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smatsushima1 (Civil/Environmental) (OP)
22 Apr 11 16:12
If you worked as a welder and decided to get an engineering degree - civil, mechanical, aerospace, etc. - I would like to know your experience as an engineer:

- What type of work did you do?
- Did you need to get your PE license?
- Were you still able to work as a welder?
- Did you enjoy the work?
- Is there a market for engineers in this economy?
- Anything that you would like to say would be of benefit

Earlier this month, I was accepted into the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Apprenticeship Program as a welder and had my dream come true. At the time, I didn't want to do anything but weld but as I look into my future, I realize that I don't want to be 40 and still being told to weld such and such part; I want to be the guy who designs the part AND welds it. I'm really not sure if I can do both, union regulations may not allow it, but regardless, I would like to be apart of the design team and the construction/welding team.

I'm planning on getting a civil engineering degree, as I feel it would focus more on the type of industry that I would enjoy working in; I figure mechanical and aerospace engineering would deal mostly with TIG welding instead of stick, but I could be wrong. I will have at least a year before I start any coursework, so I have some time before I decide.

My girlfriend says there is no market for engineers in this economy, but I would like to know from an engineer's point of view what the market is like. I figure a naval shipyard welding apprenticeship program and an engineering degree will look pretty impressive to any employer.

Any other comments are greatly appreciated and thank you all in advance for the replies.
YoungTurk (Mechanical)
22 Apr 11 16:48
"My girlfriend says there is no market for engineers in this economy, but I would like to know from an engineer's point of view what the market is like."

Has she been looking for engineering work much?  There are jobs, they're not knocking down the doors to get applicants but qualified people are getting work on a regular basis.  By the time you could have an engineering degree, the economy will be so different, it doesn't really matter anyhow.

What it comes down to is whether you have the skills and the passion to follow through with a rigorous education and the ensuing job search.  I've never heard of any degreed full time engineers who did fabrication at the same job, but there are more than a few engineers with fabrication experience that typically makes them more practical and better at their job.

You say your new job is a dream come true.  I'd suggest focusing on that, and enjoy the greener grass you've just found instead of scoping out the next pasture. Meanwhile, keep your eyes and ears open to the technical aspects which will help you out should you decide to change fields later.  Ask why.  Learn to read and understand the designs, the materials, the processes and the business.  Good luck.
TheTick (Mechanical)
22 Apr 11 17:17
What makes your girlfriend an expert in the engineering job market?
MintJulep (Mechanical)
22 Apr 11 17:35
You might want to think about a material engineering degree, with a focus on welding.

Welding engineers are niche players, but are necessary in a wide range of industries.

Being a dual welder/engineer is not a realistic career goal in most environments.  Maybe in a small custom equipment design/fabrication shop.
aggman (Structural)
22 Apr 11 17:43
Smat, this is going to get a little winded...  ;)

I started my life working in a heavy industrial fab shop.  Started out sweeping floors while still in high school.  All I wanted to do was to learn to weld.  I focused my attention on welding in my school vocational program and learned all I could.  I begged until they finally let me start welding.  Over the next several years I focused myself at mastering the art of hard wire mig, flux core mig, and arc welding in all positions.  Eventually I started to get a little bored and decided I wanted to become a fitter.  Begged and begged to get any opportunity to learn to fit.  Slowly they began to give me more and more until I was fitting almost exclusively.  Then I decided after seeing how things went together in the shop that I wanted to see how they went together in the field.  So I progressed to working in field construction erecting heavy industrial.  Now understand that through most of this process I couldn't be happier doing what I was doing.  Then I decided that I wanted to learn how to design all of these huge industrial structures that I was putting together.  So thats when I decided to go to school to learn structural engineering.  I went back to my roots in that fab shop were they allowed me to work part time while going to school full time.  Half way through I worked my way into a detailing and drafting job part time.  I finished my undergrad and stepped into the world of structural engineering fully.  One year later I went back to school at nights to get my masters in civil engineering (focused in structural engineering).  Finished that in two years and went on to get my PE as soon as I could.

To answer your questions now that you have my background;

- What type of work did you do?
I worked in heavy industrial (bulk material handling).  I now work as a structural engineer in the same field.

- Did you need to get your PE license?
Yes

- Were you still able to work as a welder?
Yes.  (And I always have this to fall back on...it's like riding a bike!)

- Did you enjoy the work?
Still love it and at times I still do a little of it believe it or not.  You would be amazed at the respect you earn when you make a mistake (and you will as an engineer) and you go out to the field and help get it fixed.  I still enjoy the looks I get when I show up at a jobsite and roll out of the truck with my welding hood in hand ready to lend a hand!  If I make a mistake I want to be the one who has to fix it.

- Is there a market for engineers in this economy?
Their is always a market for engineers.  Sometimes more than others.  I think it is a great profession although I will get blasted for saying so.  Is it tough times?  Yes, but recessions come and go.  In my opinion you will have more of a chance losing your job as a welder than an engineer.  Also with your practical experience you will find yourself very marketable.

- Anything that you would like to say would be of benefit
Just do what makes you happy in the end.  A great mentor of mine once told me that you are going to work your butt off no matter what you do, so you might as well enjoy it while your doing it.

Also don't be afraid to work a trade.  Having a degree is great but remember that getting a degree like engineering or the sorts is really no different than an apprenticeship for a electrician or a welder, etc.  We are all getting trained to do a job and we all put or pants on the same way.

One last thing then I'll shut up.  DON'T LET MONEY DRIVE YOU!  Work at what makes you happy and the money will come, or at least you will learn that money is a means to life and not life itself.

Good Luck!
 
smatsushima1 (Civil/Environmental) (OP)
22 Apr 11 18:42
Thanks all for the replies so far but I would like to add a few things:

- my gf's friend graduated as a mechanical engineer and cannot find any work; therefore, she assumed that it would be hard for engineers to find work.  I know that sounds unreliable, and that's why I would like to ask real engineers.
- In one post, I was told that I either choose to be a welder or an engineer, but it would be great to have an alternate form of employment within the same industry.  This is why I choose civil engineering, but even if that doesn't work out I can get my CWI or even work as a welding instructor.  I would need a bachelor's for that anyway to work full-time.
- There aren't any materials engineering programs near where I'm going to move so I have to choose an alternate program

I guess the most I can do is wait to see how my future turns out.  Again, I will have a year to decide if I want to go to school, so I'll see how working as a welder turns out in the first place.  Thanks again.
TheTick (Mechanical)
22 Apr 11 18:53
All jobs are scarce right now. Engineering is no exception.

On the plus side, recruiters I am working with tell me there is a significant uptick  in demand for engineering candidates. It's definitely better than it was two years ago,
dvd (Mechanical)
22 Apr 11 19:01
I served an apprenticeship in sheetmetal, working on industrial projects, mainly, with plenty of welding, but not exclusively welding.  I became a mechanical engineer and kept going to get a phd and pe. I think that one of the reasons for doing all this work was to try to gain respect.  I have come to realize that respect is earned by many individuals and not education based.  I do not regret getting the education, but I do regret not staying in the trade.  I think that the people I came in contact with on construction sites were more genuine and fun than engineers tend to be.  I think that the trades and trade unions provide something that engineers have not figured out: solidarity. Engineering, to me, is a lonely endeavor. As an engineer you do not get to work with people in the same way as the tradesman.  If I were starting over, I would have stuck with the trades....

I recently read a book on ironworkers and in it was a bit written by a psychologist who said that ironworkers were (or had the potential to be) some of the happiest people around because they had these four elements in their lives: autonomy; competence; self-esteem; and relatedness.  When I look at the engineer's lot, I do not, in general, see this set of elements.  
 
moon161 (Mechanical)
22 Apr 11 20:48
"autonomy; competence; self-esteem; and relatedness.  When I look at the engineer's lot, I do not, in general, see this set of elements.  "

I don't see too much of all 4 in cubicles, why I'm trying to develop consulting work. Being mentored into it, seems cool.

Conversely, I worked a bit here and there as an electricians helper, good fun, good cameraderie. Drywaller humor would make your mother faint.

I took a few boces welding classes after hi school, it's a different world under the hood.

I used to work with a guy who used to weld subs in norfolk. Talked about welding round corners, 1 & 2 mirrors. Nice guy, I never met a cranky welder. Get the feeling he missed it. As far as welding goes, protect your lungs, you only get one set. No contact lenses either.

 
Ron (Structural)
22 Apr 11 21:52
I was a welder before being an engineer.  I then became a certified welding inspector and an ASNT Level III radiographer.  I think that being a welder made me a better inspector and being an inspector made me a better engineer.

Once I became an engineer, I had no desire to do welding as a job.

In my engineering jobs, I have used my knowledge from welding and inspection many times over to solve problems for clients.
kingnero (Mechanical)
23 Apr 11 13:16
I'm kind of in the same boat as aggman.

Started in a small automotive workplace when I was 16, slowly working up and in the meanwhile doing my eng. studies.

WHen graduated, I had about three years of experience in several metal fab. and welding shops.
First job was welding (next day after graduating as I needed the money), and while working there I really began to search for a job as an angineer. Wgen I found one, I quit being a welder and started to do what I studied for.

Welding really interested me, so I got my boss to pay for an IWE (International Welding Engineer) degree (which is a two year, one day a week program).

So Now I work as a mech. eng, and I am quite the "go to"-guy at work when it comes to metallurgy and welding.

and yes, I weld at home, I really enjoy doing so, I recently teached a young kid from the neighbour's.
From time to time I still weld at work (when I need either a large workspace which I don't havce at home, or when tigging Al, which I also can't do at home for the time being).

I understand the respect aggman is talking about, the welders see me more as "one of 'em" instead as a pure paperpusher.
Which is really nice, being appreciated.
I've got much better friends at the workfloor than at the office.
lisa247 (Aerospace)
26 Apr 11 2:59
Is everyone who has replied to this post from the US? Im just asking because my partner is in pretty much the same position in the UK.  He's an experienced welder/fabricator who is desperate to get off the shop floor in into Enigneering.  He spent a lot of time and money on completing a HNC in Mechanical Engineering 3 years ago but it doesn't seem to have made him any more attractive in the Engineering job market.  We are thinking that this is due to the tough competition in the job market in the UK at the moment.  He is thinking of doing a degree, however this will take a number of years and cost a lot of money and there is always the risk that he will still be in the same boat at the end of it all.  It is interesting to see how the UK job market compares to the US.

Lisa_247
KiwiMace (Mechanical)
26 Apr 11 7:21
I finished my trade and only ever worked as a tradesman again to pay my way through school.  I am pretty happy with the path i took, as i personally feel a better job satisfaction from being involved through the whole process, rather than just construction and maintenance.  Some of my old collegues (with the capability of managing the schooling) have done much better staying in the trade.  I think a good tradesman can make a good engineer, but not necessarily so.  It really depends on you and your motivation.
Mr168 (Materials)
26 Apr 11 8:31
-Worked in automotive fabrication while getting my degree in Welding Engineering.  Currently working as a WE in nuclear/fossil construction, 90% codes and procedures, 10% site supervision, running PQR's, mock-ups, process development, etc.

-No PE needed, odds being that I'll never get one.

-No, and wouldn't want to.  Challenge dries up in a hurry, as does the passion for anything you do 8-12 hours a day.  

-When I was doing the automotive fab, the experienced was tarnished by a) a crappy boss, and b) the customers.  Nothing worse than spending hours perfecting something, only to have a customer change his mind last minute and have to cut it out.  I love welding engineering, and despite the very high stress and long hours, can't picture myself doing anything else.

-As mentioned by another poster, welding engineering is a niche market, but that's where the $ and job security lays for me.  In construction particularly, it's a small circle with names and faces that you'll see throughout your career.  I have seen a recent rise in demand, particularly for experienced candidates with construction and nuclear backgrounds.

-A manufacturing environment is where you would likely get the most "dual role" experience, as they place a lot of emphasis on process improvement.  Expect to make a considerable amount less than the construction/field guys, though.   
KENAT (Mechanical)
26 Apr 11 10:29
Lisa, most of the Engineers at my mid sized defense co in the UK came up through the apprenticeship route with HND/HNC.  I got the impression it was becoming a less common route though.

That said we had one welder who was interested in coming up into the Design Office and spent some time up there after hours learning the software.  It didn't seem to go anywhere but I'm not sure why, may have been because he hitched his carriage to the wrong horse - we had changes in management etc. and I think the guys that left were the ones he'd been talking to.

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