The job requirements of steel workers are physically demanding and highly dangerous.
Not only do structural iron and steel workers need the training necessary to install steel beams and columns to form bridges, buildings, and other structures, but they also require incredible balance, stamina and the ability to deal with the ever increasing heights of today's buildings and skyscrapers.
An iron worker career includes unloading materials and lifting heavy girders, steel beams and columns with cranes, working with crane operators to make sure the steel materials are correctly positioned, aligning and confirming all beams and girders are in correct horizontal or vertical positions and connecting columns and beams through bolts and welding and manipulating.
An iron worker career also includes cutting the steel with tools such as torches and shears.
Education and Certifications
Typically, structural iron and steel workers need a high school diploma or equivalent and either formal or informal apprenticeships through technical colleges, businesses or unions to enter the field.
Most iron workers learn their trade through an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships can take up to 4 years to complete; for each year in training workers must earn a minimum of 144 hours of technical training and at least 2,000 hours of paid, on-site instruction.
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.
Most iron and steel workers 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.
Iron worker education includes learning how to use tools and equipment, how to reinforce and install metal frameworks as well as how to cut and install rebar, how to read blueprints and follow safety requirements. Ironworker education also includes math and construction basics.
Once this training is complete, steel workers can perform tasks independently as a journey worker.
Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may increase a worker’s usefulness on the job site. 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.
Basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program:
- Minimum age of 18.
- High school diploma or equivalent.
- Physical ability to perform the work.
- Pass substance abuse screening.
- 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.
Essential Career Information
- $51,320 - Median pay, 2017
- $31,260 - Wage of lowest 10 percent, 2017
- $93,070 - Wage of the highest 10 percent, 2017
- 90,300 - Number of jobs, 2016
- 13% - Employment growth forecast, 2016
- Entry-level education requirements - High school diploma or equivalent
- Balance. Ironworkers often walk on narrow beams, so a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling while doing their job.
- Dexterity. 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.
- Visual Ability. 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.
- 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 the 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.