The following responses were provided by Eric Bouchat, a welder with Patrick Aircraft Tank Systems Inc. in Columbia, Md. The material is intended to provide students with an idea of what working as a welder might be like, and some steps they can take to prepare for a career in that field.
A native of Baltimore, Bouchat received a high school diploma from Howard High School in 1985, attended the Howard Vocational-Technical School and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Maryland. Bouchat began working for PATS on a work-release program from Howard High in 1984. NATURE OF THE WORK
"I work for an aircraft engineering and manufacturing firm. I work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. I weld components for auxiliary power units (turbine engines that provide power for heating and air conditioning on private jets). I'm the only welder in the company, so I support the sheet metal fabrication, machine shop and mechanical assembly departments. As they are fabricating parts, they can only go so far without having the parts welded, so I have to complete the detailed construction before they can combine the parts into a kit which we sell to the customer.
"With each box of components dropped off to me, we have a 'traveler' (a document explaining what each part is and who has ordered it) with a blueprint attached. I read the blueprint to find out how the pieces need to be assembled. We use strictly TIG (Tungsten-Inert Gas) welding, which is an electric arc welding process. The process involves both hands and one foot. You hold the torch with one hand and feed the filler wire in with the other hand. The filler wire is relative to whatever base metal you're working on; aluminum, carbon steel or stainless. The foot is used to control the electrical amperage. Your foot rests on a treadle (like the gas pedal in a car). The more pressure you apply, the hotter the arc.
"It's a very artistic process. We do extremely light material so we use very thin metal. It's very easy to burn through the parts you're welding, so you have to be dextrous and patient. After I have welded a piece, it goes into the finishing process -- glass bead blasting or painting. Then it goes into assembly to be included in a kit. Then it gets sent to wherever the jet is that needs it.
"I use the newest technology in TIG welding. The stability of the arc and the striking time (how fast it comes on) are superior. This helps me maintain control of the process.
"My industry is regulated under the FAA, and they require that I repeat my certifications (eight of them) every year. The test pieces are radiographically tested for faults. The tests are very tough -- it's something that hangs over you every year.
"My favorite part of the job is the teamwork; interacting with my co-workers to complete the job. My co-workers depend on me to finish so they can get their job done. Staying under the welding hood so much of the time can get lonely, that's why I like to interact with co-workers when I get the chance. My least favorite part of the job is that I get burned and electrocuted by the arc a little every day, but you build up an immunity and now it doesn't bother me much.
"Salaries for a senior welder depends on the level of skill, but can run from $25,000 to $30,000 annually." EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS
"As far as education, I had eight years of Catholic school, which taught me discipline and respect, both of which are important in this job. I originally started studying welding to finance my way through college. I wish I had studied blueprint reading more in high school. The vocational high school didn't stress that enough, because without knowing how to read a blueprint, you don't know how to put the parts together. It's like a road map, and without it you're totally lost.
"There's a little bit of writing in my job, but I serve as first vice chairman of the American Welding Society, Maryland Chapter, and I do a lot of writing there, so my English skills are important. I also give speeches and announcements in front of large groups.
"Classes in English can be useful to go along with welding classes." MATCHING YOURSELF WITH THE WORK
"Welding is something that comes from within the individual -- you have to have a whole lot of talent and a whole lot of persistence. Even though you might start out showing some skill, you always have to push on to keep learning more, to keep developing the art.
"Some welders interact well with other people, others work better alone, so there's no real "personality type" to it, but the common bond is that all welders want respect for their skills and talent. To anybody who attempts welding for the first time, it's a humbling experience."