Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts. Heat is applied to metal pieces, which melts and thus fuses them together. This time-honored practice is used in thousands of manufacturing activities every day. There are almost half a million welding and related jobs in the U.S.
Soldering and brazing are similar to welding, but the process generally requires less heat, and can be used on a wider variety of materials and also in smaller jobs, like electronics.
Skilled welders, brazers and solderers usually draw up plans and execute and test the metal joining. Automation is replacing some of the low-skilled welding processes, so those with advanced training have the best job prospects. However, machine operators that oversee the automation process also have good prospects.
Plasma, arc, and oxy-gas Cutters perform much of the same work as welders, except they are cutting and trimming metal objects. Some cutters dismantle ships, cars, buildings, and other big projects.
Workers in this field are exposed to a number of hazards, including exposure to intense light and heat and to gases. Some lift heavy objects and work in cramped conditions (such as when working in a building). Some workers are on construction sites, where hazards range from cuts and falls to exposure to the elements. Many welders work overtime and long weeks, and shifts may be long (up to 12 hours). Shift work is also common.
Opportunities for advancement are good for those that get further training along with experience. Some workers open their own shops. Improvements to the field and new discoveries make welding an exciting and challenging employment field.
Job prospects for the field are excellent for the 2002-2012 period. Employment is somewhat linked to the state of the economy, however. When there are slumps in the automobile, aircraft manufacturing and repair, and ship building industries, there may be less welding and cutting work.