How to Become an Ironworker
Many ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship.
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.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may make ironworkers more attractive to prospective employers. Several organizations provide certifications for different aspects of the work. 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.
After gaining experience, ironworkers may advance to become a supervisor or a manager, a position in which they have more responsibilities and are tasked with directing other ironworkers.
Ability to work at heights. Ironworkers must not be afraid to work at great heights. For example, workers connecting girders during skyscraper construction may have to walk on narrow beams that are 50 stories or higher.
Balance. Ironworkers often walk on narrow beams, so a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling.
Critical thinking. Ironworkers need to identify problems, monitor and assess potential risks, and evaluate the best courses of action. They must use logic and reasoning when finding alternatives so that they safely accomplish their tasks
Depth perception. Ironworkers often signal crane operators who move beams and bundles of rebar, so they must be able to judge the distance between objects.
Hand-eye coordination. Ironworkers must be able to tie rebar together quickly and precisely.
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.