Welders work with metals or plastics and join sections, pipes or plates together by applying heat. The edges of the materials gradually melt and fuse together when the weld metal solidifies and cools. Most welders work with steel and aluminium, but some welders also work as brazers with copper or brass. These materials do not melt.
Three processes of welding may be used, namely manual, semi-automatic and fully mechanised.
Manual welding consists of:
Manual metal arc (MMA) welding - hand welding using electric arc equipment and welding consumable electrodes.
Oxyacetylene welding - basic hand welding using a mixture of oxygen and acetylene with a separate wire - mainly used for artistic or craft work.
Tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding - a manual process using argon or helium, a non-consumable electrode and consumable wire.
Welders using manual techniques often work alone. They must be able to quickly adjust the welding technique in order to correct errors. The quality of a weld depends on the welder's level of skill and is subject to careful quality control.
Semi-automatic welding includes:
Metal inert gas (MIG) welding - a semi-automatic process using argon and/or helium (sometimes referred to as metal active gas (MAG) welding when carbon dioxide is used in the shielding gas mixture).
Fully mechanised welding processes include:
Resistance welding (spot welding being the most common process) - a mechanised process widely used in industry for making products such as cars or white products such as washing machines.
Laser and electron beam welding - a high-tech process used in making specialist products such as medical and aeronautical equipment.
Welders working in the manufacturing industry are more likely to work as part of a production team, although some types of mechanised welding are carried out by robots, especially in the car industry. Welding technicians set up, programme and control the processes.
Welders usually specialise in more than one welding process as different methods require different levels of skill and suit different industries. Welders are often required to undertake additional training and complete extra certification tests.
Welders normally work a standard number of hours each week, often scheduled on a shift basis. However, overtime is common and in practice many welders work longer hours.
They may work in factories, workshops, and even offshore where they could be required to work undersea. They might work outdoors, welding sections of a pipeline or chemical plant, or in confined conditions within a building structure.
Welders must wear a head shield with protective filter glass and safety glasses, overalls, an apron and gloves. They may also need to use breathing apparatus, ear protectors or hard hats in some situations.
Trainees or apprentices start at around £7,500 a year, rising to around £12,000 as qualifications are achieved. Qualified welders are likely to earn up to £30,000 a year.
There are estimated to be between 40,000 and 80,000 welders employed in the UK, including those working in jobs where welding is only part of the function. There are opportunities throughout the country.
Welding is used in many industries, including:
- Vehicle manufacture and maintenance
- Shipbuilding and ship repair
- Offshore oil and gas production
- Power generation
- The aerospace industry
The main employers of welders are small and medium-sized firms, although there are some large employers in the engineering industry. Contract work and self-employment are common.
Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, employment agencies and through the specialist website www.ukwelder.com.
There are no set minimum entry qualifications, but employers and colleges may require GCSE's grades A*-C in English, maths and a science subject, or the equivalent. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.
An Apprenticeship scheme is the most common route of entry. A college course, pursued on a full-time, part-time or day-release basis, combined with experience in employment offers an alternative route.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Students leaving full-time education may have the opportunity to attend college to study engineering-related courses, often referred to as vocationally related qualifications (VRQ's). This can lead to an Advanced Apprenticeship.
Relevant qualifications include:
The Welder Approval Certificate is the industry-recognised qualification, achieved by completing a sample weld that is tested in accordance with British or European Standards.
As part of an Apprenticeship, individuals learn the basic skills required by employers, such as interpreting drawings, selecting materials and using hand tools. They develop everyday skills, including working with others and using information technology. Apprentices complete up to three years of on-the-job training, working alongside experienced welders.
The Welding Institute (TWI) offers professional membership and world-class training and examination services worldwide in welding, welding inspection, non-destructive testing (NDT) and a host of allied technologies. It also submits appropriately qualified candidates for Chartered Engineer status (CEng), membership of the Institute of Engineering (IEng) and registration as an Engineering Technician (EngTech).
Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.
Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.
Companies employing a team of welders may provide opportunities for promotion to supervisor, or fabrication shop manager. Some welders move into inspection and non-destructive testing, or equipment sales.
Welders can also undertake further training, gaining international qualifications such as International Welding Specialist Technologist, offered by a number of Authorised Training Providers (ATP's) and, with sufficient experience, become fully qualified welding engineers. These qualifications are recognised in many countries throughout the world.
ConstructionSkills, Bircham Newton,
King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 6RH
Tel: 01485 577 577
Tel:0800 917 1617
Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB),
Blue Court, Church Lane,
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000
Enginuity careers website: www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk
SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167
The Welding Institute (TWI), Granta Park,
Great Abington, Cambridge CB21 6AL
Tel: 01223 899000
WISE (Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction),
2nd floor Weston House,
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.