Boilermakers

Career, Salary and Education Information

Top 3 boilermaker Jobs

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    ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS: • Conducts shielded metal arc or gas metal arc welding processes with low carbon steel, medium carbon steel, stainless

  • Boilermaker 2 - Zachry Holdings, Inc. - Owensville, IN

    Must have the knowledge to troubleshoot and detect both minor and major, with machines and equipment within a coal fired power plant; ability to

  • Boilermaker - MJ&H Fabrication - Oklahoma

    Boilermaker

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What Boilermakers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Boilermakers

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Use blueprints to determine locations, positions, or dimensions of parts
  • Install small premade boilers into buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of larger boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats, using 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 out of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Manufacturers are increasingly automating the production of boilers to improve the quality of these vessels. However, boilermakers still use many tools to assemble or repair boilers. For example, they often use hand and power tools or flame-cutting torches to align, cut, and shape pieces for a boiler. Boilermakers also may use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles to align pieces accurately.

If the plate sections are very large, cranes lift the parts into place. Once boilermakers have the parts lined up, they use metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so that the parts fit together properly. They then join the parts by bolting, welding, or riveting them together.

In addition to installing and maintaining boilers and other vessels, boilermakers 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.

Because boilers last a long time—sometimes 50 years or more—boilermakers must maintain them regularly by upgrading parts. As a result, they frequently inspect fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls.

Work Environment for Boilermakers[About this section] [To Top]

Boilermakers held about 17,400 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most boilermakers were as follows:

Building equipment contractors 30%
Utility system construction 12
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 11

Boilermakers perform physically demanding and dangerous work. They often 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. 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, noisy, 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 bruises or broken bones from falling off ladders or large vessels.

To reduce the chance of injuries, boilermakers often wear hardhats, harnesses, protective clothing, earplugs, and safety glasses. In addition, when working inside enclosed spaces, boilermakers frequently wear a respirator.

Boilermaker Work Schedules

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, when many power plants receive routine maintenance. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete. There may be periods of unemployment during the winter and summer, when major maintenance is complete.

Many boilermakers must travel to worksites and live away from home for long periods.

How to Become a Boilermaker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Boilermakers near you!

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.

Boilermaker Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required. High school courses in math and welding are considered useful.

Boilermaker Training

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. 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. On the job, apprentices learn how to signal crane operators and use the tools and equipment of the trade. Those who already have welding experience complete training sooner than those without it.

A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for entering 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 certified or documented welding experience usually have priority over applicants without experience. Some apprenticeship programs have preferred entry for veterans.

When they finish the apprenticeship program, boilermakers are considered to be journey workers, performing tasks under the guidance of experienced workers.

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.

Important Qualities for Boilermakers

Mechanical skills. Boilermakers use and maintain a large variety of equipment, such as hoists and welding machines.

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

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

Unafraid of confined spaces. Boilermakers often work inside boilers and vats, so 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.

Boilermaker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for boilermakers was $59,860 in May 2014. 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 $36,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,320.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for boilermakers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Building equipment contractors $66,280
Utility system construction 63,090
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 47,690

Apprentices usually start at about 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, when many power plants receive routine maintenance. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete. There may be periods of unemployment during the winter and summer, when major maintenance is complete.

Many boilermakers must travel to worksites and live away from home for long periods.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, boilermakers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2014. 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.

Job Outlook for Boilermakers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of boilermakers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

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.

The installation of new boilers and pressure vessels, air pollution abatement equipment, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, electrostatic precipitators, and stacks and liners will spur some demand for boilermakers, although to a lesser extent than repairs and upgrades will.

Additionally, the demand for boilermakers is linked to the cost of coal relative to that of natural gas. Coal-fired power plants require more boilermakers for installation and maintenance. As a result, if natural-gas prices continue to remain low relative to the cost of coal, fewer boilermakers will be needed.

Boilermakers Job Prospects

Overall job prospects should be favorable because the work of a boilermaker remains difficult 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. In addition, workers with military service experience are viewed favorably during initial selection.

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.

Employment projections data for Boilermakers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Boilermakers 17,400 19,000 9 1,500


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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