Welding, like other skilled trades, is suffering from a shortage of new welders as the experienced ones retire. That means companies across industries all over the U.S. are scrambling for skilled welders.
Couple that with the post COVID-19 pandemic labor shortage, and it’s one of the best times in history to get into the welding profession.
The American Welding Society is the professional organization that serves the welding industry and offers the basic Certified Welder certificate. AWS certifications are the gold standard throughout the U.S.; even public high schools consult closely with the AWS to keep their technical curriculum up-to-date.
California’s basic welders’ QC7 license is just another name for Certified Welder; the test is the same.
The AWS also has certification waiver programs if you are already certified by organizations like the International Institute of Welding, for example.
What Welding Certifications are Available?
AWS credentials are transferable across the U.S., but you may need additional licenses depending on which locality you plan to work in.
Here are certifications the AWS offers and a little bit about what new skills and jobs will open up to you with each:
This is the basic certification you need from the AWS to be a welder in the U.S. There are no prerequisites, you just have to pay the application fee of $35 and pass the exam. The exam is written and practical.
Certified Welding Inspector
All welding projects need quality control. Welds are the structural crux of many large structures like cell phone towers, bridges, skyscrapers, airframes and more. Weld failures can be catastrophic.
An inspector certification allows you to understand the nuances of different materials and how they react in different conditions, and how all those factors relate to the quality and integrity of any weld.
The inspector certification comes in three levels:
- Associate Certified Welding Inspector
- Certified Welding Inspector
- Senior Certified Welding Inspector
Certified Welding Educator
Lots of school districts, municipalities and companies that want to offer continuing education internally look for this certification. It’s a handy one to have if you enjoy mentoring younger professionals. Given the shortage of skilled welders entering the field, you can help the grow the profession with this certification, too.
Certified Resistance Welding Technician
Resistance welding uses pressure and electrical current to join two pieces of material. This is a handy technique as no extra material is needed to execute the weld. This certification is a useful tool to have in your belt as this more efficient technique is gaining traction in more industrial applications.
Certified Radiographic Interpreter
Understand readouts from radiographic (X-ray) scans and ultrasonic scans of welds. This expertise will let you discover whether a particular weld is faulty or structurally sound by observing images. This is a handy certification to pair with any of the weld inspector certifications.
Certified Robotic Arc Welder
Control a robotic welder. This specialized technique requires its own skillset. The robotic welder is necessary because of the huge amount of heat and precision involved in these welds.
Certified Welding Engineer
Thorough understanding of welding procedures, methods and the related trades. They can read inspection reports and interface with production-level welders, inspectors, project managers and structural engineers, alike, to ensure they use the right kind of welds, and that those welds are guaranteed to be structurally sound throughout any project.
Certified Welding Supervisor
Welding supervisors have a lot of hats to wear. The most important is the helmet; supervisors coordinate job site safety for production-level workers. “To be effective, they need to have and use a wide range of knowledge, including welding safety, supervision, planning, fabrication, inspection, documentation, and economics,” according to the AWS.
Certified Welding Sales Rep
You can’t sell services or products without thorough knowledge. Welding sales reps “relay information concerning new technologies that can improve the productivity, reliability, and quality of welding processes,” according to the AWS.
How Much Money Do Welders make in California?
Top welders in high-income California metros can earn $72,600 per year ($34.90/hour wage), but mid-career welders can expect to make about $63,000 ($30.28/hour) in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most expensive locale in the country. LA/OC average welder salaries are more like $52,000 per year ($25/hour), which is a more prevalent average throughout the rest of the state and closer to the national average.
Check out SkillsetGroup's 2023 Salary Guides for welder pay ranges and pay for other positions in our skilled trades, engineering and similar verticals:
What are the Requirements for Being a Welder in California?
You’ll likely have to take classes through your technical program at your high school to get the necessary classroom and basic practical skills. If you’re switching into welding as an adult, the AWS offers all sorts of seminars and curriculum, depending on where you are in your career and what path you want to take.
These educational programs can run as long as 18 months and cost from a few thousand bucks to more than $50,000, according to WeldingTroop, an online trade magazine. You should pick a program through the AWS or a locality or state licensing body.
The market for such educational programs across professions is filled with firms trying to get easy money without providing much value. Do your research and, ideally, get tips on picking an education program from someone who is already in the industry.
Welding Apprenticeships in California
As a beginning welder, you’ll need to spend some time learning the ropes while on-the-job. California has its own set of licensing exams to be allowed to weld commercially in the state. The QC7 is California’s version of the Certified Welder, and the standards and tests are the same for the AWS certification, according to WeldingTroop.
To sit for the exam in California, you need to enter into an accredited six-month welding educational program and/or an apprenticeship.
You’ll may need supplemental licenses for welding in California, depending on where you want to go with your career. Here are the different add-ons:
- Supplement C: Welder Performance Qualification Sheet Metal Test
- Supplement F: Chemical Plant and Petroleum Refinery Piping
- Supplement G: AWS Performance Qualification Test (generic supplement)
All tests come with a written and performance component.
Apprenticeship.gov is a nationwide clearinghouse for apprenticeships across skilled trades. It's a great place to start if you want to go the apprenticeship route.
How Do You Get a Welding License in Los Angeles?
The American Welding Society certifications are recognized throughout the U.S., but you may also have to take a licensing exam in a particular county or city where you plan on working.
For example, the city of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety requires about $120 total in fees to take a practical and written examination. You need the LA city certification to work on welding projects within the city limits.
The building and safety department has licensed testing facilities throughout the city you can report to for testing. You’ll need the latest AWS structural welding code manuals for the open-book part of the written exam.