How to Be a Pipeline Welder
We’ve covered everything from space welders to working on oil rigs and yet we’ve never hit on one of the most aspirational positions in the industry. That’s because pipeline welding is a mine field just waiting to blow up our comment section. Pipeline welders are dedicated and often very opinionated. And the “how to’s” of pipe welding aren’t constant for every situation, meaning that one pipeline welder’s experience won’t always hold true for everyone. That being said, let’s take a look at how to become a pipeline welder.
Why Would You Pipe Weld?
One does not simply become a pipeline welder. It takes training, experience and a lot of learning from your mistakes. Why put yourself through that? First off, the experience needed to be a good pipeline welder means there’s relatively few pipeline welders compared to the amount of work needing to be done. That’s great for job security.
Every day tends to be different from the last for a pipeline welder (depending on the industry). Jobs often require that you come to the pipe rather than the pipe comes to you meaning most pipe welders aren’t caged up in a workshop all day. You could be welding pipe surrounded by snow-covered mountains or deep underground.
Of course, the biggest selling point tends to be the pay. While the average welder makes about $37,040 (in the USA), the average pipeline welder rakes in anywhere from $64,000 to $71,000 a year depending on the industry and location. That’s a significant chunk of change. On top of that, the benefits available to pipeline welders either from employers, unions or other organizations are nothing to smirk at.
What Does It Take To Be A Pipeline Welder?
First off, there’s the physical demands of becoming a pipeline welder. Projects can be strenuous. Sometimes you’ll have to weld in incredibly awkward positions, using only shear strength and willpower to keep your torch steady. Like many welding jobs done outside a workshop, you could be working in the freezing cold or unbearably hot conditions. You could even be working with sewers where overcoming your gag reflex is a vital skill. If you’re looking to become a pipe welder, you’ll probably need to kiss and make up with your weight set and running shoes.
Most experts will tell you the first step is getting trained and certified. Technically (for most certifications) you don’t need formal training. But in order to certify, you have to pass certain tests to prove you know what you’re doing. So unless you know a pipe welder who’s willing to teach you, formal training is one of the best options you have to learn the necessary skills to get certified.
Besides certification, the other challenge is getting job experience. Even with certification, most employers won’t hire you on as a full-blown pipeline welder unless you’ve spent some time in the trenches. To get that experience, many pipeline welders start as an assistant to a veteran pipe welder. These assistants are often called different terms such as “helpers,” “apprentices,” or more vulgar terms if you’re paired with a particularly impatient welder. While “apprentice” does imply a higher level of training or certification than “helper” (though not always), both roles center around doing everything possible to make the welder’s job easier and more efficient (a.k.a. “Hello, Mr. Grinder”).
When do you have enough certification and experience to become a pipe welder on your own? Most of the time that depends on your potential employers. Some companies will be willing to hire newer pipe welders while others are looking for veterans.
One Last Thing
While the natural gas and oil companies do hire a large amount of pipeline welders, those aren’t the only industries you can work in. For instance, water and sanitation services have plenty of pipes. The construction industry also deals with a large amount of piping that all requires the experienced touch of a pipeline welder. Because so many industries need pipeline welders, it’s possible to find a job where you aren’t expected to travel very often. However, a fair amount of pipeline welding jobs do require a bit of moving around. If you’ve always wanted to see the world (or at least the oil and energy capitals of the United States), it’s an excellent opportunity.
As we mentioned, not every pipeline welding path follows the same mold. Let us know down below what questions and experiences you have that are related to pipeline welding. Plus, check out our post on other career options in the welding world.