By Fred Decker
Welding is one of the most fundamental metal-fabrication skills, widely used in both manufacturing and construction. This makes it a useful certification for tradesmen who are willing to follow the work wherever it leads. For example, pipeline work tends to be cyclical, with major projects employing large numbers of welders for just a few years each. By earning a specialized certification in pipeline welding, a tradesperson can improve the likelihood of being hired for these lucrative jobs. The American Welding Society offers this certification through its authorized testing centers.
The American Welding Society’s certification process is as straightforward as it is possible to be. There are no prerequisites, and no academic training requirements. Candidates for certification need only set up a testing date and deliver a demonstration weld. They’re required to read and understand the specifications for that weld, and are judged on fit-up, assembly and positioning, as well as the soundness of the finished weld. Candidates who demonstrate an ability to do the job are certified after a qualified inspector scrutinizes their work. Those who fail can retest at a later date. In practice, successful certification usually requires a combination of training and practical experience.
Welding certifications are deliberately job-specific to ensure the welder’s proficiency with the appropriate materials and equipment. The requirements for pipeline work are stringent enough to require a special certification and test procedure. Test welds for pipeline certification are subject to visual tests assessing their appearance and neatness; mechanical tests to verify the strength of the weld; and radiographic testing that uses X-rays to reveal any weaknesses in the bond. Candidates must demonstrate good technique in cutting, positioning and welding the pieces in their test assembly, and must weld the assembly as it’s positioned by the test inspector.
An AWS pipeline welder certification has no specific expiration date, but it must be maintained on a six-month cycle. Before the end of any given six-month period, every certified welder must submit a renewal form. That form documents continuing employment in pipeline welding, stating the last date on which the welder performed those duties. The renewal is valid for six months after that date, as opposed to a simple semi-annual renewal. If the welder doesn’t actively work in the field for six months or longer, the certification will lapse and must be renewed through another examination.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15 percent job growth for welders between 2010 and 2020, approximately the same as the average for all occupations. For specialists in pipeline welding, maintenance of existing pipelines will create some jobs. However, most will come with major pipeline construction projects, which in turn depend on the overall economy and world petroleum prices. Prospects are best for welders who are willing to travel. The bureau reports that welders averaged $35,920 per year as of May 2011. Natural gas pipelines were among the highest-paying employers, at an average of $59,620 per year. Alaska was the highest-paying state, at an average of $67,980.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
- American Welding Society: AWS Certified Welder Program
- American Welding Society: Supplement F— Chemical Plant and Petroleum Refinery Piping
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
- Ross Land/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
About the Author
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada’s Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He’s held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.