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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. Although most of the work involves erecting new structures, 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 equipment such as spud wrenches and driftpins. 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:
Some ironworkers are assemblers and fabricators. They fabricate metal in shops, which are usually located away from the construction site.
Ironworkers hold about 80,100 jobs. Nearly all ironworkers are employed in the construction industry.
Structural iron and steel workers hold about 61,400 jobs. Approximately 45 percent are employed by foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors, and about 23 percent are employed in nonresidential building construction.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers hold about 18,700 jobs. Approximately 66 percent are employed by foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors, and about 12 percent are employed in nonresidential building construction.
Ironworkers help build the supporting structures for bridges and for industrial, commercial, and large residential buildings. Structural ironworkers usually work outside in most types of weather, and some work at great heights. In doing so, they perform physically demanding and dangerous work. As a result, workers must wear safety devices, such as harnesses, to reduce the risk of falls. Rod busters must be able to carry, bend, cut, and connect rebar at a rapid pace to keep projects on schedule. They spend much of their time moving, bending, and stooping, also physically demanding work.
Structural iron and steel workers experience several work-related deaths each year that are due to falls and contacts with objects and equipment. Ironworkers may experience cuts from sharp metal edges and equipment, as well as muscle strains and other injuries from moving and guiding heavy iron and steel.
The vast majority of ironworkers work full time, and in contrast to other construction occupations, few are self-employed.
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. Certifications in welding, rigging, and signaling can be helpful for new entrants.
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 training 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. Some programs have preferred entry for veterans. The basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:
After completing an apprenticeship program, they are considered to be journeymen who perform tasks without direct supervision.
Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may increase a worker’s usefulness on the jobsite and result in higher pay. Many ironworkers become welders certified by the American Welding Society. Several organizations offer rigging certifications, including the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, and the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).
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 performing physically demanding tasks, such as moving rebar, each day.
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 $48,010. 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 $27,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,240.
The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers is $50,490. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,770, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,490.
The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 50 percent and 55 percent of what journeymen ironworkers make. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more.
The vast 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, structural iron and steel workers 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.
Employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 9 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.
Employment of structural iron and steel workers is projected to grow 4 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.
Employment of reinforcing iron and rebar workers is projected to grow 23 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 4,400 new jobs over the 10-year period.
Steel and reinforced concrete are an important part of commercial and industrial buildings. Future construction of these structures is anticipated to create demand for 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, particularly because state and federal legislatures will likely fund these infrastructure projects. Growth will be limited if long-term infrastructure plans are not funded.
Those who are certified in welding, rigging, and crane signaling should have the best job opportunities. Those with prior military service are viewed favorably during initial hiring.
Employment opportunities should be best in metropolitan areas, where most large commercial and industrial buildings are constructed.
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, 2014||Projected Employment, 2024||Change, 2014-24|
|Reinforcing iron and rebar workers||18,700||23,100||23||4,400|
|Structural iron and steel workers||61,400||64,200||4||2,700|