Boilermakers held about 18,000 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most boilermakers in 2012 were as follows:
|Building equipment contractors||26%|
|Nonresidential building construction||17|
|Utility system construction||12|
|Boiler, tank, and shipping container manufacturing||11|
Boilermakers perform physically demanding and dangerous work. They often work outdoors in all types of weather, including in extreme heat and cold.
Because dams, boilers, storage tanks, and pressure vessels are large, boilermakers often work at great heights. When working on a dam, for example, they may be hundreds of feet above the ground.
Boilermakers also work in cramped quarters inside boilers, vats, or tanks that are often dark, damp, and poorly ventilated.
Injuries and Illnesses
Although boilermakers often use dangerous equipment, they have lower rates of injuries and illnesses than many other construction occupations. Still, common injuries include burns from acetylene torches, cuts from power grinders, muscle strains from lifting heavy parts and tools, and falls from ladders or large vessels.
To reduce the chance of injury, boilermakers often wear hardhats, harnesses, protective clothing, earplugs, and safety glasses. In addition, when working inside enclosed spaces, boilermakers often must wear a respirator.
Nearly all boilermakers work full time and may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime work also may be necessary to meet construction or production deadlines, especially during the spring and fall seasons. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete.
Many boilermakers must travel to worksites and live away from home for long periods.
Most boilermakers learn their trade through an apprenticeship program. Candidates are more likely to be accepted into training programs if they already have welding experience and certification.
A high school diploma or GED is generally required. High school courses in math and welding are considered to be useful.
Most boilermakers learn their trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Each year, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of related technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. On the job, apprentices learn to use the tools and equipment of the trade. Those who already have welding experience complete training sooner than those without it. During technical training, apprentices learn about metals and installation techniques, as well as basic mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.
When they finish the apprenticeship program, boilermakers are considered to be journey workers, performing tasks under the guidance of experienced workers.
A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:
- Minimum age of 18
- High school education or equivalent
- Physically able to do the work
In addition to satisfying these qualifications, candidates with certification or documented welding experience usually have priority over applicants without experience.
Some boilermakers enter the trade through training in similar occupations, such as pipefitters, millwrights, sheet metal workers, or welders. Much of the core training of those occupations is similar to that of boilermakers.
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.
The median annual wage for boilermakers was $56,560 in May 2012. 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 $32,400, and the top 10 percent earned more than $79,970.
Apprentices usually start at 60 percent of the rate paid to fully trained boilermakers. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more tasks.
Nearly all boilermakers work full time and may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime work also may be necessary to meet construction or production deadlines, especially during the spring and fall seasons.
In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete.
Many boilermakers must travel to worksites and live away from home for long periods.
Compared with workers in all other occupations, boilermakers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012. Although there is no single union that covers all boilermakers, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers.
Employment of boilermakers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.
Overall demand for boilermakers is linked to the relative cost of coal versus natural gas. Coal-fired power plants require more boilermakers for installation and maintenance. As a result, if natural gas prices remain low relative to the cost of coal as an input, fewer boilermakers will be needed. Conversely, if coal is the lower cost input, more boilermakers will be needed to meet federal Clean Air Act requirements by continuing to upgrade electrical generation plants’ boiler and scrubbing systems.
The installation of new boilers and pressure vessels, air pollution equipment, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, electric static precipitators, and stacks and liners will spur some demand for boilermakers, although to a lesser extent than repairs and upgrades will.
While boilers typically last more than 50 years, the need to replace parts, such as boiler tubes, heating elements, and ductwork, is an ongoing process that will require the work of boilermakers.
Overall job prospects should be favorable because the work of a boilermaker remains hazardous and physically demanding, leading some qualified applicants to seek other types of work. Although employment growth will generate some job openings, the majority of positions will stem from the need to replace the large number of boilermakers expected to retire in the coming decade.
People who have welding training or a welding certificate should have the best opportunities to be selected for boilermaker apprenticeship programs. Those with general mechanical aptitude also will have better job opportunities.
As with many other construction workers, 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, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.
Nonetheless, maintenance and repair of boilers must continue even during economic downturns, so boilermaker mechanics in manufacturing and other industries generally have more stable employment than those in construction.
The spring and fall seasons are the busiest times for boilermakers.
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 toll free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, or Employment and Training Administration.
For apprenticeship information, visit
For welding certification information, visit