At this point, the value of American Welding Society (AWS) certification is well understood. Be it a certified welding inspector (CWI), supervisor (CWS) or educator (CWE) credential, a
welder’s opportunities for upward mobility greatly expand. Certified welders are highly desirable job candidates, they make more money and, well, they just know the ins and outs of the welding trade better than someone that hasn’t studied, prepared and taken the exams to get certified.
The other aspect of certification that’s well understood is that these tests shouldn’t be taken lightly. They require a whole lot of studying and a ton of commitment. Nate Bowman, director of welding optimization and education at Central Welding Supply Co. Inc., recommends one year of studying and prep leading up to the CWI exam. Robert Koltz, application engineer at ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, adds that AWS preps seminars are an “essential study tool, especially if you have a limited background in welding.”
With an AWS certification under a welder’s belt, the sky is the limit, but only if that welder is willing to put in the time to attain it. Fortunately, AWS makes it easy for welders to prepare for their certification exams. No matter the circumstances – be it a global pandemic or just a hectic schedule – there are blended educational opportunities available to study, prepare and, ultimately, ace the tests.
Hearing Bowman say that a year of studying and prep is required to take the CWI exam is a bit daunting, to say the least. So why would anyone be willing to dedicate so much time and effort? According to Koltz, it’s all about integrity – the integrity of the weld and the integrity of the job of a CWI.
“If something fails in the field, people can lose their lives,” he says. “CWIs are responsible for qualifying welders and welding procedures and ensuring that welds are strong and up to code. If you have procedure qualification records, your welding procedure specifications will be built off of those, which requires a CWI to sign off on them. With this, you can say, ‘Our welding processes, welding parameters and welders themselves have been certified to the process and are able to do reproducible quality work.’ Whether it’s a building, a bridge or any other structural part, your welders and your processes need to be certified.
“The knowledge and understanding of what the code says – what a CWI sees or inspects – is critical,” Koltz adds. “Someone’s life could depend on that knowledge and expertise.”
Because of the critical nature of the job, the CWI exam isn’t – and shouldn’t – be easy. Bowman’s one-year recommendation for prep entails a deep understanding of what’s in the code books with a primary goal of being able to find specific weld requirements quickly. Considering the size of the D1.1 code book, for example, a good tip is to highlight and earmark pertinent items for quick reference. as shown in the photo on page XX.
In addition to digesting the code books in full, AWS offers a slew of seminars, resources and materials to help welders get ready for the three-part CWI exam. Areas of focus include welding processes, welding metallurgy, welding symbols, welding qualifications, quality control, fabrication and inspection methods. Study materials available through the AWS online bookstore include a variety of practice guides, manuals and specification documents. But, above all else, the code books, such as AWS D1.1 and D1.5, are the most important to invest in and learn inside and out.
“You can take the test for different code books, but most welders focus on the D1.1 for structural steel,” Koltz explains. “It’s the thickest book and has the most stringent requirements. Compared to other AWS certifications, the CWI exam is definitely the most difficult – there are many responsibilities tied to it.”
AWS understands that and offers various methods for welders to prepare, including its collection of study materials, in-person prep courses as well as the CWI online pre-seminar, which, according to the AWS website, “offers a comprehensive overview of the fundamental concepts and principles that every CWI needs to know.”
The self-paced, online program delivers 10 multi-media courses over 80 hours of instruction that are “specifically designed to provide a deeper understanding of the extensive body of knowledge covered in the fundamentals portion of the AWS certified welding inspector exam.” Each course is divided into short, easy-to-understand modules that can be accessed online at a welder’s convenience.
The field of welding is vast in terms of career opportunities, and for folks that pursue the AWS CWS credential, it’s not always about becoming a welding supervisor or manager. Koltz says
the credential is also helpful for welders interested in pursuing positions in sales, purchasing and engineering.
“Overall, a CWS is interested in production optimization,” he says. “They ask the important questions, such as: How do we set up our processes to optimize product flow? What are the joint types and what equipment are we using to produce the best results? What is the condition of the steel coming in?”
They’ll also ponder the philosophical questions welders sometimes face, like, “Are we just doing this because it’s the way the old guard did it?”
“Focusing on optimization improves the situation for both the welders and the company,” Koltz says. “We want to make the work as easy as possible for the welders and as cost-effective as possible for the company. Based on their education and experience, a CWS is likely one of the best individuals to look at how to optimize everything around a process to be as successful and competitive as possible. This can include everything from investing in new equipment and bidding jobs to improving arc-on time.”
Like the CWI, AWS offers in-person and virtual seminars to help welders prepare for the CWS exam. According to the AWS website, the five-day CWS course puts a spotlight on “the knowledge a supervisor needs to support improvement of the welders’ environment, productivity, throughput, weld quality and safety.” Specifically, there is a focus on learning “the science rather than the art of welding for a better control of variables in the welding process.” An overriding theme is the “economics of welding” to help welding fabricators enhance their profit margins.”
Koltz says the CWS seminar can be especially beneficial for certificate candidates that don’t have a strong background in math or for those that don’t have extensive experience in a manufacturing environment. He would be remiss, however, to not recommend it to even the most experienced welding supervisors or engineers. While these individuals could most likely pass the exam without attending a seminar, valuable knowledge can be gained, such as new safety strategies to explore or new cutting or welding technologies to adopt.
“The seminars are taught by very seasoned individuals, and they do a wonderful job,” he adds.
Koltz also recommends exploring the materials on the AWS website and AWS online bookstore, including the “Certified Welding Supervisor Manual for Quality and Productivity Improvement.” Each chapter has a practice exam at the end, which serves as good practice for the CWS exam. In terms of the topic of calculating efficiencies, Koltz says to “brush up on your math skills beforehand.”
According to the description on the AWS online bookstore, the manual can appeal to anyone tasked with optimizing a welding department or operation as it “reviews management systems for welding supervisors, requirements of welds, detailed descriptions of four welding processes (shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, flux cored arc welding, and submerged arc welding), welding metallurgy, welding symbols, welding instructions, welding economics, the application of welding standards, welding inspection, health and safety, and work reports and records.”
There is also a welding economics chapter that focuses on the math portion of the exam, specifically estimating and controlling costs.
Circling back to things that are well understood, the industry is in desperate need of welders. According to AWS, there will be a shortage of approximately 400,000 welders by 2024. To combat the potential dearth of welding professionals, an army of instructors, trainers and educators will be required, which is where AWS’s CWE comes into play.
“To earn the CWE credential, you have to have another valid welding certificate,” Koltz explains. “It’s one of those things where you can’t just talk the talk, you have to be able to walk the walk. You’re not going to go teach people how to weld if you’ve never actually been able to pass a welding exam.”
The beauty of the CWE is that no testing is required if the individual meets the following criteria: Teaches at least part time in some sort of classroom setting (this can include training welders at their current place of business), has a valid welder’s certificate and has a written recommendation from a supervisor that validates their ability to not only teach but also weld to certain qualifications.
Because the CWI and CWE credentials can be earned simultaneously, the AWS exam preparation training and seminars are the same. Interested individuals can enroll in the self-paced online fundamentals pre-seminar as well as the three-day in-person practical seminar.
No matter what route a welder takes, the value of AWS certification is priceless. Koltz agrees, saying that the time and money involved is well worth it.
“Some people ask what the cheapest and fastest way to get a certification might be, but if you want to be well-respected in your field, going the shortest, fastest, cheapest route isn’t the right way to look at it,” he says. “Once you learn something, no one can take that away from you. Knowledge is power. If I learn and understand something now, I might be able to use it later.”