If you pay attention, you can learn something new on any given day. And sometimes, what you learn makes you smack your forehead, either literally or mentally, and think I should have known that.
Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I was sharing an exchange on Facebook with a dear friend who happens to keep machinery running in a large factory, which means he keeps the factory running. He was surprised that we were in a similar industry—one that involves fabricating processes. I told him that I had even tried welding, and he brought up how much he admired welding assistants. Smack!
I hate to admit my ignorance, but I had never given any thought to welding assistants, simply because I wasn’t aware of their existence. No lie. Almost 15 years in this business, and welding assistants were an unknown to me. Most of the welders I know have their own small shops and do all of the welding themselves (see Josh Welton, of Brown Dog Welding). I figured that they likely have office help, or if they have a lot of business, may employ other welders—but assistants?
I apologize to all welding assistants out there and want you to know that my light-bulb moment resulted in finding out more about this very important career. First, I turned to today’s go-to for information gathering—Google.
The MyMajors website lists 35 functions welding assistants perform, tasks that range from cleaning work areas to repairing equipment and measuring and recording data. If you read the entire least, you will see that many of the assistant’s duties are crucial. Welding is dangerous, and the failure to perform all facets of the job correctly can cause serious consequences.
Next, I turned to one of my welding experts, Carl Smith, to give me more information. I specifically wanted to know if welding assistants were in demand. We keep hearing about the welder shortage, and I wondered if this applied to assistants also, or if assistants had become economic casualties.
Carl said, “In our area right now (Charleston, West Virginia), there is a need for several welding assistants, (helpers). Every pipeline welder has an assistant to clean and grind the weld area. The welder runs a bead, and the assistant removes the slag and runs a grinder or brush all the way around the pipe. The assistant also observes any flaws in the equipment and makes repairs, or brings in a maintenance person to do the work.
“The welder and assistant are a team, much like a pitcher and catcher or a golfer and caddy. They must agree on methods of performance, timing, and when to move the cables and tools, etc. In most cases, they have been together for many years, especially in the 798 pipeliners union. The helpers on a pipeline usually make more money than a fabricating shop welder.
“In a small- to medium-sized fabrication shop, the assistant usually also is a fitter. Sometimes this person actually makes more money than the welder. The fitter is responsible for fitting the weld joint and relaying the drawing information to the welder (symbols, etc.).
“I have never understood why the assistants have no desire to be welders in most cases. It is rare, but once in a while they do become welders.”
Fitters can make more than welders? Tell me more, Carl.
“Fitters are required to know more about the drawings and details than the welder. They are able to sequence the welds for the welder and make "weld maps" for the inspectors. Most fab shop welders appreciate the fitters, even if they do make more money.”
Thank you, Carl … and Randall, for first bringing this to my attention. I’ll be asking “Welding Wire” readers to share their experiences as or with welding assistants in the June e-newsletter. I have more to learn.
Metal fabricators aren't known to take a lot of time away from the shop, but sometimes they need to break away from the daily grind to think more strategically about the business. The FABRICATOR's Leadership Summit at the FMA annual meeting in New Orleans, March 8-10, is just the place where these metal fabricators need to be.
The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.