Welding your way to a six-figure income?

October 29, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Last week's Welding Wire e-newsletter lead feature discussed a report by Chief White House correspondent for the CBS Evening News, Jim Axelrod, who recently was surprised to learn about a career that requires no college degree and pays six figures.

Axelrod reported that "thanks to a program run by WorkNet Pinellas in Tampa, Fla., hundreds of men and women, many with no more than a high school diploma, are training for jobs that practically guarantee a six figure salary within three-to-five years & it's as old-school as it gets."

Axelrod was referring to precision welding, a highly refined skill involving delicate balances of just the right amount of heat and pressure. It seems that precision welders are in high demand in Florida, in large part because of the reemergence of nuclear power plants. According to Axelrod, hundreds of welders are needed for maintenance and construction.

"With many current welders reaching retirement age, the law of supply and demand is taking over, driving up wages and filling up training programs. The graduates of the WorkNet Pinellas program start at $60,000 after a 16-week training course. With overtime and a little seasoning, they can be making well over $100,000 in short order," Axelrod said.

Welding Wire subscribers were asked to weigh in on the lead topic: Based on your experience, how accurate is the CBS report that hundreds of precision welding jobs will be available in the U.S.? Are welder wages climbing? Do beginning precision welders make $60,000 a year?

To be honest, I expected a majority of respondents to say that the report was full of hooey, and that the reporter must have been high on welding fumes. We often hear from welders who are making little more than minimum wage. However, I'm thrilled to report that my expectations were not met. Two-thirds of those who responded said that welding is indeed a lucrative career.

Here are some responses from both the yea and nay camps:

Dan in Nebraska: "We had six graduates (year and a half associate degree) start at $31 an hour at several power plants in the Kansas City, Iowa, Nebraska area. Other graduates are starting around $20 working for the railroad. I thought the story was excellent and right on. I teach welding at Southeast Community College in Lincoln Neb., and we have had a surge in enrollment the last couple of years."

Contract manufacturer Alan: "Yes; if the welder is truly a precision welder after completing the applicable length of qualification/training, 60K per year is very perceivable, especially with overtime consideration.

"Further to supporting my answer, welding is an unusually highly stressful and disciplined occupation and should be a high paying craft. Precision welding takes a certain type of individual who usually develops into a unique craftsman."

James from a company that produces commercial and defense vessels: "Being in the welding field for about 30 years, covering everything from cross country pipelines to plant fabrication and running my own marine fabrication part-time, and being in charge of welding training & testing here at [my company], I can somewhat agree with [the report].

"I have also taught welding technology at Jeff Davis Community College (Atmore, Ala.) for 16 years, teaching both day and night classes by myself to an average of 14 to 24 students before I came to [my current place of employment].

"Since the end of WWII, welding has been looked upon as a dirty, hot, and not-so-classy job to have, mostly for people that quite school in early years (drop-outs), therefore four- year institutions were pushed to those who could afford it. Now that has finally caught up with us. [My company has] had a difficult time in finding middle to highly trained welders, and the ones we do find can easily make 45k to 55k, and with overtime it can go over 70k+.

"The new problem we face today is that so many of our state-run education departments think they can train qualified welders in 10 weeks or less with students that have had no experience whatsoever in this field. Won"t work!

A student that wants to have a general knowledge of this process must learn and possess the basic fundamentals that are offered in programs like our community colleges have (or should have) in what we used to conduct in a long certificate course*#8212; one and one-half to two years.

But the most important factor in all of this is they must be taught the proper attitude. Without good work ethics, they don"t stand a chance, and it's up to the instructors to do this since most of the students of today have no mentors.

I fell into this work strictly by accident, but with the guidance of a few people already in the field, it has been very good to me and I would hate to think of where I would be today if it were not for the career I have chosen."

Rick, a man of few words who works for a fabrication company: "With benefits added in and about five hours per week or more of overtime, an experienced welder can make upwards of $75,000 per year.

Among those who believe the report was not accurate are:

Kris: "I live in Newton, Kan., and I am trained in MIG, TIG, Flux, stainless, aluminum, etc., and I can't seem to make more than $15 an hour. I guess I need to move to Florida. How do I go about finding these jobs in Florida?"

Rich in Indiana: "I really don't believe there are very many welding jobs out there anymore. I have been welding for about 40 years and am out of work. I was teaching TIG & and we could not place welders in central Indiana. I am studying for my CWI and CWE test, but do not have much hope of employment. But I am not going to stop. I have been doing some wrought iron but even that is slow.

"For about 20 yrs I worked in race car shops doing welding and fab work, but that has gotten very slow in the last five or so years. I would not advise anyone to take up welding. Go to school for HAVC—year around work and good pay."

Earl in California: "That's crazy!! I'm a welding engineer in a respected aerospace company. I don't make $60,000, and this is the most I've ever made in the aerospace business."

Calling all welders reading this & what do you think? Is it possible to make a six-figure income welding? Yes or no?
Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209