One of the common questions I get from potential welding students is ” How much training does it take to be a welder.”
There is absolutely no way to answer that accurately based on my knowledge. Sure, there are schools that tell you how long their course is and that they have job placement of xx percent. So I guess that’s one way to look at it. But I don’t think that fully tells the story.
As with anything, there are various levels of skill and ability. I’m only familiar with mine and some of the other welders I’ve been around. And even though I’ve been a welder for around 38 years I am NOT the authority on all things welding. Nor am I all that great of a welder. I am still learning! The Lord has provided me with an ability to support my family and enjoy my day at work and I am thankful for that! I do love it, study it, practice it, share it, and try to grow my skills and knowledge regularly but am just another welder.
This will explain how it (how much training) was for me. Please understand that my level of skill may not be the same as another persons skill was with similar experience. We are all different.
Public School Training
I 1st welded in 9th grade metal shop in High School at Kickapoo High School. Filled a piece of 2” angle with 6013 and sawed it in two. I decided then I wanted to weld. We did some sheet metal and lathe work, but the welding had my attention. It could have been the fire or maybe the concept of joining two things together to be one!
We later moved to Memphis that school year and I signed up for Welding I at Kingsbury Vocational Center. Sadly, the school no longer has a welding program. A trend that seems to be spreading at some schools! From then through my senior year, I was in welding for 3 hours a day. I loved it. I stayed in the booth as much as I could. I read everything I could find about welding. I used to lust after Jefferson’s Welding Encyclopedia that my Welding teacher and later close friend Ed Hemingway had. By the time I finished HS I had over 1300 hours of welding training time. It was in a HS environment with a welding instructor that was experienced more in the aviation industry than in other industries which limited what I could learn somewhat. Please note this, Ed was a great teacher as he motivated me to learn and go beyond what he presented in the daily classes. He allowed me to “steal” his books for my own study which I did on a regular occasion. There is no telling what I would know if I had the internet back then. Point is, I put a good amount of time into welding. Even worked quite a few 30+ hours weeks at Coleman Engineering in Memphis MIG welding (GMAW) on portable lighting trailers. I was 15 years old. My Dad drove me back and forth to work until I could legally drive. I made over $7.00 an hour…in 1980. 39-1/2 hours a week, I WAS RICH!
US Navy Training
After graduating and even some work experience, I still had more to learn. I joined the Navy as a Hull Maintenance technician. Their basic school was 11 weeks or so long. The metalworking portion was self-paced and I finished quickly. I then went on to the ”Navy C-1 Welding School ” in San Diego, Nuclear Power Plant Components Maintenance Welder– WOOOOO HOOOO . It was 30 weeks long for 8 hours a day. When I got there, guess what? I didn’t know how to weld! I learned more even though I was “experienced”. That’s 1200 more hours of just training.
After all of that training, I arrived at my 1st ship in the Navy. The USS Hunley in Holy Loch Scotland. I arrived there and had to make my 1st socket weld on a boat and guess what? I didn’t know how to weld! I then spent another 5 years or so as a welder repairing nuclear-powered submarine’s. I was able to do that job OK. Made quite a few RT’d welds on submarines, in mirrors, hanging upside down, in the rain, after being awake for 30 hours etc…. I had my fair share of welding inspectors looking over my shoulder, Naval Reactors Audits, Steam generator Repairs, glove bags, full anti-c’s with air fed hoods, and associated Navy Life!
Working in a Machine Shop
After the experience I received in the Navy, I went to work at a machine shop in Memphis (Lambs Machine Works, Memphis– They treated me well and expected much) and I figured I could handle anything the world of welding threw at me. I mean really, I was an Ex Navy “Coded Welder” with experience welding on one of the worlds most destructive weapons platforms. Well, I was wrong! I learned to braze cast iron, build up shafts for machining using GMAW, weld overlay pump housings with stellite and other things. They taught me things I didn’t learn in all the training I had gone through. Sure I was able to do many of the tasks but the point is I was still learning.
Gonna be a “Pipe Welder”
I next decided I wanted to get back into pipe welding. Saw an ad for a company needing stainless tig welders. Well, I had done quite a bit of that in the Navy. So I went for a test. It was a 4 inch schedule 10 test welded with GTAW. And of course prior to the test, I boasted how many x-ray welds I had done in the Navy and blah blah blah. I tacked it up and after the inspector looked at it I put a root pass in it. I had never taken an open root test before or had any training, only consumable inserts except for a few CuNi joints in emergency situations. The root looked OK. Nothing worthy of todays Instagram Welds, but it was solid and smooth enough to PT as-is. Or so I thought! The inspector indicated it looked a little rough. Hmmmm. I then capped it out and I thought it looked pretty good. The inspector came back and said, ” ….. looks a little rough, I don’t think we are gonna be able to use you!”. I got a little offended and asked him what it should look like. He showed me a sample and I told him ”That was done by a machine. ” He said it was not. He asked me how long I had been ”walking the cup ”. I indicated I didn’t know what he was talking about. The only cup walking we ever did was in one U groove test in the 2nd phase of welding school in the Navy.
Obviously, I had not had enough training! I was an ex-Navy nuclear welder with all kinds of training and experience and was about to fail a simple pipe test! After talking, he realized I free-handed the weld. I was hired right then and blessed with making almost all the position welds while those who could ”Walk the cup ” took care of all the welds made in a jackstand. Point is, I had more to learn! After watching an operator flush a strainer on an acetone line while a guy was grinding and then seeing a wall of flames from the Acetone rise up, I was done there.
My start as a “Tube Welder”
I saw an ad in the paper for “Tube Welders”. Sure, it was round, had a hole in the middle. I could do it! The company was about 5 hours away but was working 7-12’s and paying $13.50 an hour in Arkansas. I drove to the shop and the tests was a piece of 2.5 OD x .250 MWT tube placed between a “wall” of other tubes with a 3/8″ gap between the sides of the tubes. Guess what ! I didn’t know how to weld. Sure, I made it through the test but not with the expected skills and grace of an experienced tube welder! I had more to learn… MUCH More.
It goes on and on!
I could go on for awhile about all of the things that I have learned over the years. Some of them I learned without anyone knowing I was learning while other things were obvious. Those obvious ones were often pretty big “fails” on my part that more than likely changed the opinions of many about “Navy Welders”. I have had more than one person fix a mess I made over the years! I could tell you a story of a 4″ crossover line in the bottom of a boiler but it would take some space!
If you are an individual that got out of school and went to work and never had anything else to learn…well, you’re special!
This industry is full of wide-ranging tasks that require different skill sets, knowledge, and non-welding related traits. 3 Years in HS followed by almost a year of training did not prepare me to do “all things welding”. It was a foundation for me to gain employment and gain real skills that last for a lifetime (except for the getting old and failing vision thing). Don’t expect to graduate at the top of your class and suddenly be the person companies are beating your door down for because of all the skills you learned in school. Also, don’t consider yourself doomed should you not be the “Star Welder” of your class. There is plenty of time to build your skills if you persevere and are truly interested in the trade. If you think your gonna get a trophy just because you completed some school, sorry! Those days are over! Sure, some schools have some excellent programs taught by experienced welders with a passion and desire to pass on their experience. SOME DO NOT!
One of the greatest things I learned when I started doing QC back in 89 or so was that there are some tremendously skilled people out here, watch them, learn from them, respect them, and know when they are full of it!
As you change jobs in the field of welding, things may change. Having a good core understanding of welding theory, process variables, properties of metals, and how to communicate can make you more adaptable and give you opportunities to grow.
If you need some additional training to refine your skills, prepare for a test, or just learn something new, please let us know and maybe we can help!