Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.
What they do
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, hand tools, 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.
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.
How to become an Ironworker
Most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.
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.
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.
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.
Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, 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.
Similar Job Titles
Fitter, Fitter / Welder, Ironworker, Rigger, Steel Fabricator, Steel Worker, Structural Steel Erector, Tower Hand, Field Ironworker, Iron Installer, Iron Worker Foreman, Ironworker, Ironworker Foreman, Reinforced Ironworker, Rodbuster, Rodman, Steel Tier, Construction Ironworker
Brickmason and Blockmason, Construction Carpenter, Rough Carpenter, Cement Mason and Concrete Finisher, Helper-Brickmason/Blockmason/Stonemason and Tile and Marble Setter, Boilermaker, Sheet Metal Worker
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Welding Society
- Association for Iron and Steel Technology
- International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers
- National Institute of Steel Detailing
- Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust
- Laborers' International Union of North America
Magazines and Publications
It takes nerves of steel and muscles of iron, to work hundreds of feet above the ground, building structures that push up to merge with the clouds. Ironworkers have what it takes to help build the supporting structures for bridges, large buildings, and roads. Consulting sketches and blueprints to guide their work, ironworkers move prefabricated iron and steel by hand and signal crane operators to lift and position it. Using a variety of tools, they cut and shape the iron and steel, then weld or bolt it into place. Getting these heavy materials into the right, level position is key to structural integrity, and requires specialized tools to ensure it. It takes good balance and coordination, strength and stamina to make it in any specialty in this field. Structural iron and steel workers connect steel columns and girders for tall structures. Although wet, icy, or windy conditions can stop work, work is outdoors in most types of weather. With the risk of falls, cuts, and muscle strain, precautions must be taken. Reinforcing iron and rebar workers use steel and iron to strengthen concrete for highways, buildings, and bridges. They must be able to carry, bend, cut, and connect rebar quickly to help keep projects on schedule. Most ironworkers work full time in the construction industry, and learn their trade through a 3-4 year apprenticeship. A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required.