The job: Welder
The role: Welders are experts at fusing together metals for construction and manufacturing projects. There are a wide variety of methods, materials, tools and applications for welding, and the role of a welder will vary depending on their employer and the projects they are working on.
"One of the great things about the welding trade and all the career paths that it brings is that welding is really everywhere," said Craig Martin, the vice president of public safety for the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) Group, a non-profit certification and registration organization. "Welding appears in everything from the cars we drive, to ships, to aircrafts, to infrastructure, to consumer goods – and everything in between."
Some welders are provided with materials, blueprints and data sheets, and given a deadline for welding projects, others work on more of an assembly line and some work on a single large project for significant periods of time, such as infrastructure or heavy machinery.
"You could be doing some jobs for a long period of time, and some jobs will only last you an hour," said Zoë Slumkoski, a CWB-certified level 1 welding inspector. "When you get into a production type shop, where I work now, you'll get anywhere from two parts to 200 parts of the same thing, and you have to assemble them all."
Education: While most welders are certified through postsecondary institutions, there are a number of private programs that provide training too. No matter where they receive training, welders need to be certified before entering the industry, either nationally by CWB or provincially by their local certification oversight body.
"In order to do work in certain industries, you have to hold one or the other of those certifications," Mr. Martin said. "On top of that, some provinces also recognize welding as a mandatory trade; Alberta is an example of that, and there you would also have to become a registered apprentice."
Welders also need to be recertified every two years. On top of baseline training, welders are able to increase their job prospects and salary expectations by expanding their knowledge in the field. There are a wide variety of welding materials and methods, such as shielded metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding and electroslag welding, each requiring specialized training and certification.
"A welder can get working with full requirements within a couple of years of graduating high school, but the great thing about becoming a welder is that that guy behind the mask, that's not the end of the career path for people who start out in that direction," Mr. Martin said. "We've got people moving up from there into welding engineering technicians and technologists, which are two– and three-year programs that can be done at the college level, moving up to welding engineers, mechanical and civil engineers specializing in welding, and also related paths like welding inspection."
Mr. Martin adds that it's not uncommon for welders to expand their knowledge in the field after gaining some experience.
Salary: The salary expectation for welders varies based on a job's materials, location, complexity and training requirements. Mr. Martin predicts that starting salaries range between "the high $30,000s and low $40,000s, up to $80,000 and $90,000 per year.
"There's numerous types of qualifications based on the number of welding processes and methodologies, and in many organizations compensation is adjusted based on the number of qualifications that a person holds."
Welding inspectors and supervisors, who undergo additional training, typically earn a starting salary of about $50,000 to $90,000 a year, depending on the their qualifications, Mr. Martin said. Those with an engineering degree, he adds, can earn from $90,000 to $150,000 a year, depending on the complexity of the position.
Job prospects: A national skills shortage coupled with an aging work force has created a need for welders across Canada. Furthermore, because of the variety of industries and sectors that require welding services, job opportunities in the industry are plentiful.
"If there happens to be a slowdown in one section of the economy but it's picking up in another, a lot of times welders can move along and follow the work," Mr. Martin said.
Challenges: Welding can be a physically demanding job, and while major injuries are rare, minor injuries and long-term health issues are of concern.
"You're always going to be breathing in something, even when you're not welding. Just a lot of time working in the shop, there's always something floating around in the air, and you go years and years of breathing all that in," Ms. Slumkoski said. "You can burn yourself, you can cut yourself occasionally.
She says she has also suffered from "minor arc flash," which she likens to a sunburn directly on the eye, and can result from being around active welders while not wearing a mask.
Ms. Slumkowski says that there are safety measures and equipment to prevent major injuries, but minor ones are often unavoidable.
Why they do it: Welders enjoy working with their hands, using powerful tools and building with heavy materials.
"I enjoy actually welding. It's a really interesting thing to do once you've tried it a couple of times," Ms. Slumkoski said. "Just the fact that you're controlling something that's so extremely hot, and you're bonding two things that are so hard together, it's a really cool thing to be able to do. It's fun to build stuff."
Misconceptions: Ms. Slumkoski says that welding is often perceived as a dirty job, which discourages many from entering the industry, but welders work in a wide variety of settings, some of which are cleaner than others.
"A lot of girls seem to think it's a really dirty, hard job to do, and it can be, depending on the job that you have," she said. "The job I have, it's a lot more precise work, it requires a lot more skill and it's not heavy dirty smoky welding. It's very precise and fine, delicate work that you have to do, and a lot of the parts aren't very heavy."
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