Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support bridges, roads, and other structures.

Duties

Ironworkers typically do the following:

  • Read and follow blueprints, sketches, and other instructions
  • Unload and stack prefabricated iron and steel so that it can be lifted with slings
  • Signal crane operators who lift and position structural and reinforcing iron and steel
  • Use shears, rod-bending machines, torches, handtools, and welding equipment to cut, bend, and weld the structural and reinforcing iron and steel
  • Align structural and reinforcing iron and steel vertically and horizontally, using tag lines, plumb bobs, lasers, and levels
  • Connect iron and steel with bolts, wire, or welds
  • Install metal decking used in building construction

Structural and reinforcing iron and steel are important components of buildings, bridges, roads, and other structures. Even though the primary metal involved in this work is steel, workers often are known as ironworkers or erectors. Most of the work involves erecting new structures, but some ironworkers also help in the demolition, decommissioning, and rehabilitation of older buildings and bridges.

Structural iron and steel workers erect, place, and join steel girders, columns, and other pieces to form structural frameworks. They also may assemble precut metal buildings and the cranes and derricks that move materials and equipment around the construction site. Some ironworkers install precast walls or work with wood or composite materials.

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers position and secure steel bars or mesh in concrete forms for purposes of reinforcement. Those who work with reinforcing steel (rebar) are sometimes called rod busters, in reference to rods of rebar.

Structural metal fabricators and fitters manufacture metal products in shops that are usually located away from construction sites.

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Work Environment

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers held about 18,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of reinforcing iron and rebar workers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors                       68%
Nonresidential building construction 10
Manufacturing 8
Heavy and civil engineering construction 7
Other specialty trade contractors 2

Structural iron and steel workers held about 80,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of structural iron and steel workers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors                       45%
Nonresidential building construction 22
Heavy and civil engineering construction 8
Manufacturing 7
Building equipment contractors 5

Ironworkers usually work outside in many types of weather. Some work at great heights. Their tasks are physically demanding, as they spend much of their time moving and stooping to carry, bend, cut, and connect iron or steel at a steady pace so projects stay on schedule.

Injuries and Illnesses

The work of ironworkers can be dangerous. Common injuries include cuts, sprains, overexertion, and falls; from great heights, falls can be deadly. To reduce these risks, ironworkers must wear safety equipment such as harnesses, hard hats, boots, gloves, and safety glasses.

Work Schedules

Most ironworkers work full time. They may have to travel to jobsites.

Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work when conditions are wet, icy, or extremely windy. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by precipitation.

Education and Training

Most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required to enter an apprenticeship. Workers learning through on-the-job training may not need a high school diploma or equivalent. Courses in math, as well as training in vocational subjects such as blueprint reading and welding, are useful.

Training

Many ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. Sponsors of apprenticeship programs, nearly all of which teach both reinforcing and structural ironworking, include unions and contractor associations. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of related technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Ironworkers who complete an apprenticeship program are considered journey-level workers and may perform tasks without direct supervision.

Other ironworkers receive on-the-job training that varies in length and is provided by their employer.

On the job, apprentices and trainees learn to use the tools and equipment of the trade; handle, measure, cut, and lay rebar; and construct metal frameworks. They also learn about topics such as blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may make ironworkers more attractive to prospective employers. Several organizations provide certifications for different aspects of the work. For example, the American Welding Society offers welding certification, and several organizations offer rigging certifications, including the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

Advancement

After gaining experience, ironworkers may advance to become a supervisor or a manager, a position in which they have more responsibilities and are tasked with directing other ironworkers. 

Personality and Interests

Structural iron and steel workers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking 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 Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. 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 Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a structural iron and steel worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Structural iron and steel workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Balance. Because workers often walk on narrow beams, a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling while doing their job.

Depth perception. Ironworkers must be able to envision the distance between objects and themselves to work safely. Ironworkers that misjudge the distance between girders, for example, may cause the girders to collide, which can be dangerous and costly.

Physical stamina. Ironworkers must have physical endurance because they spend many hours on their feet while connecting heavy and cumbersome beams.

Physical strength. Ironworkers must be strong enough to guide heavy beams into place and tighten bolts.

Unafraid of heights. Some ironworkers must not be afraid to work at great heights. For example, as they erect skyscrapers, workers must walk on narrow beams—sometimes over 50 stories high—while connecting girders.

Pay

The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers was $49,100 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 $32,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,790.

The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers was $55,040 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,790, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,650.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for reinforcing iron and rebar workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction $60,120
Nonresidential building construction 54,940
Manufacturing 53,180
Other specialty trade contractors 49,830
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors                       47,550

In May 2019, the median annual wages for structural iron and steel workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Building equipment contractors $60,560
Heavy and civil engineering construction 59,430
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors                       56,760
Nonresidential building construction 52,610
Manufacturing 46,030

The starting pay for apprentices is usually about 50 percent of what journey-level ironworkers make. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

Most ironworkers work full time. Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work when conditions are wet, icy, or extremely windy. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by precipitation.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Steel and reinforced concrete are an important part of commercial and industrial buildings. Future construction of these structures is expected to require ironworkers. The need to rehabilitate, maintain, or replace an increasing number of older highways and bridges is also expected to lead to some employment growth.

Job Prospects

About 13,400 openings for ironworkers 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.

Jobseekers who are certified in welding, rigging, and crane signaling should have the best job opportunities.

As with many other construction workers, employment of ironworkers 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.

For More Information

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as an ironworker, contact local structural and reinforcing iron and steel construction contractors, 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 ironworker and apprenticeship information, visit

International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers

For more information about ironworkers, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated General Contractors of America

National Center for Construction Education and Research

For more information about certification, visit

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

American Welding Society

 

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