Find the Highest Paying Welding Jobs of 2018: Salary Data and More
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The Highest Paying Welding Jobs of 2018

consturciton welder repair stairs

As of September 27, 2017 the average pay for a welder in the U.S. was about $21/hr.  This equates to an annual salary of $37,999. 

So how is it there are welders out there making more than DOUBLE this amount?

In this article we're going to dive into the industries and locations currently offering the highest pay for experienced welders.  When you're finished reading you'll know:

1.  Which specific industries offer the best average pay.​
2.  What geographic locations pay the best
3.  What skills you'll need to get these types of jobs
4.  The responsibilities of each position

​What Industries Offer Highest Pay for Welders?

While more difficult and dangerous welding jobs have traditionally offered the highest average pay, the boom in the U.S. energy markets has caused severe labor shortages in some markets.  This in turn has driven salaries substantially higher in the last 5-6 years.

But this isn't true everywhere.

Higher salaries are often tied to specific geographic regions and specific types of welding jobs.  Let's take a look at three areas of welding that offer excellent compensation.

Industrial Pipe & Pipeline Welding

pipeline welding in Alaska

Pipelines are used everywhere and in just about any industry.  As a result the demand for skilled welders in this field is extremely high.  Even under normal circumstances a skilled pipe welder could find work in just about any location in the country. 

But the expansion of the U.S. energy market over the last decade has driven demand even higher. 

North Dakota is a perfect example. Oil prices that were once in the $100/barrel price range allowed fracking to become extremely profitable.  The oil sands in this area hold billions of dollars worth of crude.  Since the industry was in it's infancy it required MASSIVE infrastructure buildup.

Even though oil prices have dropped substantially from their highs, frackers have manged to improve their efficiency allowing them to be profitable at today's prices of ~$50/barrel.  As a result there is still high demand for pipe welders in this area.

Pipeline welding in particular is in high demand and jobs that would typically pay $20/hr have jumped to as much $40/hr in places like North Dakota and Alaska.

The amount of oil reserves in the ground in this region will keep demand high for decades.  This bodes well for job security of the welding industry in general.

Projects like the North Dakota Access pipeline and others, while controversial, only add to the demand as they allow for lower transportation costs and higher profit margins for the oil industry.

Pipeline welders are also in high demand in the shipbuilding, automotive, construction, nuclear energy, fabrication, and aerospace industries, as well as with the U.S. armed forces. 

Key Salary Figures

Average Hourly Pay

$23/hr

Maximum Pay

$50/hr

Location Dependent

Highly

Highest Avg Pay by Location

AK, ND

Highest Avg Pay by Industry

Gas & Oil Industry

Pipelines can literally be found everywhere people work and live.  Other areas where pipeline welders will find opportunities include city water and sewage facilities and chemical manufacturing plants.

The Skills You'll Need

Pipeline welding jobs range from construction of new pipelines to the maintenance and repair of existing lines.  While this list is not necessarily comprehensive some of the responsibilities include:

  • read and understand blueprints and project specifications
  • knowledge and experience in pipe welding processes (SMAW, GTAW, FCAW) and positions (1G, 2G, 5G, 6G)
  • preparation of initial work-site by eliminating or reducing obstructions
  • clearly understand the metallurgical qualities of the materials being used and calibrate equipment accordingly
  • dismantle, straighten, reshape, reassemble and fuse sections of piping
  • develop and build support structures to ensure stability during and after welding
  • routine maintenance and upkeep including coating pipelines to prevent corrosion
  • routine inspections for cracks, leaks, or other damage

Where Are the Highest Paying Pipeline Welding Jobs?

If you're willing or able to move for your career you have a distinct advantage in terms of pay.  As of this writing the highest pay is in states like Alaska and North Dakota.  Offshore jobs can also offer significantly higher pay as many positions require you remain on-site for months at a time.  These types of jobs often require additional certifications.

More on that in a bit...

Salaries are a function of supply and demand so fluctuations should be expected.  That said, anywhere the energy industry has a large presence should remain a stable market for pipe welders for the foreseeable future.

Pipeline Welding Resources

https://www.nccer.org/workforce-development-programs/pipeline

https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/Pipeline/Intro_to_Pipeline/default.htm

https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/naics3_486000.htm

Underwater Welding Jobs

welder prepping a job underwater

Another of the more traditional high-paying jobs within the industry is underwater welding.  Difficult working conditions, plus all the additional training necessary to perform this type of work combine to make average salaries quite high.

Work conditions can range from quite tame to extremely hazardous depending upon the environment.  Many of these types of welding jobs revolve around working with offshore oil rigs and can be downright dangerous.

For those with the skill, and the nerve, welding underwater can be an EXTREMELY lucrative career with it's own set of perks and benefits.

One niche of the underwater welding industry where you can expect to make as much as $1400 per day is with saturation diving.  This involves diving deeper and working longer while at depth.  It also involves the regular use of compression chambers to prevent decompression sickness.

Divers need years of experience before they can qualify for saturation certification.  You'll also need lots of patience because you'll often be spending hours at a time in decompression chambers after a dive.

The Skills You'll Need

Underwater welding involves installing, maintaining, and repairing pipelines and rigs.  As with pipe welders, these jobs are often in oil and gas industry.  Here are some of the basic requirements you'll need:

  • advanced scuba diving skills (commercial diver certification)
  • welding certifications
  • advanced knowledge of commercial diving equipment
  • knowledge of wet and dry welding equipment and techniques

In addition to these skills it's quite common for underwater welders to need highly developed skills in underwater photography and welding inspection to assess completed work, check existing welds, and assess damage. 

In addition to the difficult work environment many welders in this part of the industry must spend weeks or months on job sites and away from home. 

This is obviously a factor that must be taken into account when considering it for a career.  This is an especially important consideration for those with families.  Does the higher pay make up for time missed at home?

Key Salary Figures

Average Hourly Pay

$39/hr

Maximum Pay

$55+/hr

Location Dependent

Highly

Highest Avg Pay By Location

FL, LA, Offshore

Highest Avg Pay By Industry

Oil & Gas

While most of the high paying jobs are in the oil and gas industry there are other fields available.  These include salvage and construction.  Tasks might include dismantling underwater structures or vessels and building bridges or pipelines.

Under Water Welding Resources

https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Underwater_Welder/Salary

http://awsweldlink.org/careers/detail/underwater-welder​

Armed Forces Support Welder

Military support welders work on everything from tanks to aircraft carriers

The U.S. military has bases and equipment all over the globe.  In addition there are several active war zones.  This creates an endless need for maintenance and repair of equipment, vehicles, ships, and transports.

As with the two other career paths we've highlighted, working with the Armed Forces requires being on-site, where the action is.  This can mean many months away from home and family. 

Active duty personnel often fill many of these positions.  But once they've moved on from their military career they often return as civilian contractors.  The pay for civilian contractors is obviously much higher, and can easily jump into the six figure range.

The Skills You'll Need

Military support welders will require a basic knowledge of welding techniques.  This includes TIG welding, MIG welding, and stick.  Tasks are as varied as you could imagine.  With so much equipment operating in battlefield or near-battlefield conditions repair and maintenance needs are constant.

Skills might include any of the following:

  • Ability to interpret blue prints and schematics, recognizing welding symbols and specifications.
  • Basic Math skills and Mechanical aptitude.
  • MIG & TIG welded parts as defined in specification sheets.
  • Steel/aluminum experience
  • Fabrication w/welding and layout

Where's the Money?

On average working for the Armed Forces as a welder you'll earn a salary comparable to many others in the industry.  Many of the positions are stateside near major cities.  This means there is plenty of competition from other qualified welders.

Where you really earn you money is working in dangerous areas or active combat zones.  These types of jobs not only require taking on more personal risk, they require additional training as well.

Key Salary Figures

Average Hourly Pay

$23/hr

Maximum Pay

$75+/hr

Location Dependent

Highly

Highest Avg Pay By Location

Danger areas/active war zones

For many the payoff is worth it.  Some contractors can earn as much in one year "deployment" as they would working 2 or 3 years back home.  Obviously it's up to you to assess the level of risk and make the determination of whether or not the juice is worth the squeeze as they say.

If you're interested in these types of positions you'll need to interview with private companies that have contracted to service military equipment.  They have their own set of requirements as well as those required by the military.

Military Support Welder Resources

https://awo.aws.org/2014/08/exciting-careers-in-welding/

​http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/jobs-civilian/trades.page

What's Your Next Step?

If you're just getting started with welding or have just finished school your next step is to get experience.  None of the jobs we've highlighted above are for beginners.  They all require years of experience to compete with your peers in the marketplace.  But choosing your path now can help ensure you attain all of the necessary skills during your training and apprenticeship. 

If you're willing to make the necessary commitments and sacrifices, you too can capture one the highest paying welding jobs out there.

About the Author Jason

Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys.