New technologies and the recession have recently made the outlook gloomy for many career fields, but that’s not the case with welding. In fact, thanks to a wave of retirements, the number of qualified welders is shrinking. Employers complain they have trouble filling open positions, and the onsite nature of welding jobs means they can’t be outsourced overseas. The welding programs that exist in Seattle, Washington, teach skills that are in demand, not only in the Pacific Northwest, but all over the United States. Welders help manufacture everything from ships to medical equipment to consumer electronics to race cars, and work building skyscrapers and oil pipelines. It’s a field offering opportunities both to travel and to settle down with a steady income.
Welding is sometimes taught in high school, but most welders obtain their education at a community college or technical institute. Although there are engineers who study welding techniques as part of their training, becoming a welder doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. The most common route is for students to enroll in a welding certificate or associate degree program geared towards having graduates pass a certification test upon completion of their coursework. A certificate course of study can be completed in as few as seven months, while some associate degrees take as long as two years. Minimum and maximum eligible ages vary by institution, but incoming students usually need to be at least 18. They also must have good eyesight, a high school diploma or GED and for in-state tuition at public schools, the requirements necessary for Washington state residency.
List of Welding Programs in Seattle, WA
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Application Process and Costs
Prospective students are usually asked to fill out an application and complete some kind of assessment or placement test. They’ll also need to meet with one of the institute’s counselors and possibly provide transcripts of their high school classes. In or near Seattle, Renton Technical College, South Seattle Community College, Olympic College and Lake Washington Institute of Technology all offer welding degrees. Costs for Washington state residents at these institutions average around $3900 per year; out of state tuition averages $7000. Program lengths range from 60 credits in three quarters to over 100 credits in six quarters.
Learning to weld requires hands-on practice with equipment and materials, so it doesn’t lend itself to instruction over the internet the way other academic fields of study do. However, the AWS, or American Welding Society, does offer online classes that complement real-world training. They have a module specifically designed to prepare students for the Certified Welding Inspector exam, and general courses in subjects that welding students are required to take, such as math, metallurgy and safety on the job.
Obtaining and Renewing Certifications
Strictly speaking, certification and licensing aren’t prerequisites for obtaining employment, but becoming a certified welder opens many more doors and can increase earnings in the long run. The two organizations that offer certifications in Washington state are the AWS and WABO, the Washington Association of Building Officials. Typically, welding schools specifically prepare their students to take one of these tests. After passing, welders must submit renewal forms every six months that verify that they are employed doing the type of welding for which they were certified.
Salary and Job Prospects
Salaries for welders range from $33,000 to $68,000, with the average being around $46,000. Factors such as years of experience and area of specialization have a big impact on earnings; the more types of welding processes a worker can successfully carry out, the higher the pay. Manufacturing and the maritime industry account for many of the job opportunities that make the Seattle area one of the best in the country for welders. One Seattle school, the Divers Institute of Technology, includes underwater welding techniques as part of its commercial diver teaching curriculum. Students who master this particular specialization are in even greater demand. Welding in general is a very transferable skill, so it can be applied in industries all over the country and the world.