Goonhammer Careers: How to afford the Hams – Welding

Hello, fellow hobby enthusiasts! Have you ever found yourself 99% short of being able to afford that Bio-Titan and wondered how on earth do people afford these damn things?  You are in luck!  There is a cool as hell career out there waiting for you that also pays cool as hell wages:  Welding!

Recently I was discussing what I do for a living in contributor chat on the Goonhammer Discord and when the topic of welding came up Greg could no longer contain his enthusiasm and promptly demanded that I write an article about it. Greg, this one is for you buddy!

Background information

I work as a CWB (Canadian Welding Bureau)-certified Welding Supervisor for a major player in the hydraulics industry. I have spent almost 2 decades learning and acquiring the correct skills to get to this position and throughout that time I did almost a decade of CNC robotic and Lathe welding, I now manage a crew of 50+ CNC and manual welders.  Of all the forms of machining and trades available in the manufacturing industry I always found myself drawn to welding as it just seemed so interesting and exciting. The people got cool (very expensive) helmets, they had strange machines that created what looked like lightening, they made more money than anyone else around them (big draw) and there is almost nothing a qualified experienced welder could not fix.  The people in welding are an eclectic bunch with very diverse backgrounds, just looking around my crew has people from every corner of the world with every gender and orientation represented. Enough about me and my crew though, let’s talk welding.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

What is welding and why should you care?

Welding is a fabrication process that joins materials, usually metals, by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.  There are many different types of welding using many different types of electrodes and base materials.  Welding is actually a massive field with so many different applications from welding aluminum or stainless steel that is very thin all the way up to welding bridges and massive hydraulic cylinders for earth movers. Welding can be done anywhere on earth at any time – there are jobs for underwater welding, fly-in location welding, welding in the armed forces, NASA, Tesla, CN, CP, working in mines or on oil rigs (huge money) and so on. The list is extensive.

The specific type of welding I am involved with is MIG welding in the flat position.  There are 5 different positions which are: Flat, Horizontal, Vertical up, Vertical Down and Overhead. Companies or individuals can choose to be certified in one or all positions depending on their needs; for my company we find ways to do everything in a single position as much less can go wrong and the process is easier to control. The CNC machines and robots are able to tilt on gigantic rotating beds to lift the parts and torch arm into flat positions to weld automatically (Greg would find this wicked as all hell).

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Why care about any of this, you ask?  Let’s not sit here and pretend you don’t envy the ingenuity of your average Space Ork. Learning how to weld is the first step on the path to being an ork.  At any moment you are able to tactically acquire any material around you and create something new and wild.  I have to constantly remind my welders to please NOT do this at work.  That could be you!  Welding is an extremely high demand field meaning there are far more jobs than there are qualified welders and this is only going to get worse in the future as a huge percentage of the work force ages out.  What this translates to is highly competitive wages in the trades field, and a stable future for you to plan around.  Right now I am down around 10 welders and just cannot find people to fill the void and everyone out there is in the same boat.

I do many presentations and tours for high school children that have trades offered at their schools and always tell them the same story:  If I had taken these (COMPLETELY FREE) courses offered through my high school when I was their age my life would have been filled with opportunity instead of immense struggle.  Welding is a skill you can always fall back on as a safety net, most peoples plans do not workout in life so imagine having this career choice just in your back pocket at all times.  Life is better and easier when you have options just like in table top games, when you are the one dictating the options available to you, you are in a winning position.  When you are letting someone else dictate them, you are in a losing position.

How do you enter the welding field?

It has actually never been easier (which is worrying for a couple of reasons you do not care about) to join the trades; because there is such a gigantic deficit of welders and machinists across the world, many of the certification boards have made the requirements much simpler to achieve. Here in Canada you now only have to take a 6 month (full-time) course which culminates in a CWB welding test, and after you pass that test you are good to start applying for jobs. For reference, this process used to take two years! I cannot speak to how long it takes in the USA but the industry is having the same challenges there so it’s likely easier now than ever before.

This is the most common way to enter the field, though there are other ways to get to the same place. Usually a company will not want to try and grandfather you in and invest in that kind of training in-house. As far as entering the field as a machinist welding on CNC machines or robotic lathes goes there actually is NO experience required (yes, that is how crazy everyone needs people right now). Typically you start off in a different area and learn the basics of the company and then move to those areas as you become more confident in a shop.

If you are in high school and are lucky enough to have these courses offered to you then all you need do is take them and you get the same certification after you complete it, which is a massive savings in terms of both time and cash money (thousands of dollars).

What is the job like?

Listen, I can’t bullshit you here. You are paid well because the job is hard. It’s hot and it’s at times dirty. This job will keep you in pretty good shape (especially underwater welding and rig welding) as it is physically demanding and there’s no easy way around it. When you are creating something or fixing something you have to handle those things and often times they are not small and are in awkward positions. The job gets easier as you learn more skills and become confident in your own abilities. Welding is is a skill you have to constantly work at. Unlike CNC machining or some of the other trades welding is not something you can learn from a book; you have to do it and you have to be in the moment. Welding is somewhat tribal knowledge-based. As metals are melting and reforming you need to be able to adjust your hand position or speed of travel depending on what you are seeing in the welding puddle. Doing this wrong means you will have to really master another skill: Using a grinder.

At the end of the day I really enjoy my career. It has paid the bills, allowed me to buy as much hams as I require and afford the travel to the events I enjoy going to. Every single day you are presented with different unique problems which you need to solve in order to keep things moving – I love this environment. If you are out there killing yourself for next to no money working a job that has no future I am here to invite you to a cool new field that has a long-lasting future and one where your career path is entirely in your own hands; you can go as far as you want to go with this thing with the right amount of work and dedication.

If you happen to be from Winnipeg, Manitoba and need help with a job do not hesitate to contact me here or on the Goonhammer Discord and I will do everything in my power to help you. If you are out there and just want some guidance or information on the trades feel free to also contact me.

This one’s for all the trades people out there: You are the true Fabricator General!

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