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What does a welder do?
A welder is a skilled tradesperson who uses welding equipment that produces intense heat to cut, shape and fuse metals, alloys, thermoplastics and other materials. Their role can involve building components, cutting metal pieces, making repairs, etc. Being safety conscious is a must in this profession, as it can be dangerous due to the high temperatures welders work with.
Welders can work in various industries, such as automotive, manufacturing, aerospace, construction, engineering, shipbuilding and oil/gas. They can specialise in using specific equipment and welding techniques, such as oxy-fuel, MIG, TIG and Stick. They can also work in highly specialised areas, e.g. aerospace, structural and underwater welding. Therefore, what welders do will depend on where they work and their specialisms.
A welder’s main aim is to ensure the materials they weld are robust and secure so that a structure, object, vehicle and other items remain intact and their integrity is not compromised. In some cases, welds can be safety-critical, so welders must have the necessary technical knowledge and expertise. They also have a crucial role when it comes to precision and craftsmanship.
Welders will carry out many tasks, including following health and safety procedures, following drawings, conducting pre-use checks, selecting/measuring/preparing materials, calibrating equipment/tools/instruments, operating welding equipment, using appropriate welding techniques, inspecting and testing welds, cutting up and dismantling metal, making repairs, carrying out maintenance, cleaning and tidying, etc. The role may also encompass administrative work, such as completing records.
Welders can work in various sectors. Therefore, who they work with will depend on their type of workplace. Some examples of their colleagues may include designers, other welders, engineers, fabricators, quality controllers, labourers, maintenance workers, other tradespersons (e.g. plumbers, carpenters and electricians), etc. They can also deal with various external stakeholders, such as welding equipment, material and gas manufacturers/suppliers, customers/clients, welding inspectors and others within their sector.
Welders can work for different-sized organisations, from large manufacturers and aerospace companies to small welding and construction firms. They can also be self-employed or work on temporary or fixed contracts for recruitment agencies.
A welder’s responsibilities will depend on where they work, their role and their specialisms.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Adhering to health and safety policies and procedures.
- Understanding and following engineering blueprints, drawings and instructions.
- Carrying out safety checks on welding equipment before use.
- Deciding on the best welding method for the task.
- Selecting the correct materials to join together.
- Measuring materials for size, e.g. length and thickness.
- Preparing materials to be joined, e.g. cleaning, cutting, grinding and shaping.
- Calibrating equipment, tools and instruments.
- Operating welding equipment.
- Using welding techniques appropriate for the task.
- Inspecting and testing welds.
- Cutting up metal and dismantling structures and objects.
- Making repairs.
- Carrying out basic maintenance on welding equipment.
- Keeping their work area, equipment and tools clean and tidy.
A welder can expect to work 38-46 hours a week. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role. Some welders can work up to 12 hours, and those self-employed will set their own hours.
There are permanent and full-time roles, but there may be opportunities to work flexible hours, such as part-time or job share. There are also many temporary and fixed-term contract jobs (depending on where an individual is based).
Being a welder is not usually a 9-5 job, as many roles are shift based. Therefore, those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours, e.g. evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. Some employers may offer Monday-Friday daytime shifts.
Welders tend to work in a single workplace. However, there may be roles where they may need to travel to work at different locations, e.g. construction, which can lengthen the working day. There may also be overseas opportunities for some.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a welder, especially if an individual is practical, enjoys working with their hands and doesn’t want to be sat down at a desk all day. It can also be a suitable job for less academic individuals, as it does not require formal qualifications. However, they will need to do some welding training.
Being a welder can be rewarding. They can create, build and repair various structures and objects; it can be fulfilling to see the finished job. They may also work on safety-critical jobs and items, such as ships, vehicles, oil and gas pipelines and rigs. In some cases, their welding can prevent accidents, injuries and damage, including environmental. Therefore, they can go home after work knowing their job makes a significant difference.
Those looking at entering this career will likely have decent job security, as welders are in short supply, and there is a high demand for those with the right skills. The salaries are also competitive. Some welders can earn more than £45,000 a year, especially with more experience and specialist welding skills.
There is no shortage of permanent and temporary roles. Jobs are available nationally, and there are employed or self-employed opportunities. There are also numerous sectors in which welders can work and different specialisms.
Welders are unlikely to get bored. They will work with different materials and use various welding techniques. They can travel in their local area and nationally, so they will get to see new places. They will meet and get to work with many people. There may also be opportunities to work internationally.
Even though there are positives to being a welder, there are challenges and cons, e.g. (this list is not exhaustive):
- Physical demands – being a welder can be physically demanding. They will usually need to manually handle metal, other materials, welding equipment, gas bottles, etc. Their working hours can also be extensive, and they may be required to work in hot and cramped places, including at height.
- Mental demands – welders can get extremely busy during their working day, and their role is fast-paced. They will have to meet targets and deadlines and can hold up processes and projects if they miss them, which can be stressful. There is also a lot of responsibility on welders if they work on safety-critical jobs where poor welding can put people and the environment at risk.
- It’s hazardous – welding is inherently risky. It can expose individuals to various health and safety hazards, such as electricity (Arc welding), radiation, fumes, other hazardous substances, sparks, molten metal, manual handling, slips, trips and falls, temperature extremes, confined spaces, work at height, noise, vibration, etc. There have been cases where welders have been killed by fire and explosions when working in a flammable atmosphere. It is not a job for those who lack safety consciousness. The HSE has further information on welding health and safety, which would be helpful for those considering it as a career.
- Male-dominated role – the number of women working as welders is low. However, it should not put off women who want to enter the profession.
- Protective clothing – welders must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. flame retardant overalls, welding helmets, respirators, gloves, safety footwear, etc.) during their working day, which can get hot and uncomfortable.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is suitable. Being a welder is hazardous and physically and mentally demanding. The role is also male-dominated, and individuals have to wear PPE. However, there are many positives too, and those who become welders enjoy being in a practical and hands-on role. Also, job security and salaries are good.
Individuals should consider the pros and cons when deciding whether to be a welder. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a welder
Some of the personal qualities a welder requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Safety consciousness.
- Responsible, reliable, dependable, honest, self-motivated and hardworking.
- Confident, assertive, efficient, accurate and determined.
- A good level of physical fitness and strength.
- Knowledge of health and safety procedures.
- Knowledge of welding methods and techniques.
- Knowledge of technology, engineering and science.
- Knowledge of maths.
- Excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
- Design skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Observational skills.
- Practical skills.
- Communication skills.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Technical skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
- The ability to interpret engineering drawings and instructions.
- The ability to work well with their hands.
- The ability to spot hazards and avoid dangerous situations.
- The ability to work well with others and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to use, maintain, and repair equipment, machinery and tools.
- The ability to work in a fast-paced environment and meet targets and tight deadlines.
- The ability to work in hot temperatures and concentrate for long periods.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to be flexible and open to change.
- The ability to use IT and software packages for basic tasks.
There are many different routes to becoming a welder. Individuals could enrol on a course, apply for an apprenticeship, apply directly, or apply to the Armed Forces. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
Individuals can become welders by undertaking a college course such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Certificate in Introductory Welding Skills.
- Level 1 Award in Introductory Welding Skills.
- Level 2 Award/Certificate in Welding Skills.
- Level 2 Award in Welding Techniques and Skills.
- Level 3 Award in Advanced Welding Skills.
- Level 3 Diploma in Fabrication and Welding Engineering Technology.
- T Level in Engineering, Manufacturing, Processing and Control.
Numerous private training companies offer welding training courses. It is better if individuals look for providers with evidence of accreditations. The entry requirements and costs will depend on the course provider. Individuals should check before applying.
It may also be worth doing short online courses to gain theoretical welding knowledge to see if it would be a suitable career choice. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble. We have an affordable Welding Awareness Course, which would be a great starting point. It can also be useful as refresher training.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role as a welder but will help individuals stand out when applying for jobs.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become welders, e.g.:
- General Welder Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeship.
- Pipe Welder Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship.
- Plate Welder Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship.
Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent for an intermediate apprenticeship. Advanced will typically require five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English and maths.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed. Employers may also advertise apprenticeships on most job websites.
Individuals could apply to go into the Armed Forces, where they could learn welding as well as other skills, for example:
Relevant paid or voluntary work experience can help individuals become welders and gain the necessary skills.
They could (this list is not exhaustive):
- Apply for a welding assistant or welder’s/pipefitter’s mate job and shadow experienced welders.
- Apply for a job as a labourer or worker on construction or building sites to gain experience in manual handling and equipment use.
- Get work experience in workshops and other workplaces where they weld.
- Work or volunteer with charities, not-for-profit organisations, community schemes and others to develop practical, manual and technical skills.
- Do their own research to understand welding and what it entails, especially on the various techniques.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
We have an approved Welding Awareness Course that may be useful for welders. We also have other relevant topics such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Health and safety for employees.
- COSHH awareness.
- Fire safety awareness.
- Electrical safety awareness.
- Slips, trips and falls.
- DSEAR awareness.
- Confined spaces.
- Assessing risk.
- Manual handling.
- Workplace stress.
- Noise awareness.
- HAVS training.
- Work at height.
- PUWER awareness.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Workplace first aid.
- Time management.
Professional bodies and associations, such as the Welding Institute, the Welding World Association, TWI Global, the British Stainless Steel Association, and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become welders and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the type of role an individual wants. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for specific roles and specialisms. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Engineering Jobs, other sites, and company careers websites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for welding roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps individuals’ knowledge and skills updated.
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will have additional responsibilities. They must:
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. general liability and business. If employing anyone, employer’s liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed is on GOV.UK.
If an individual decides to be self-employed, they will need to factor in certain costs, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Welding equipment.
- Safety equipment, e.g. fire extinguishers and PPE.
- IT equipment and mobile phone.
- Vehicle, fuel, maintenance and insurance (if visiting customers).
- Professional memberships.
- Training and CPD.
- Accreditations and certificates.
- Marketing and advertising.
Checkatrade has further information on starting a welding business.
Criminal records checks
Some welders may need a criminal record check, e.g. working on nuclear and military sites.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Some welders may need to drive for roles, e.g. if they are self-employed or work on different sites. Therefore, they may need a full driving licence.
If a welder wants to work on a construction site, they usually need a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.
Some employers may also require an industry safety certificate, such as the Client Contractor National Safety Group (CCNSG) Safety Passport Scheme.
Where do welders work?
Welders can work in various industries, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Construction and building.
- Rail and road.
- Transport and logistics.
- Food, dairy and brewery.
- Utilities, petrochemical and energy (water, gas, oil and nuclear).
They can work indoors and outdoors. Some examples of workplaces can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Manufacturing facilities, e.g. in welding booths or stations.
- Construction sites.
- Demolition sites.
- Specialist welding shops.
- Vehicle garages and workshops.
- Aircraft hangers.
- Military bases.
- Oil rigs.
- Theme parks.
- People’s homes.
- Commercial premises.
There are even jobs where welders can work in dangerous environments, such as underwater, in confined spaces, at height and in vacuums.
How much do welders earn?
What a welder earns will depend on the following:
- Their exact role and specialisms.
- Their qualifications, training and experience.
- Their industry.
- Whether they are employed, work with an agency or are self-employed.
- The hours they work and types of shifts, e.g. nights.
- Their geographical location.
Some examples of average salaries for welders are as follows:
- £11.86 per hour (Payscale).
- £25,000 a year (Totaljobs).
- £13 per hour or £25,355 a year (Talent.com).
- £13.82 per hour or £28,749.35 a year (Check-a-Salary).
- £14.76 per hour or £25,326 a year (Indeed UK).
- £36,406 a year (Glassdoor).
- £22,000 starter to £45,000 experienced a year (National Careers Service).
The salaries for self-employed welders will be variable, as they will set their own rates. They will also need to consider expenses, e.g. tax, insurance, own equipment and tools, PPE, registration, stock, vehicle, etc.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of welding to specialise in
As mentioned, welders can work in various industries and specific settings.
They can work as general welders or specialise in welding techniques and methods, such as:
Electric arc welding
Electric arc welding is a fusion process that uses an electric arc to create intense heat, which melts and joins metals. Some types of electric arc welding include:
- Metal Inert Gas (MIG).
- Metal Active Gas (MAG).
- Stick, e.g. Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Manual Metal Arc Welding (MMA or MMAW) and Flux Shielded Arc Welding.
- Flux-Cored Arc.
- Submerged Arc Welding (SAW).
- Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG).
- Plasma Arc Welding.
Gas welding is also known as oxy-fuel welding or oxy-fuel gas welding. It is commonly used for repairs, cutting operations and other types of hot work.
There are also specialist welding roles, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Aerospace welder – this role also comes under structural welding. These welders work specifically in the aerospace industry and perform welding operations on aircraft and spacecraft. They use various materials in building, repairs and worn-part replacement. It is a highly specialised area due to the safety-critical nature and standards of the industry. Therefore, individuals require high precision, extensive experience and more skills. It would be worthwhile if individuals have an engineering degree, as this is a niche area.
- Coded welder – this term describes welders who have completed a Welder Approval Test in a specific welding configuration, demonstrating their experience and skills. They typically work on safety-critical projects, e.g. pressure vessels. The codes refer to ISO standards, e.g. coded to ISO 9606.
- Fabricator welder – these welders will carry out welding operations and fabrication, which involves using power and hand tools in the whole product or structure cycle, i.e. from raw materials to finished products. They usually work in construction and manufacturing but can be found in many other industries.
- Pipe welder – these welders typically work in industries where pipes and piping systems are used, such as construction, pharmaceuticals, power generation, oil, gas, water, etc. They specialise in welding various types of metal pipes. They have a lot of responsibility to ensure their welds are of a high standard, as leaks can be safety-critical.
- Structural welder – these welders are primarily construction based. They will work on steel structures, such as bridges, buildings, ships and other infrastructure projects. Their welds must be tough and durable to withstand loads and stress. They ensure the structures are safe for users and will also do repairs after damage.
- Underwater welder – these welders join metals underwater using wet or hyperbaric welding techniques. They usually work in industries like oil and gas (offshore) and marine construction. They will also do underwater repairs of various structures, e.g. bridges, dams, pipes and offshore turbines. It is a highly specialised area, as it is dangerous, so most individuals have a degree for this role and must be qualified divers. These types of welders also travel more than others. Further information is on WaterWelders.
There are many other welding roles to choose from and far too many to mention here. Further information on welding careers is available from the Welding Institute.
Specialist welding roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All welders must have excellent hand-eye coordination, practical skills and safety consciousness. They must also be able to follow engineering drawings and instructions. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for (if employed) and the type of welding role an individual wants. Further qualifications and training may be necessary for some jobs, e.g. high-risk work, such as aerospace and underwater welding.
Welders not competently carrying out their roles can result in incorrect use of equipment, poor quality joins, damage, customer complaints and financial losses for companies. Poor welds and unsafe practices can put people at risk and may even cost lives and cause environmental damage in some circumstances. Therefore, whatever the type of role, welders must have the necessary training and competence to carry out their work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Procedures, equipment, laws, technologies, trends and standards are changing regularly. Therefore, welders must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives welders the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body or association (as previously mentioned) can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. These offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for welders. With more training and experience, they could become a supervisor or manager. They could also specialise in specific sectors, welding methods or higher-risk work, such as underwater welding.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a welder can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could become a welding inspector, quality controller or non-destructive tester. They could also move into further education and teach welding at colleges or private training providers.
Get started on a course suitable for becoming a welder
Electrical Safety Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Working at height£20 + VAT View course
DSEAR Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Assessing Risk (Risk Assessment Course)£20 + VAT View course
PUWER Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Employees£20 + VAT View course
Time Management£20 + VAT View course
Workplace First Aid£20 + VAT View course
Slips, Trips and Falls£20 + VAT View course
Fire Safety Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Confined Spaces£20 + VAT View course
Manual Handling£20 + VAT View course
Noise Awareness£20 + VAT View course
HAVS (Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome) Training£20 + VAT View course
COSHH Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Workplace Stress Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)£20 + VAT View course