What They Do: Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.
Work Environment: Ironworkers perform physically demanding and dangerous work, often working at great heights. Workers must wear safety harnesses to reduce the risk of falling.
How to Become One: Although most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job.
Salary: The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers is $49,100. The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers is $55,040.
Job Outlook: Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. The construction of large projects, such as high-rise buildings, is expected to drive employment growth, as will the need to rehabilitate, maintain, and replace an increasing number of older roads and bridges.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of ironworkers with similar occupations.
Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.
Ironworkers typically do the following:
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 may also help in the demolition, decommissioning, and rehabilitation of older buildings and bridges.
When building tall structures such as skyscrapers, structural iron and steel workers erect steel frames and assemble the cranes and derricks that move materials and equipment around the construction site. Workers connect precut steel columns, beams, and girders, using tools like shears, torches, welding equipment, and hand tools. A few ironworkers install precast walls or work with wood or composite materials.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers use one of three different materials to support concrete:
Structural metal fabricators and fitters manufacture metal products in shops, usually located away from construction sites.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers hold about 18,800 jobs. The largest employers of reinforcing iron and rebar workers are as follows:
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||71%|
|Nonresidential building construction||8%|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||7%|
|Other specialty trade contractors||5%|
Structural iron and steel workers hold about 77,000 jobs. The largest employers of structural iron and steel workers are as follows:
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||46%|
|Nonresidential building construction||23%|
|Building equipment contractors||7%|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||7%|
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.
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.
Most ironworkers work full time. They may have to travel to jobsites.
Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work during wet, icy, or extremely windy conditions. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by any kind of precipitation.
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Although most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job.
A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required. Courses in math, as well as training in vocational subjects such as blueprint reading and welding, can be particularly useful.
Most ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. 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. Nearly all apprenticeship programs teach both reinforcing and structural ironworking. On the job, apprentices learn to use the tools and equipment of the trade; handle, measure, cut, and lay rebar; and construct metal frameworks. In technical training, they are taught mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.
A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:
Some employers provide on-the-job training which can vary in length. Training includes learning how to use the tools of the trade and learning proper safety techniques.
Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may increase a worker's usefulness on the jobsite. Several organizations provide certifications for different aspects of ironworkers' jobs. 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.
Balance. Ironworkers often walk on narrow beams, so a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling while doing their job.
Depth perception. Ironworkers must be able to judge the distance between objects and themselves in order to work safely. Ironworkers often signal crane operators who move beams and bundles of rebar.
Hand-eye coordination. Ironworkers must be able to tie rebar together quickly and precisely. An experienced worker can tie rebar together in seconds and move on to the next spot; a beginner may take much longer.
Physical stamina. Ironworkers must have physical endurance because they spend many hours each day performing physically demanding tasks, such as moving rebar.
Physical strength. Ironworkers must be strong enough to guide heavy beams into place and tighten bolts.
Unafraid of heights. 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.
The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers is $49,100. 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 is $55,040. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,790, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,650.
The median annual wages for reinforcing iron and rebar workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||$60,120|
|Nonresidential building construction||$54,940|
|Other specialty trade contractors||$49,830|
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||$47,550|
The median annual wages for structural iron and steel workers in the top industries in which they work are 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|
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.
The majority of ironworkers work full time. Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work during wet, icy, or extremely windy conditions. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by any kind of precipitation.
Compared with workers in all occupations, ironworkers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union. Although there is no single union that covers all ironworkers, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.
Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, 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.
About 10,600 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 transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
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.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2019||Projected Employment, 2029||Change, 2019-29|
|Reinforcing iron and rebar workers||18,800||19,800||5||900|
|Structural iron and steel workers||77,000||80,600||5||3,600|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.