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What is it like to be a welder?

Issuing time:2020-10-10 21:50

Welding is done in all kinds of industries. It really depends on where you end up working. I've been welding for the last 10 years and have held a few positions in that time. I've worked in facilities, repair shops, in a lean-to out in the woods, out of a truck, and even a couple of factories over the years.

Generally speaking maintenance work has you working with a greater variety of materials and using different welding processes. You will be working on older things that need repair so it's generally dirtier work than manufacturing. Wherever I've worked in maintenance there were also non-welding duties; you had to be part machinist, mechanic, or millwright as well. With bigger companies that had enough work for dedicated tradesmen I only did welding.

If you're doing maintenance in a facility/factory/mill you work there every day and, barring emergencies, work a fairly set schedule. Equipment or fleet maintenance can be that way too but but often it's easier to bring you to the equipment so you end up working out of a service truck and your workshop is wherever the machine happens to be; maybe a quarry miles from town, in a customer's facility, or on the side of the road. You're at the mercy of the weather and you usually stay until the job is done; my wife never knew when I'd be home. If the work sites are nearby you can go home every night but if it's a remote work site you have to live in a camp. Sometimes you'll work on projects in other communities and stay in a hotel.

Manufacturing is like facility maintenance in that you work at the same location and have a fixed schedule; overtime is rarer than with repair work. Manufacturing differs from repair in that it can be fairly monotonous. You build the same parts for the same product lines and this becomes your life. I spent a year in a factory where half of my time was building the same aluminum weldement out of the same 6 parts over and over again. It was a nice clean shop with regular hours but if you didn't have the right temperament then it would drive you mad.

Sometimes you get to do a bit of both in a general fabrication and repair shop. One day you're making brackets for an electrical contractor, the next you're patching up a radiator, repairing cracks in an engine block, making a roof rack, hardsurfacing an excavator bucket, anything that comes in the door. Maybe you'll end up in a job shop that does manufacturing but typically in small runs for a variety of customers and product types.

An additional thought:

I've found that tradesmen who spent their entire careers in manufacturing are very good at what they do but naturally have no experience outside of their narrow focus. The flip side of this is that the welder with a maintenance background will find manufacturing monotonous and initially aren't as fast with the repetitive tasks as their colleagues with manufacturing backgrounds. If you want to really learn the trade to the fullest extent possible then I believe that you need to work in a variety of settings. If you just want to make a living then find a workplace that suits your living situation and temperament.

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