Bureau of Labor Statistics

Ironworkers

structural iron and steel workers image
Ironworkers connect iron and steel with bolts, wire, or welds.
Quick Facts: Ironworkers
2016 Median Pay $50,830 per year
$24.44 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, 2016 90,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 13% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 11,400

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers was $47,600 in May 2016.

The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers was $51,800 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

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. Most of the work involves erecting new structures, but 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 tools like shears, torches, welding equipment, and hand tools. 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.

Structural metal fabricators and fitters manufacture metal products in shops, usually located away from construction sites.

Work Environment

Structural iron and steel workers
Ironworkers wear safety harnesses when they work at heights.

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers held about 20,100 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of reinforcing iron and rebar workers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 64%
Nonresidential building construction 15
Heavy and civil engineering construction 6
Manufacturing 6
Other specialty trade contractors 3

Structural iron and steel workers held about 70,200 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of structural iron and steel workers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 49%
Nonresidential building construction 20
Heavy and civil engineering construction 7
Manufacturing 6
Building equipment contractors 5

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. Workers must wear safety devices, such as harnesses, to reduce the risk of falls. Reinforcing ironworkers must be able to carry, bend, cut, and connect rebar at a steady pace to keep projects on schedule. The work is physically demanding, and they spend much of their time moving, bending, and stooping.

Injuries and Illnesses

The work of ironworkers can be dangerous, and falls from great heights can be fatal. Ironworkers wear personal protective equipment like hard hats, boots, gloves, and safety glasses to prevent injury. Common injuries include falls, cuts, sprains, and overexertion.

Work Schedules

The majority of ironworkers work full time. They may have to travel regionally to job sites.

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.

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

Some employers provide on-the-job training which can vary in length. Training includes learning how to use the tools of the trade and learning proper safety techniques.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may increase a worker’s usefulness on the jobsite. Several organizations provide certifications for different aspects of ironworkers’ jobs. For example, the American Welding Society offers welding certification, and several organizations offer rigging certifications, including the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

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 each day performing physically demanding tasks, such as moving rebar.

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 2016

Structural iron and steel workers

$51,800

Ironworkers

$50,830

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

$47,600

Construction trades workers

$42,310

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers was $47,600 in May 2016. 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 $29,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,980.

The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers was $51,800 in May 2016. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,830.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for reinforcing iron and rebar workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction $57,990
Nonresidential building construction 53,870
Other specialty trade contractors 53,490
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 46,190
Manufacturing 37,660

In May 2016, the median annual wages for structural iron and steel workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction $55,400
Building equipment contractors 54,950
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 52,150
Nonresidential building construction 49,870
Manufacturing 45,440

The starting pay for apprentices is usually about 50 percent of what journeymen ironworkers make. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

The 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, ironworkers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016. 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 2016-26

Ironworkers

13%

Structural iron and steel workers

13%

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

12%

Construction trades workers

11%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

Job Prospects

Employment opportunities for job seekers are expected to be good. Those who are certified in welding, rigging, and crane signaling should have the best job opportunities.

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, 2016-26

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

Occupational Title

Ironworkers

SOC Code
Employment, 201690,300
Projected Employment, 2026101,700
Percent Change, 2016-2613
Numeric Change, 2016-2611,400
Employment by Industry
Occupational Title

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

SOC Code47-2171
Employment, 201620,100
Projected Employment, 202622,500
Percent Change, 2016-2612
Numeric Change, 2016-262,400
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Structural iron and steel workers

SOC Code47-2221
Employment, 201670,200
Projected Employment, 202679,200
Percent Change, 2016-2613
Numeric Change, 2016-269,000
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2016 MEDIAN PAY
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 $30,930
Boilermakers

Boilermakers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $62,060
Carpenters

Carpenters

Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials.

High school diploma or equivalent $43,600
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 $32,230
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 $41,330
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 in metal products.

High school diploma or equivalent $39,390

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

For more information about ironworkers, visit

Associated Builders and Contractor, Inc.

The Associated General Contractors of America

National Center for Construction Education and Research

For more information about certification, visit

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

American Welding Society

O*NET

Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers

Structural Iron and Steel Workers

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Ironworkers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/structural-iron-and-steel-workers.htm (visited January 17, 2018).

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