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Boilers exist in all larger structures to supply steam to drive huge turbines in electric power plants and to provide heat and power in buildings, factories, and ships. Tanks and vats are used to process and store chemicals, oil, beer and hundreds of other products. Boilermakers build, erect, repair, test and maintain all types of boilers, tanks and pressure vessels and perform all types of structural and plate work on dust, air, gas, steam, oil, water and other liquid-tight pressure vessels.

Boilers are generally huge cylindrical containers that must withstand serious pressure from liquids and gases stored within the vessel. Due to the size, they are made in sections out of iron or steel, casted together with a welding machine. Boilermakers follow blueprints to figure out how to install the boiler into its foundations and decide upon what rigging materials to be used to hoist the parts into place (the metal parts are too heavy for people to carry).

The boilermaker lines up the pieces, making sure they fit together. Then each section is welded together, using automated orbital welding machines, which are more accurate then welding by hand. Boilermakers have to know the properties of different metals under varying conditions and be expert welders. They must also be skilled in using a range of hand and power tools, welding equipment and metalworking machines, such as drill presses, shears, brakes, rolls and flame cutters.

Usually smaller boilers can be assembled in plants, but larger ones may have to be assembled on-site. Therefore, large boilers may be temporarily assembled to make sure they will fit in the power plant or other site. Most boilermakers are responsible for maintaining and servicing boilers to make sure they are operating safely and properly. For example, if there any leaks, they must immediately tend to them.

Since boilers are designed to last for up to 35 years, the work must be done carefully and skillfully in order to withstand high pressures for years to come.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Successful boilermakers need the strength and stamina required to work with heavy parts and equipment, along with manual dexterity, good coordination, mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity. They enjoy working with tools and machinery and working on precise projects. They also must be able to tolerate odors, noisy and dirty surroundings and heights, in close quarters with other workers.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan the sequence of work to be done
  • Develop a layout (design or pattern)
  • Read and interpret blueprints or other instructions to plan the work sequence and prepare materials according to the project's specifications
  • Lay-out plate, sheet steel or other heavy metal, and locate and mark bending and cutting lines
  • Shape the metal using metalworking machines such as shears and drill presses
  • Cut metal plate and brackets using an oxy-fuel torch, and chip and grind parts to shape for fitting together
  • Assemble, fit and weld parts together using electric arc welding equipment
  • Erect, install and test boilers and tanks, vessels, heat exchangers and other heavy metal structures
  • Direct crane or hoist operators and other workers in the process
  • Working conditions for boilermakers are often cramped, dirty and involve exposure to chemical vapours, wetness or high noise levels. Also, they may have to work in extreme temperature and weather conditions. Boilermakers work a standard 40-hour workweek, with longer hours required from time to time. Due to the risky and injurious nature of the profession, safety precautions must be taken when working with heavy equipment, and at considerable heights. Heavy lifting is also part of the trade.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Boilermakers work in a number of metal related industries including, metal fabricating, construction, shipbuilding, rail transport, petrochemical, electric power, and iron and steel. They can be found in fabrication shops and on construction sites. In the construction industry, they work in industrial plants such as pulp mills, mine mills, generating plants, and oil and gas plants.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced boilermakers may advance to supervisory positions such as foreman and construction superintendent. With additional training, they can transfer their skills to related occupations such as ironworker, elevator constructor, millwright, sheet metal worker, structural steel and plate fitter or welder.

  Educational Paths  
Boilermakers receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all states to become a boilermaker, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training with classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position however wages are about 50% less than what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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