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Bureau of Labor Statistics

Ironworkers

structural iron and steel workers image
Many ironworkers obtain welding certification.
Quick Facts: Ironworkers
2015 Median Pay $49,970 per year
$24.03 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Apprenticeship
Number of Jobs, 2014 80,100
Job Outlook, 2014-24 9% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 7,100

Summary

What Ironworkers 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. As a result, workers must wear safety harnesses to reduce the risk of falling.

How to Become an Ironworker

Although most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job. Certifications in welding, rigging, and signaling can be helpful for new entrants.

Pay

The median annual wage for ironworkers was $49,970 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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. Job opportunities should be best in metropolitan areas, where most large construction projects take place.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for ironworkers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of ironworkers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about ironworkers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Ironworkers Do

Structural iron and steel workers
Reinforcing ironworkers install rebar to strengthen concrete walls.

Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.

Duties

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, 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

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:

  • Reinforcing steel (rebar) is used to strengthen the concrete that forms highways, buildings, bridges, and other structures. These workers are sometimes called rod busters, in reference to rods of rebar.
  • Cables are used to reinforce concrete by pre- or post-tensioning. These techniques allow designers to create larger open areas in a building because supports can be placed farther apart. As a result, pre- and post-tensioning are commonly used to construct arenas, concrete bridges, and parking garages.
  • Welded wire reinforcing (WWR) is also used to strengthen concrete. This reinforcing is made up of narrow-diameter rods or wire welded into a grid.

Some ironworkers are assemblers and fabricators. They fabricate metal in shops, which are usually located away from the construction site.

Work Environment

Structural iron and steel workers
Ironworkers must often work at great heights and wear safety harnesses.

Ironworkers held about 80,100 jobs in 2014. Nearly all ironworkers were employed in the construction industry.

Structural iron and steel workers held about 61,400 jobs in 2014. Approximately 45 percent were employed by foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors, and about 23 percent were employed in nonresidential building construction.

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers held about 18,700 jobs in 2014. Approximately 66 percent were employed by foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors, and about 12 percent were 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.

Injuries and Illnesses

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.

Work Schedules

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.

How to Become an Ironworker

Structural iron and steel workers
Most ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship.

Although most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job. Certifications in welding, rigging, and signaling can be helpful for new entrants.

Education

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.

Training

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:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Physical ability to perform the work
  • Pass substance abuse screening

After completing an apprenticeship program, they are considered to be journeymen who perform tasks without direct supervision.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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).

Important Qualities

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.

Pay

Ironworkers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Structural iron and steel workers

$50,490

Ironworkers

$49,970

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

$48,010

Construction trades workers

$41,020

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers was $48,010 in May 2015. 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 was $50,490 in May 2015. 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.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, structural iron and steel workers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2014. 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.

Job Outlook

Ironworkers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

23%

Construction trades workers

10%

Ironworkers

9%

Total, all occupations

7%

Structural iron and steel workers

4%

 

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

Employment of reinforcing iron and rebar workers is projected to grow 23 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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.

Job Prospects

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.

Employment projections data for ironworkers, 2014-24

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Occupational Title

Ironworkers

SOC Code
Employment, 201480,100
Projected Employment, 202487,200
Percent Change, 2014-249
Numeric Change, 2014-247,100
Employment by Industry
Occupational Title

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

SOC Code47-2171
Employment, 201418,700
Projected Employment, 202423,100
Percent Change, 2014-2423
Numeric Change, 2014-244,400
Employment by Industry[XLSX]
Occupational Title

Structural iron and steel workers

SOC Code47-2221
Employment, 201461,400
Projected Employment, 202464,200
Percent Change, 2014-244
Numeric Change, 2014-242,700
Employment by Industry[XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of ironworkers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Boilermakers

Boilermakers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $60,120
Carpenters

Carpenters

Carpenters construct and repair building frameworks and structures—such as stairways, doorframes, partitions, rafters, and bridge supports—made from wood and other materials. They also may install kitchen cabinets, siding, and drywall.

High school diploma or equivalent $42,090
Construction laborers and helpers

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

See How to Become One $30,890
Assemblers and fabricators

Assemblers and Fabricators

Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them. They use tools, machines, and their hands to make engines, computers, aircraft, ships, boats, toys, electronic devices, control panels, and more.

High school diploma or equivalent $30,080
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts. They also fill holes, indentations, or seams of metal products.

High school diploma or equivalent $38,150
Brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons

Masonry Workers

Masonry workers, also known as masons, use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build walls, walkways, fences, and other masonry structures.

See How to Become One $39,640

Contacts for More Info

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as an ironworker, contact local structural and reinforcing iron and steel construction contractors, a local joint union–management apprenticeship committee, or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's ApprenticeshipUSA program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For ironworker and apprenticeship information, visit

International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers

NCCER

For more information about ironworkers, visit

Associated Builders and Contractor, Inc.

The Associated General Contractors of America

O*NET

Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers

Structural Iron and Steel Workers

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Ironworkers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/structural-iron-and-steel-workers.htm (visited July 29, 2016).

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www.bls.gov/ooh | Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 | Contact OOH

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