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Earn $100K a Year as a Rig Welder!

Updated on August 28, 2014

All images supplied from Microsoft Office Clipart.

Reasons to Learn Pipe Welding

Nearly all welding students quickly discover how difficult pipe welding is. Some give up quickly, pursuing other less difficult welding skills -- only to regret it later.

Pipe welding is a worthy skill to pursue at a young age and as early as possible due to its job security, demand, and high earnings potential. It is far better to go ahead and learn this skill when in school the first time. Demand for skilled pipe welders is so high in some areas that companies end up in bidding wars when hiring welders.

$100K a year is not an impossible goal for a hard working rig welder; however, there are expenses involved for those who must maintain their own equipment, sometimes buy their own materials, insure their business, and perhaps hire a helper. Some folks who own their own rigs have reported more than $100K per year in profits, and some less.

Some clients provide the equipment and either work camp style housing or a Per-diem allowance.


What is 6G Pipe Welding?

Welder certification tests always specify a position and joint configuration. The easiest certifications are for plate in the 1G (flat) position. 6G and 6GR pipe certs are the most difficult tests, and require the highest skill level in the welding industry. A 6G test is a test on a pipe joint with an open root, with the pipe mounted on a stand typically at a rotated angle.

The pipe test is then cut up and destructively evaluated. Failing the destructive test is referred to as “bustin out”. Some say that only 5% of the welders in the industry are certified to 6G, hence the shortage and high pay rates.

Pipe welds are also often required to pass X-ray inspection. All the classroom theory in the world means nothing when a welder cannot pass an X-ray test. Likewise, a welder may have no formal schooling whatsoever, but if they can pass an X-ray and 6G test, nothing else matters. (Except, perhaps work experience and references.)

How to become a Rig Welder

A rig welder by definition owns their own truck, with an engine driven welder in the bed. They typically know how to use several welding and cutting processes, such as MIG, TIG, Stick, and Plasma, and are skilled at welding many different alloys. They are usually independent contractors who manage their own business, and they usually need to be bonded or insured. You have to be good at thinking on your feet to make it as a rig welder.

Union apprenticeship programs offered through a local branch of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) are an excellent way to break into the industry. Experienced welders are generally first in line; however, it pays to ask about their Provisional Journeyman programs. If you can pass some basic tests, they may accept you into their program. There is also the UA local 798, but they usually require you to own your own rig and pass their tests before being admitted as a Journeyman.

Starting out with no experience is challenging. Some projects will accept entry level welders who can pass a certification test, while most other projects require experience. One way to break in is to start as a pipe welder’s helper.

It helps to build up a network of professional connections which may include other welders, inspectors, construction managers, CWI’s, and recruiters and HR people. Finding work becomes easier after building up a roster list of happy clients.

You may also find the following resources useful if you wish to pursue this option further:

Oil and Gas Welding Jobs, and Salary Guide:

Pipeliners’ Associations:

Rig Welder Jobs Networking Sites:

Offshore Drilling Rig Jobs and Network:

Dealing with Paid Recruiters and Employment Agencies (Aka. Headhunters)

After 35 years in the welding business, I remain ambivalent regarding headhunters and temp employment firms.

Just what is the difference between these two?

Traditionally, headhunters earn their pay by earning commissions for filling open job orders requested by the hiring company.

Temp employment firms, on the other hand earn their living by either being paid a one-time commission or a percentage of the hourly rate by the hiring company for filling a job order for short term or contract work.

Sometimes contract houses offer temp to perm assignments, so these two situations may be combined.

Under no circumstances should you ever agree to pay someone to provide a job. These fees are traditionally paid by the hiring company, and those who require the worker to pay are too often a rip off.

My personal preference is to find work on my own. However, with 50 states to choose from, and millions of job postings to sort through, it is sometimes difficult to optimize the search process alone.

A word about “ethics” may prevent future headaches and legal snags. Some companies refuse to deal with employment agents and headhunters because they do not want to pay their fees when candidates are placed. Other companies are open to paying these fees or may even hire these agents to do their HR and recruiting work.

Problems may arise if your resume arrives at a company without your prior knowledge or consent. If more than one agency tries to represent you, HR may reject all the resume submittals in order to avoid potential legal snags over who earns the commission.

Likewise, if you find an opening on your own and submit your resume, and a headhunter has already submitted you, then the resumes might end up in the file 13 scrap bin - especially if they have a policy of not paying the fees.

The best way to avoid trouble is to maintain total control of your resume. If a recruiter contacts you about a job it is important to know if he or she is on an exclusive retainer or if he or she is making a random submittal. It always pays to only submit resumes for one job at a time, document it in a cover letter, and keep it on file in case future problems arise.

It is also wise to keep a log of job inquiries. There is often unique serial number tied to every new job order. If more than one recruiter contacts you about a job there could be a challenge between the two search firms regarding who is entitled to the commission. Often I will get phone calls or emails from more than one recruiter for the exact same job, and I tell them that I already have representation if there are duplicate inquiries.

Sometimes job postings will show up in the email at the “same time” with different pay rates. It “might” be possible in some cases to choose the best pay rate; however, this is a gray area that might become an invitation to litigation if one agent tries to lay claim to first contact – so, my advice it to avoid the disputes by not compromising on your ethics.

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