The time: 1920. The place: Cammell Laird Company’s Birkenhead Works, alongside the River Mersey, England. The event: shipyard welders assemble the world’s first all-welded ship, the 620-ton coastal freighter, MS Fullagar. The technique was shielded arc welding, in which the steel welding rods were dipped in asbestos slurry. The ship plied the oceans for 17 years before sinking off the Baja Peninsula, where it remains today. No doubt, many of the welds are still good. If maritime welding interests you, you will pursue your passion no matter the job prospects. Others, though, may question your thinking, so just what is the job outlook for a shipyard welder? Gather some facts to offer to family and friends who think your pursuit of the perfect plasma weld is puzzling.
From the Steel Desk of…
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is a federal government agency that pinches its pennies. We can reasonably expect the BLS to have row upon row of sturdy steel desks (each beautifully welded by a hard-working welder), all occupied by statisticians, accountants, mathematicians and forecasters. These hard workers report on job outlooks, incomes, and all manner of details for not just welders, but the whole gamut of metalworkers: welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers.
How Much Can a Shipyard Welder Expect to Make?
For May, 2014, the BLS tells us that the nation’s 369,000+ welders (and cutters, solderers and brazers—you are just going to have to take them along with the A-team welders) earned a median annual income of $37,420.
Maritime welders, all 15,490 of them, had higher than average wages for the job sector, with average annual incomes of $42,710. They were earning an average of $20.54 an hour in shipyards and boatyards.
On the Horizon: The Growth of Shipyard Welding
The BLS calculates that, through 2022, average growth across all sectors will be 11 percent, but for welders (and cutters, solderers and brazers, those hangers-on) the market will grow six percent. This means competition will be white-hot, with the best maritime welding positions going to the best educated, best-trained welders.
Keep in mind a maritime welder is not the same as an underwater welder. Maritime welders work in shipyards and boatyards, which means they tend to cluster around major ports:
10. Chicago, Illinois
9. San Francisco, California
8. Seattle, Washington
7. Miami, Florida
6. Laredo, Texas
5. Anchorage, Alaska
4. Houston, Texas
3. Detroit, Michigan
2. New York, New York
1. Los Angeles, California
Those are the top 10 income-generating ports in the United States, with Los Angeles tops at $417.5 billion in 2010 (the latest year for data).
The ships and boats plying these ports’ waters need constant servicing and repair, including welding. Repair yards, dry docks, and shipyards stay busy on a year-round schedule. A shipyard welder is on the job around the clock, every day (though, of course, not the same welder—a person can only weld for so long before stopping for a little food and a snooze).
The United States government has two historic and compelling reasons to maintain shipyards—the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard. With shipyards from Kittery, Maine down the Atlantic Seaboard to Portsmouth, Virginia, and along the Pacific coastline from Vallejo, California to Bremerton, Washington, our floating defense forces need full-time maintenance, overhaul and repair yards. Each yard is equipped with materials, equipment, muscle power, and, of course, maritime welders.
With due respect to Old Ironsides—the USS Constitution—whose oak timbers in the War of 1812 repelled cannonballs as if her sides were made of iron, our floating arsenals today are not oak-hulled sailing ships. Navy and Coast Guard vessels are steel, composite materials and titanium. The call for versatile, well-educated welders is as great as ever in these massive facilities serving our modern fleet.
…And Shipyards Private
If employment opportunities at all 11 of our government shipyards slacken, the competent maritime welder can check out any one of the 70-plus private shipyards stretching along our coastlines from Maine to Florida, from California to Alaska and inland. Here is a small sampling from A to Z:
- Austal USA, Mobile, Alabama
- Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine
- Electric Boat Corporation, Groton, Connecticut
- Winslow Marine Railway & Shipbuilding, Seattle, Washington
- Zidell Marine, Portland, Oregon
— ATI (@AdvTechInst) August 14, 2015
Prove Your Mettle
To begin a rewarding career as a shipyard welder, start with a good education. Learn the craft; hone your skills; prove your mettle around the metal. Attend Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) four days a week for 55 weeks and you could exit the Maritime Welding Technology program with a diploma or AOS degree and complete knowledge of shielded metal arc, gas metal arc, flux cored and gas tungsten arc welding. Be ready for entry level positions in shipyards and repair facilities. Contact ATI today to light the spark in your future.
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