The Certified Welder!

Intro

Based on conversations I have had and discussions I have seen online, the term “Certified Welder” is one of the most abused and misunderstood terms in the welding industry. The misunderstandings are held by welders, managers, engineers, and supervisors. In some cases, even inspectors seem to miss out on a few key points. The public has some perceptions that are understandable but wholly incorrect.

The Perceptions

The mention of the “Certified Welder” stirs up a range of thoughts in people. Some imagine a person who can “Weld Anything” because he is licensed/certified. Others may think this person, who by virtue of some papers, is the person whose welds are automatically “acceptable”. Some expect an individual with a vast “knowledge” about all things welding that has reached a pinnacle in his/her career based on some deeply involved testing program that examines both knowledge and skills. One other misconception may lie in a belief that if a company has a “certified welder” on the job, then they are complying with all requirements for that project. The welder may even think that companies are just waiting for someone like them to show up at their door with the all prestigious “Certification”. Many people, including welders themselves, think that a “higher level” of skill is present in them because they have “passed a test”.

All of the above are grossly incorrect and are opinions I have experienced face to face. This article deals with the requirements that I am familiar with which are in the context of codes/standards used in the US. Other countries and local jurisdictions may impose other requirements as they see fit.

Can Weld ANYTHING.

This perception is often held by people outside of the welding industry and see the company advertising “Certified Welding” on their Facebook page and think that because that person is “certified”, they can weld anything because of their awesome skills. So the person brings great grandpas old cast iron washpot in that cracked. The welder tells him how he has welded on skyscrapers, nuclear power plants, and even a bbq grill or two. After the mention of “certification” and showing the owner of the pot the almighty wallet card, the repair is authorized. The welder has NEVER had training or experience in cast iron repair. He learned to weld in the field as a helper and has never had any formal training. He is not familiar at all with cast iron. The pot is now broken into many pieces because of improper methods utilized for the repair. BUT HE WAS CERTIFIED

WELDS ARE ACCEPTABLE-He/She’s Certified

I have run into this perception many times when performing inspections on buildings in the NE Tennessee region as required by law (Some more info here). On a few occasions, I have showed up on job sites to perform inspections on welding performed on the structural steel of a building and have been “hinted at” by the general contractor that the welding was all done by “certified welders” and if I “wanted” to look at it, I could. WELL OF COURSE I DO!

On many other occasions after inspecting the welds and documenting the many conditions that did not meet the requirements, I have been told “Well, I don’t know whats wrong, the welder is certified! So and So company certified them !”

A welder that has been documented as passing a test is by no means capable of making welds in all conditions. The quality of workmanship on a jobsite is often driven more my management/supervision than it is by the abilities of the welder. More than a few times have I been told by the welder that they were told to “just weld it up” and see if the inspector “finds it”. Or leave the slag on in as I probably won’t climb up to look at it. (See these articles I have written in the past #1 and #2 )

If you look at any codebook for equipment, buildings, boilers, piping, pressure vessels, tanks, ships etc… You will see that welder qualification testing is only a small part of those codes.

A real odd perception that I have run into by a steel erector in the region was that “a certified welder was on-site while the welds were being made”. Like somehow the certified welder present somehow made welds compliant.

A weld from a “certified welder”. This company was recently described as a top quality steel erector in Northeast Tennessee by a major welding equipment manufacturer! This was NOT a “one time” kind of picture!

Vast Knowledge

As indicated with the item above for the cast iron pot repair, a welder qualified by testing may or may not have any understanding of any theoretical concepts behind what he or she is doing.

Almost all civilian codes and standards are completely silent when it comes to training or education requirements for a welder. See paragraph 5.2.3 for details on my 1st “Certifications” many years ago (if your interested) http://navybmr.com/study%20material/S9074-AQ-GIB-010_248.pdf

I have ran across some jam up welders (really good) who couldn’t tell you what DCRP refers to on a WPS. Some can’t read welding symbols. Some have no clue about metallurgy. Some cant even read. BUT LISTEN. In many cases the value of the skill needed to work as a welder far exceeds the value of someone being able to talk about it or write about it! So just because someone doesn’t know the “technical side” don’t assume they’re not a valuable hand. On the other side, just because they are “certified” don’t assume they know anything about what they are welding.

You have learned something here just reading this in a few minutes. Guess WHAT, you could stand next to me all day long and watch me weld up some generating bank tubes 3 or 4 deep. You will not be able to even come close to matching my skill level by reading or watching.

Yes, knowledge is a great thing as a welder and can often help welders do a better job, but it pales in comparison to the ability to “get the job done” in many cases. Never undervalue the “skill” because of your perception of education or training!

On a related note, one type of ‘certification” that does establish the fact that an individual did at one time possess the knowledge to pass a written exam of various aspects of welding is the AWS SENSE Program. There are probably many “certified welders” with tremendous skills that could not pass the written exams for the SENSE program. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good at their jobs, it just

This fitup was welded by a “Certified Welder” do you think they knew the fitup requirements for the project or understood basic concepts related to joint designs? It doesn’t appear so!

 

Meeting Requirements

This is another one I run into often. A company will call and ask me to help the “Certify” their welders because they have a job coming up that requires it. When I ask about the applicable code/standard or project specifications, little is said other than “We need our welders certified”. If I can get the chance to talk face to face, I will bring in a code book (usually D1.1) and show them the number of pages for welder qualification in comparison to the rest of the book.

If their project requirements only state welders are to be qualified and documented as such (Certified) then I try to clarify the scope of what they will be welding and what code to apply. If none is listed, I suggest one or even state that they could use B2.1 “Workmanship” test options if they like. I also explain that even if their welder is tested and certified by them, that any welding in the future may or may not comply with project requirements. Not having a written WPS is almost always a flag when a company tells me they need their welders tested and certified. They want a qualified welder but don’t care about a qualified WPS? Why, I’ll tell you why…because many inspectors don’t even check for them. And when they do, they don’t have a clue if its valid or not!

If the project states “All welding shall be performed in accordance with xxx.xxx code” then things change. Items such as design, materials, procedure qualification, joint designs, inspection requirements, quality system requirements, repairs etc.. can all be requirements of a code that are far more involved than the few pages addressing welder performance qualification testing. It’s at this point that my 1st suggestion is to buy the applicable code and let me help them get familiar with it.

Companies are gonna beat my door down

A search for welding jobs on indeed will often return jobs with the term “Certified Welder”. And though that is often mentioned, it is by no means the thing that will separate you from all the other applicants.

Because of the lack of understanding of the term by both HR people and welders, a wide variety of applicants with different skills may apply. Some may “have been certified” by a company in the past but because they no longer work for that company, they have no actual “certification. Others may have taken a test for themselves at a test facility. And though that is a “certification”, it may not apply to what the company needs.

Another “certification” is an “AWS Certified Welder” and this credential, though backed by the fact that it was performed under a controlled system that has been audited to meet the requirements of the American Welding Society program for welder certification, it doesn’t normally represent any higher degree of skill or ability than any other code required test. I personally think the ATF program is a great way for organizations to work towards fair, consistent, code compliant, and well-documented testing. NOTE: There are some cases where the AWS Certified Welder Test requirements exceed normal industry but they are rare. See AWS QC7 Supplement F.

Regardless of what “certifications” you carry, understand that this is NOT the magic key to open all doors welding related. Its a competitive world filled with misconceptions, unfair hiring practices, racism, sexism, nepotism (kinyority), cronyism (friendyority), and most importantly, someone else applying for the job that may be a better welder or potential employee.

Another key factor about the level of desire a company has to hire you may be your ability to show up to work daily, fill out an application, pass a drug test, work well with other no matter “how good” of a welder you are, read/follow instructions, solve problems, and many other work-related skills.

Flashing your “certifications” around like it somehow makes you “special” may work in a few entry-level positions as a welder and maybe even some higher ones, but understand that the ability to show your skill far outweighs the ability for you to talk about your skill!

Don’t get me wrong, documented evidence of passing tests is great. Understand that sometimes test takers are good at that but putting them in the “real world” changes things. If you’re a freshly graduated student of welding with the ability to pass a 3G/4G plate test, thats great! Just realize that I too can pass that test and carry with me skills and experiences that may make me more desirable as an employee. So when talking to potential employers, be careful about focusing on “certifications” and maybe think about some of your other abilities including the desire to learn, strong work ethic based upon school attendance, and other features that may make you stand out.

HIGHER LEVEL OF SKILL

This perception occurs on both the side of employers and welders. I’m gonna make this point a little shorter and faster. It doesn’t get any easier than passing a welder qualification test in a booth!

An ASME Sec. IX welder qualification test has the easiest acceptance criteria for visual inspection of any code I have read. It says in para. QW-194. “Performance test coupons shall show no cracks and complete joint penetration with complete fusion of weld metal and base metal.” This can represent a “whole lotta ugly!

I’m not saying that’s what always is used by companies when they test their own welders. Some may add additional criteria as they see fit.

API 1104, for instance, allows a certain amount of incomplete penetration (Not allowed by ASME) and bends the specimens at a much larger radius.

There are people working in production that have NEVER taken a test and are great at what they do. Don’t assume a “certification” makes a person more skilled than the other. It just means they have shown some good skills in a booth on a given day. Still valuable, but make no assumptions.

6G Super Coupon, GTAW all the way out.

What is Required

Industry recognized codes and standards that address welding have some requirement for a welders skills to be evaluated prior to performing production/construction/repair welding. Here are a few statements.

  • ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Sec. I. (Power Boilers) “Each Manufacturer (Certificate of Authorization holder) is responsible for the welding done by his organization and shall establish the procedures and conduct the tests required in Section IX to qualify the welding procedures he uses in the construction of the weldments built under Section I and the performance tests of welders who apply these procedures.”
  • AWS D1.1 (Structural Welding Code-Steel) “…each manufacturer or contractor shall be responsible for the qualification of welders, welding operators, and tack welders whether the qualification is conducted by the manufacturer, contractor or independent testing agency.”
  • AWS D15.1 ( Railroad Welding specification for Cars and Locomotives)”. Each company shall be responsible for the qualification of welders, welding operators, and tack welders used by the company or their subcontractors”.

The requirements are similar throughout many industry codes, standards, and specifications. The “Company” is always responsible for the welding and the Qualification of the welders. In some cases, the company must supervise the testing, in other cases, they may subcontract all of the testing. In NO CASE do they ever give up the responsibility.

As a side note for those interested and owning a PDF version of a welding related code or standard, do a search for the term “Certified Welder” within the code. You may be surprised to find it may not even exist!

 

Final Thoughts

Welder Performance Qualification Testing is just a drop in the bucket of requirements/controls that need to be in place to assure good quality welding. Welding is considered a “Special Process” in quality systems and controls should be in place for many aspects besides just welder certification. In some cases, the acceptance criteria within a code for welder qualification testing is so liberal that many students could “meet the requirements” easily but fail terribly when put on site!

I do not want to “devalue” the importance of welder testing. In my opinion, its one of the things that separate us from the mundane jobs that occur around us. We are required to exhibit skill under pressure before even getting a job. A fitter can go around a jobsite for a few days without the ability to lay out a branch connection and never get run off. Let me make a weld on that same branch connection that fails visual inspection and guess what, I’m down the road. Companies, BE AWARE OF THE SKILLS OF YOUR WELDERS! If you are hiring a person to weld, have enough respect for a trade different than so many others, to observe their skills. Don’t rely solely on a piece of paper! If your hiring welders but have no individuals with expertise in the trade in supervisory/management positions, please consider hiring some!

If you ever have questions about welder qualification testing, need testing performed/supervised/inspected, or would like me to help you do it yourself, please feel free to contact me. But 1st off, if you know its required by a code, buy the code!

I would rather teach you to fish!

Here is a link to an older PPT presentation with some similar thoughts if you like.

If you are interested in knowing more about welder certification and testing, welding quality, welder training, or other welding related topics, please feel free to contact me.

 

Here is a mindmap I am working on for a course I want to present both online and face to face.  If you would like to conmtribute to the mindmap, please let me know!

 

6 thoughts on “The Certified Welder!”

  1. Awesome read. It hits spot on with regard to the scope of industry understanding to the “welding certification” and its misconceptions.

  2. Great article, you are correct, Certification always misused, misunderstood, and just causes confusion. Your photo were great expamples of the certified welder. I cannot begin to tell anyone how many certified welders, I have had grind out their weld. In order to understand the why, ask some general questions, it will shock you, with some of the responses you receive. That being said, be ready, if that person or persons ask why, as an inspector you need to have the correct answer, or the ability to find it. I have worked with many young impressionable welders, an answer, a pat on the back, goes a long ways, it builds confidence and respect all at once. I hope you didn’t fall asleep reading this. My two cents.

    1. The “why” concept is one of the reasons I have been involved in inspection over the years. As a young welder, I wanted to know whatever the inspectors knew. That drive me to read code books, industry articles, and any informationI coukd get my hands on.
      When I 1st got out of the Navy, I was prepared to be overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know as far as technical aspects related to welding. I was wrong in that one. I assumed everyone knew the “book stuff” much better than I did because civilian welders made so much more money.
      Those welders did however possess skills that I had never been introduced to.
      Its a life long learning experience for those that are interested.

  3. I’m up to my hips in Certified welders. They come in the door with pretty paper in clear protectors. Some came in the door with Certificates issued by a paint & body shop supplier for attending a 3 hour class on running a MIG machine. Others came in with Certificates from the local VoTech. They never got to weld with Stainless because the School Board said it might cause Cancer. And my favorites, the people from the Federally funded snow pusher shop that hands them paper the day the money runs out. They’re all “Certified” and if you read every one of those Certificates it’s real easy to see the fraud.

    I wearied of explaining to them how the “school” ripped them off and cheated them out of education.
    I’m old enough to remember when 60 Minutes busted a nuke being hung together by a crookid contractor and caused it to be reworked. “Certified” has been so prostitutedd in the US the only thing it means is you walk in my shop telling me you’re “Certified” I’ll guarantee you won’t get hired. You don’t even know what the word means.

  4. Great article. “Certified”, what does it mean? I’ve also had welders from all over that could weld “daylight to dark” if they had the right electrode that never finished a simple butt weld pipe test. I do have one small comment about your article though. You say that API allows some small amount of Incomplete Penetration. While you are correct for the production welds, no IP is allowed on the welder qualification test and yes the bends are made on a much wider die but typically the materials used for pipelines may be much less ductile than pressure vessel or structural members. I am not making excuses for the API but in my experience I have had many “Certified” welding inspectors come to my jobs thinking that the criteria for the welder qualification test is the same as the requirements for production welds.

    I did enjoy your article tremendously and hope to see many more.

  5. Marshall,
    I very well have mixed some things up there an need to correct that. Tge API 1104 reuirements for visual are much more stringent for performance qualification and my head may have been in the Sec I and Sec VIII requirements for CJp welds vs 1104. Thanks for pointing it out.

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