Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Duties

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Read blueprints to determine locations, positions, and dimensions of boiler parts
  • Install small, premade boilers in buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of large boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats with scrapers, wire brushes, and cleaning solvents
  • Replace or repair broken valves, pipes, or joints, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment

Boilers, tanks, and vats are used in many buildings, factories, and ships. Boilers heat water or other fluids under extreme pressure to generate electric power and to provide heat. Large tanks and vats are used to process and store chemicals, oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.

Boilers are made of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Most manufacturers have automated the production of boilers for improved quality. However, boilermakers still assemble and maintain boilers manually. For example, they often use hand and power tools and flame-cutting torches to align, cut, and shape pieces for a boiler. Boilermakers also use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles to align pieces.

During a boiler installation, boilermakers align boilerplates and boiler parts, using metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so that the parts fit together properly. If the plate sections are very large, boilermakers signal crane operators to lift the plates into place. Boilermakers then join the plates and parts by bolting, welding, and riveting them together.

Boilermakers may help erect and repair air pollution abatement equipment, blast furnaces, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and smokestacks. Boilermakers also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Some install and maintain the huge pipes used in dams to send water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines.

During regular maintenance, boilermakers inspect systems and their components, including safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls. They also clean boilers and boiler furnaces and repair and replace parts, as needed

Work Environment

Boilermakers held about 14,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of boilermakers were as follows:

Utility system construction 18%
Nonresidential building construction 16
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 11
Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors                     10
Other building equipment contractors 6

Boilermakers do physically demanding work in cramped spaces inside boilers, vats, or tanks that are often dark, damp, noisy, and poorly ventilated. They frequently work outdoors in all types of weather, including extreme heat and cold.

Because dams, boilers, storage tanks, and pressure vessels are large, boilermakers frequently work at great heights. For example, they may be hundreds of feet above the ground when working on a dam.                                                                                                               

Injuries and Illnesses

The work that boilermakers do can be dangerous. Workers must follow specific safety procedures to avoid injuries and illnesses and must be mindful of potential dangers to themselves and their coworkers. To reduce the risk of injury, boilermakers wear hardhats, earplugs, safety glasses, and other protective equipment. When working in enclosed spaces, boilermakers often wear a respirator.

Work Schedules

Most boilermakers work full time, and work schedules may vary. Boilermakers may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance or repair, or when necessary to meet construction or production deadlines. In contrast, because most field construction and repair is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment upon completion of a contract.

Boilermakers may travel to worksites and be away from home for extended periods.

Education and Training

Most boilermakers learn their trade through an apprenticeship program.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required.

Training

Boilermakers typically learn their trade through an apprenticeship program. During training, workers learn how to use boilermaker tools and equipment on the job. They also learn about metals and installation techniques, blueprint reading and sketching, safety practices, and other topics.

Apprenticeship programs typically last 4 years. When boilermakers finish an apprenticeship, they are considered to be journey-level workers. A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeship applicants who have previous welding or other related experience, such as through the military, may have priority over applicants without experience. In addition, those with experience or education may qualify for a shortened apprenticeship.

Some boilermakers enter apprenticeships after working as pipefitters, millwrights, sheet metal workers, or welders. The core training for these occupations is similar to the training for boilermakers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require boilermakers to have a license; check with your state for more information. Licensure requirements typically include work experience and passing an exam.

Employers may require or prefer that boilermakers hold certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Welding certifications may also be helpful.

Personality and Interests

Boilermakers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a boilermaker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Boilermakers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Physical stamina. Workers must have high endurance because they spend many hours on their feet while lifting heavy boiler components.

Physical strength. Workers must be strong enough to move heavy vat components into place.

Unafraid of confined spaces. Because workers often work inside boilers and vats, they cannot be claustrophobic.

Unafraid of heights. Some boilermakers must work at great heights. While installing water storage tanks, for example, workers may need to weld tanks several stories above the ground.

Pay

The median annual wage for boilermakers was $63,100 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,840, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,440.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for boilermakers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors                    $80,350
Nonresidential building construction 64,380
Utility system construction 64,310
Other building equipment contractors 63,840
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 58,120

Apprentices receive less pay than fully trained boilermakers. They receive pay increases as they learn more skills.

Most boilermakers work full time, and work schedules may vary. Boilermakers may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance or repair, or when necessary to meet construction or production deadlines. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment upon completion of a contract.

Boilermakers may travel to worksites and be away from home for extended periods.

 

Job Outlook

Employment of boilermakers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Although boilers typically last more than 50 years, the need to replace and maintain parts, such as boiler tubes, heating elements, and ductwork, is an ongoing process that will require the work of more boilermakers. Boilermakers also are needed to install new equipment, including boilers, pressure vessels, air pollution abatement equipment, and storage and process tanks.

Job Prospects

About 1,600 openings for boilermakers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who exit the labor force, such as to retire, and from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations.

As with other construction occupations, employment of boilermakers is sensitive to fluctuations of the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, additional workers may be needed during peak periods of building activity in some areas.

For More Information

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as a boilermaker, contact local boiler construction contractors; a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; a local joint union–management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online, or by phone at 877-872-5627. Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

For more information about apprenticeship and training, visit

Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers

For more information about certification, visit

National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)

For information about welding certification, visit

American Welding Society

For information about opportunities for former military service members, visit:

Helmet to Hard Hats

 

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FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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