonexperienced—and I told everyone I taught the same thing. Take extra courses, read more books, ask more questions; this will put you above the rest.

"You could just learn to weld and be happy there—what you would call a 'rod burner' or a 'MIG monkey'—and that is okay, if that is what you want. I highly advise you to acquire as much knowledge and theory of welding you can, and I can tell you it will put on the top of the list when you look for work. So, go for it, Ken, and most of all, enjoy it!"

Jeff said, "With more than 30 years in the welding and fabrication industry and a degree as well, I offer the following: Get the education in any case.  That will open more doors for you in the future.

"To become a top- notch welder/fitter/fabricator, you should understand theory, blueprint reading, basic metallurgy, etc.  (A few basic business classes wouldn’t hurt either.)  While I'm not saying that one could not be a good welder/fitter without education, I truly believe that the more you understand your chosen profession, the more opportunity you will have to really make a difference. 

"Getting an education does not necessarily mean formal schooling. Many welders are self-educated using the vast selection of books and the Internet. About the Internet—there really is a lot of misinformation out there too. Be careful to select information from credible sources like the major welding product manufacturers, at least at first, so you can separate out the bs found on many Web sites.

"As far as certifications? They are necessary in the industry, period.  If you are going to weld on a project that requires them, you'll have to certify to the project-specified code, whether you have a degree or not.

"A very common and possibly dangerous misconception of 'certified' welders is that they are qualified for whatever comes into the shop. Don't be lead down that path. Certifications are very specific regarding the process and material to be used.  Most changes require recertification, and besides, most companies you might work for are going to require their own welding test. Talk to your instructor or other knowledgeable person before you waste your money taking a welding test that may be of absolutely no use. Good luck!" 

There you have it, Ken—straight talk from seasoned welders. To echo Paul, go for and enjoy it! And keep us posted on your progress.

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Vicki Bell

Web Content Manager
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