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If a career filled with danger and excitement makes you want to jump for joy, then maybe you should consider the life of an ironworker. Ironworkers fabricate, erect, hoist, install, repair and service structural ironwork, precast concrete, concrete reinforcing materials, curtain walls, ornamental iron and other metals used in the construction of buildings, bridges and other structures and equipment.

Ironworkers spend a great deal of time high off the ground balancing on narrow beams to construct buildings, bridges and other large, metal structures. Thanks to them, they help build our homes, offices and freeways.

Ironworkers erect structural steel components, reinforce steel, post tension tendons, install conveyors and robotic equipment, connect steel beams and columns, and sometimes perform reconstructive work on existing structures. They also create metal stairways, catwalks, floor grating, ladders, window frames, lampposts, railings and fences following blueprints.

In general, ironworkers will go over blueprint drawings to figure out the work that needs to be done and then organize the materials. They erect or install scaffolding, construction cranes, derricks and other hoisting equipment in order to begin construction work. When they start building, they may sometimes insert temporary bolts and erect pre-fabricated metal structures to get a general idea of the structure. Then, they must cut, bend, position and secure steel bars or wire mesh in concrete forms to reinforce the concrete. Those who specialize as ornamental workers might add the finishing touches to the construction.

Ironworkers use heavy and sometimes bulky materials, so it is important that workers be in good physical condition, with the ability to lift heavy objects. Those suffering from vertigo or those who fear heights may want to find another trade because ironworkers generally tend to work from great heights. Also, the position can be quite hard on the body and workers may be subject to extreme weather conditions, including rain, ice, snow and extreme winds. Consequently, ironworkers must take all safety precautions, including the use of safety belts, scaffolding and nets to reduce the risk of serious injury.
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  Average Earnings  
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Median Salary:
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  Interests and Skills  
Ironworkers must have a technical mind to interpret blueprints and work and react quickly and decisively in emergencies. They need an understanding of safe work practices and the knowledge to safely operate the tools of the trade and the ability to work at great heights. Ironworkers are generally in good shape with muscular coordination, agility and balance. They must be willing to travel to various work sites, and have an inclination to work cooperatively with others. Successful ironworkers enjoy developing their expertise by doing precise work in a broad range of industries and locations, especially outdoors.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read drawings and specifications to lay out the work
  • Unload and stack steel units so each piece can be hoisted as needed
  • Erect and install scaffolding, hoisting equipment and rigging
  • Signal crane operator to position steel units according to blueprints
  • Align and weld or bolt steel units in place
  • Erect structural and architectural precast concrete components for buildings, bridges, towers and other structures
  • Assemble and erect prefabricated metal structures
  • Position and secure steel bars or metal mesh in concrete forms to reinforce concrete structures
  • Install ornamental and other structural metalwork such as curtain walls, metal stairways, railings and power doors
  • Ironworkers generally work outdoors in teams or crews in all types of locations -- remote and urban areas. Their work is physically strenuous and often dangerous. They often work at great heights and must rely on one another to use good judgment as well as safety equipment and procedures to reduce the risk of injury from falling or from falling objects. Adverse weather conditions such as rain, snow or high winds can shut down projects for days at a time.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most ironworkers work for construction contractors, but some are employed in industries such as metal fabricating, oil and gas production, iron and steel production, electric utilities and rail transport. Very few ironworkers are self-employed.
  • Within the construction industry, ironworkers work on a project-to-project basis and frequently travel long distances from job to job. Union members work out of union hiring halls where work is allocated on a rotating basis. Employment is seasonal and employment prospects change with the economic climate, particularly with the volume of commercial and industrial construction projects.

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

  Educational Paths  
Ironworkers 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 areas to become an ironworker, 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 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the ironworker a certificate of completion.

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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