Forging a career in welding

Sparks are flying in the welding profession, which is constantly evolving with the introduction of new technologies.

“Welding is a cross-sector skill, and you can work in multiple industries including automotive, construction and power. It’s a really exciting career choice with a huge number of different roles,” says Chris Eady, Associate Director Professional Affairs and Certification at The Welding Institute, the leading professional engineering institution responsible for the professional registration and certification of welding and joining personnel worldwide.

Forget oxygen acetylene torches. “In comparison to Manual Metal Arc, Metal Active/Inert Gas, Submerged Arc and Flux-Cored Arc welding, there is relatively little use of oxy-gas welding in industrial fabrication and manufacturing these days,” says Eady, who points out that welding is recognised as a ‘shortage occupation’ and demand far outstrips current supply.

Welding, the art of fusing materials together usually using heat, pressure or both, demands excellent hand and eye coordination, interest in technology and a desire to help create things that will last long into the future.

Many people start their career in this area through apprenticeships. Brose UK, part of a global company that employs around 24,000 people worldwide and has an annual turnover of Euros 6 billion, makes seating systems and window regulators for major automotive clients, including Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota, Volvo and Nissan.

It is currently almost doubling its production space at its base in north Coventry.  The company is keen to recruit school leavers who have the right skills to make them expert welders.

Kyle Jones, started work with Brose UK as a welding technician on a four-year apprenticeship straight after completing GCSEs, including maths and all three science subjects.  Now in his third year, he is already an experienced technician who is specialising in robotic welding, where he is responsible for programming robots that carry out precise welding tasks using laser and MAG (Metal Active Gas) processes.

“It’s a very stimulating job and the high-tech aspect of robotic welding really appealed to me,”

“It’s a very stimulating job and the high-tech aspect of robotic welding really appealed to me,”

says Kyle, who is one of 16 apprentices currently working at the Coventry site. “My role involves aspects of mechanical and electrical engineering as well as programming.”

Kyle spent the first year of his apprenticeship at the nearby Midland Group Training Services in Coventry learning engineering science, machining and the theory of welding as well as practical skills. He still goes to college once a week and is now half way through his HNC (Higher National Certificate) in engineering.

He also earns while he learns and is on a steady salary. This career route could take Kyle through to welding specialist and potentially to welding manager within the technical function team.

“We have a rapidly expanding workforce” says Juergen Zahl, Managing Director of Brose UK, which has been based in the north of Coventry for 25 years.  “We plan to grow further and are also keen to recruit graduates and professionals who have already gained experience in industry.”

The family-owned company has received many awards globally for employment practices and regularly ranks highly in external employer surveys.

Another rapidly expanding company that is keen to hire welding apprentices as well as experienced welding professionals is Keystone Group which is the UK’s largest Steel Lintel manufacturer and Europe’s fastest growing roof window manufacturer.

Also a family-owned business, it has taken on four apprentices this year and is keen to increase that number. “It is great to bring in people who are keen to learn and will become part of the strong culture of the company,” says HR Manager, Hannah Patterson. With a strong focus on innovation the company now employs over 900 people and has seven different brands including Keylite Roof Windows and smartroof. The majority of welders are employed in the IG Masonry Support division which is based at a brand-new factory in Swadlincote in South Derbyshire.

Senior welders can become team leaders, overseeing teams of 20 people on shifts. “At this stage, they need to be team builders and excellent communicators who can liaise with engineers about specifications. They also have a quality control role to ensure that the manufacturing process has been done correctly,” says Hannah Patterson, who says that the company would like to see more women applying for welding positions.

Welding remains a male dominated profession – just two per cent of welders are female compared to seven per cent in engineering in general –and TWI is working hard to address this. “Women are currently in the minority overall but at TWI 32 per cent of the workforce is now female, so we know that change is possible,” says Chris Eady. “We are reaching out to girls with information and support when they are thinking about their career choices, we host a large number of school and college visits at our facilities, and engineers and technicians from The Welding Institute visit schools as STEM and diversity ambassadors.”

Dr Philippa Moore, who completed a degree in Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, is one of the leading female experts in welding integrity in the UK. She has participated in numerous TWI outreach projects to help promote welding to young people of both genders and all backgrounds.

Her PhD investigated the microstructures and properties of laser and laser/arc hybrid welds in pipeline steels, and her work has been published through a number of conferences and journals. She currently manages the Fracture Testing & Materials Characterisation Team within the Integrity Management Group at TWI in Cambridge, where she is involved in research and consultancy projects in fracture toughness testing and fitness-for-service assessments of welded structures. “I really enjoy the breadth of factors that affect the performance of welds; from the chemistry and metallurgy of modern steels, to the electronics of welding power sources to deliver good arc control,”

“I really enjoy the breadth of factors that affect the performance of welds; from the chemistry and metallurgy of modern steels, to the electronics of welding power sources to deliver good arc control,”

she says. “Another key factor is the welder’s skill and the engineering involved in calculating how weld defects may affect the future safety of structures. I believe female engineers excel in these multi-disciplinary teams where sound knowledge and excellent communication skills make a difference.”

Thea Jourdan

Thea Jourdan has been writing about engineering and architecture for over 10 years. She edited and commissioned Special Reports in engineering, defence, energy automobile and aerospace for the Daily Telegraph from 2005 to 2015.
Thea Jourdan

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