by Jason Becker
So, You Want to be a Welder
So, you are thinking about a career in welding huh? Good on you. I can tell you first hand that this career has taken me places I’ve never thought I would go and given me thing I thought I’d never have.
I am going to tell you the truth straight up so that there is no misunderstanding about what you are getting yourself into. Welding Sucks. That right, I said it. Everything you touch is sharp, hot and heavy. You’re going to sweat, ache, and work long tiresome hours. But I’ll tell you this as well. It is so worth it. I love my job and I love welding. There is no greater satisfaction than to stand back after the project is over and say “look what I built, look what I did with my own two hands”. You take a pile of solid metal and cut it, form it, shape it and mold it to your will. There’re very few people in this world that can do what we do at a proficient level. It takes patients, time, dedication, and determination to master this craft. It’s a long hard road but in the end its worth everything you put into it. Just like everything else in this world, you’ll get back what you put in.
Over the past few years I have taught and instructed over one hundred people how to weld. Some of them have gone off to make a good life for themselves, some have wasted the skill and chose a different career path, and a select few have exceeded all of my expectations and have gone on to do great things in the industry. It’s all about what you put in to it. I am going to cover some things in this article that will be very valuable to anyone looking to get into this industry. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. It’s up to you.
Find a Good School
How do you find a good school? What makes a good school? Well, I am glad you asked. First thing you want to consider is what is available in your area. Get on the Google and type in Welding Schools in my area. Search through the schools and do some research. Look up reviews on the schools. Of course, if you call up the school they are going to tell you that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Do your own research though. Check out reviews from past graduates. Get on some Facebook welding groups and ask if anyone has gone there and what their experience is.
Once you’ve locked down a couple potentials, schedule an appointment to tour the facility and ask to speak with the instructor. Find out what is covered in the course, not all welding programs are created equally. Find out the hours required and make sure they fit your schedule. Find out the cost, we will discuss that more in-depth later on in the article. Now, the school will most likely try to get you signed up that day before you leave the facility, especially if it is a for profit institute. Some of them are as bad as a high-pressured used car salesman. Take your time, this is your future we are talking about. No need to make a hasty decision because the school has some state-of-the-art equipment and a fancy student lounge. Visit all the schools on your list and speak with the instructor if you can. Most of the time the counselors and recruiters have no idea about what’s really involved in the program. Selecting the best school will be up to you. It’s a good idea to write out a list of questions you want answers to before you even go to the school. Some good questions to ask are:
What are the hours?
How long are the terms of the class?
How long will it take to fully complete the course?
Do you offer Welding Qualifications?
What additional certifications/qualifications do you offer?
What costs are associated with the course?
Do you help with job placement? What is your current placement rate? How long is placement assistance offered after graduation.
Covering the Costs
Here is where some schools can differ greatly. Cost, cost is a big factor in whether or not you can go to the school that you choose. Now, the school will have some great student loan options for you, all you have to do is put down your social security number and sign a few pages and they will bless you with buckets of money to pay for your classes. However, not all student loans are created equal and some have higher interest rates than others. All of this for a very low interest rate and no payments due until 6 months after you graduate. How cool is that? Sounds pretty good right? Probably too good, because it is. Reserve student loans as a last-ditch effort. It’s not that they are bad, it’s just that you can get your classes paid for, be it partially or in full. There are several Grants, Scholarships, and other sources of funding available to you. Apply for everything and anything you qualify for. Sure, you may have to write a short essay about why you should receive the funds, but it’s usually 500 words and that’s only a few paragraphs any way. What will it cost? Maybe an hour or two of your time for some free scholarship money? Not a bad deal if you ask me. Below are several resources that you can use to apply for scholarship and grant money. Spend their money on your education instead of your own, that’s what its there for. Many scholarships and grants go unused simply because enough people don’t apply for them. Its literally sitting in an account waiting for you to apply for it.
Check out the foundation for your specific school. I would start there first. There are many scholarships and grants available from the schools’ partners, potential employers and the foundation in general. Many of these scholarships require nothing more than filling out an application.
The next place you want to stop and visit is the Foundation from the American Welding Society at AWS.org/foundation they have plenty of grants and scholarships available. Some require a short essay and some require nothing more than a short application. I have sat with the scholarship committee on several occasions and I will tell you first hand that not enough people apply for the funds that are available. I have had several students from all of my classes become recipients of AWS Scholarships and Grants when I was teaching welding. While you’re at the website, apply for a student membership, its only $15 and well worth the investment. Although being a student member isn’t required for selection, it will carry some additional weight in the selection process. I highly recommend getting involved with the AWS as early as you can if you plan to make welding a career. It has many benefits.
Next up, check out Mikeroweworks.org they give away buckets of money and often pay the full tuition for the course you have chosen. Now this will require a bit more work on your part. You will need to sign the S.W.E.A.T pledge which basically states that you are not afraid of working hard and that you will do what’s needed to be successful in your chosen career. You may also be asked to make a short video. You will defiantly be asked to submit an essay. All you have to do is explain why you want to become a welder. That shouldn’t be too difficult, that’s what your plan is anyway right?
Check your individual state for scholarships as well, there are a lot of them available.
Maybe the school and financial aid, grant and scholarships aren’t for you but you still want to become a welder. Well, no problem. Maybe the Union is more your style. There’s a lot of opinions on Unions. I’m not going to push you one way or the other. I have worked for the Union and I have worked for private industry as well. Both have pros and cons. However, going the Union route will allow you to get on the job training while attending classes. Additionally, the classes are free and you will receive industry recognized credentials throughout the apprenticeship. This option will take longer to complete though. Most apprenticeships are 4-5 years and the welding classes are usually not available until the final year of apprenticeship training. It’s not always the case with every Union but it is a pretty common throughout most of them.
Whichever school or apprenticeship you decide to pursue, remember that you will only get out, what you put in. If you show up and just go through the motions, you will never be successful in this trade; it is too competitive and there are others out there who are hungry for the work. Show up early, stay late and get as much time under the hood as possible. Until Next Time, Make Every Weld Better Than Your Last.