Ironworker

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Job Description

Ironworkers install iron or steel beams, girders, and columns to form buildings, bridges, and other structures.

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • A sense of accomplishment when you finish a project
  • Autonomy: You can work as much and as little as you want.
    • Typically you start at 6:30am-3:30pm: Able to do other projects in the afternoon.
  • Work with your hands!: “When you are mechanically inclined, the trades are excellent for that.”
  • Travel: If you are an international ironworker, you could do a job in another country if you want to. When you are young before you have a family and want to travel, you can work in different states and even different countries.
The Inside Scoop
Different types of ironworkers

Ironworkers are “industrial athletes”, one of the most physical and mental jobs in the skilled trades industry.

Structural

  • Unloads, erects, and connects fabricated iron beams to form the project skeleton.
  • Works primarily on industrial, commercial and large residential buildings.
  • Builds towers, bridges, stadiums, and prefabricated metal buildings
  • Erects and installs pre-cast beams, columns and panels.

Reinforcing

  • Fabricates and places steel bars (rebar) in concrete forms to reinforce structures.
  • Places rebar on appropriate supports and tie them together with tie wire.
  • Installs post-tensioning tendons (cables) to place in concrete forms along reinforcing steel.
  • Stresses the tendons using hydraulic jacks and pumps after the concrete is poured and hardened

Ornamental

  • Installs metal windows into buildings a building's masonry or wooden openings.
  • Erects curtain wall and window wall systems that cover the steel or reinforced concrete structure of a building.
  • Installs and erects metal stairways, catwalks, gratings, doors, railings, fencing, elevator fronts and building entrances.

Rigging and Machinery Moving

  • Loads, unloads, moves and sets machinery, structural steel and curtain walls.
  • Operates power hoists, cranes, derricks, forklifts and aerial lifts.
  • Has knowledge of fiber line, wire rope, hoisting equipment and proper hand signals.

Welding and Burning
Welding and burning equipment are considered tools of the trade and performed by structural, reinforcing, ornamental and rigging ironworkers to secure their work to the structure. Ironworkers can be tested to be designated a certified welder.

Skills Needed on the Job
  • Manual dexterity: good with your hands.
  • Hand eye coordination
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: will encounter unexpected problems and you will have to figure them out in a timely fashion.
  • Attention to detail
  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Balance
  • Unafraid of heights
Where do they work?
  • Foundation, structure and building exterior contractor
  • Heavy and civil engineering contractor
Why become a union ironworker?
  • Union negotiates competitive rates: For example) In Forest Park, IL, $40.82 per hour as journeyman which is the position after you are an apprentice.
  • Full medical benefits (medical, dental, vision)
  • Pension
  • Annuity
  • Access to better jobs and amazing opportunities
Expectations/Sacrifices Necessary
  • Dangerous: Have higher-than-average risk of injury and illness. Workers may experience cuts from sharp metal edges and equipment, as well as muscle strains and other injuries from moving and guiding structural steel.
  • Welding: Getting welding certification is the toughest part of being an ironworker. Takes a lot of practice.
  • Downtime: When there isn’t work, you might be laid off and wait for another job. Don’t expect this to be a career where you are working the whole year. Your hourly rate is higher than most and your work is more physically demanding so you don’t need to work every day of the year to make a good living.
Current Industry Trends
  • Those who are certified in welding and rigging should have the best job opportunities.
  • Those with prior military service are also viewed favorably during initial hiring.
What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...
  • Building and fixing things! : working with your hands.
  • Being outside in nature.
  • Sports
  • Anything mechanical: Working on cars
2016 Employment
90,300
2026 Projected Employment
101,700
Education and Training Needed
  • High school diploma
  • Pre-apprenticeship training
  • 3- or 4-year apprenticeship program
    • 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.
    • 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 techniques for reinforcing and installing metals, as well as basic mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.
    • Apprentices make 30 percent and 50 percent of what fully trained ironworkers make.
  • Certification in wielding and rigging recommended, issued by American Wielding Society.
Basic requirements for apprenticeship program

Unions and contractors sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • Driver’s license
  • High school diploma or equivalent (GED or take an aptitude test)
  • Physically able to do the work
  • Pass substance abuse screening
How to find a local apprenticeship program

Click here for a list of programs.

Things to do in high school
  • Classes: English, math.
  • Shop class and learn about blueprint reading.  
  • Pre-apprenticeship classes
Typical Roadmap
ironworker roadmap png
How to Land your 1st job
  • Take pre-apprenticeship classes (gladiator classes) and contractors will come down and watch the people work and start drawing them from that group (like “tryouts”). Doing well in pre-apprenticeship classes almost guarantees you into the apprenticeship program.
  • Finish the apprenticeship program (note: you are working with pay while you are an apprentice)
  • Union will give you the signatory list: local union will give you some leads, you start making calls to contractors on the list.
  • Contact Job Corps
  • Ask the local union for help: Get on the “out of work” list.
Description of the different positions
  • Estimator: Budgets the job then bids on the job.
  • Project Manager: Behind the scenes, paperwork. Make sure request for information is filled out. Money is getting paid. Work in conjunction with Superintendent.
  • Superintendent: Takes care of the manpower needs on a jobsite. Materials and workers.
  • Foreman: Takes care of the job.
  • Lead person: Right hand man of the foreman.
How to stay competitive and climb the ladder
  • Personally motivated to learn skills and master the trade
  • “They leave it all on the job site.”
  • Physically and mentally sharp
  • Good with people
  • Dedication
  • Person who is best with tools and the union elevates these people.
  • Leader/Teacher: someone who knows the craft so well and they teach others.
Plan B

Alternate careers: Boilermakers, Carpenters, Welders

Infographic

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GladeoGraphix Ironworker

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Source: Interview, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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