Structural and Reinforcing Ironworkers Career Information
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Significant Points· Most employers recommend a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship.
· During economic downturns, workers can experience high rates of unemployment.
· The danger of injuries due to falls is great; therefore, those who work at great heights do not work during wet, icy, or extremely windy conditions.
Nature of the WorkBuilders use materials
made from iron, steel, aluminum, fiberglass, or precast concrete to construct
highways, bridges, office and other large buildings, and power transmission
towers. These structures have frames made of steel columns, beams, and girders.
In addition, reinforced concrete—concrete containing steel bars or wire fabric—is
an important material in buildings, bridges, and other structures, as the steel
gives the concrete additional strength. Moreover, metal stairways, catwalks,
floor gratings, ladders, window frames, lampposts, railings, fences, and decorative
ironwork increase the functionality and attractiveness of these structures.
Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers fabricate, assemble, and install
these products. They also repair, renovate, and maintain older buildings and
structures, such as manufacturing plants, highways, and bridges.
Even though the primary metal involved in this work is steel, workers often are known as ironworkers. Before construction can begin, ironworkers must erect steel frames and assemble the cranes and derricks that move structural steel, reinforcing bars, buckets of concrete, lumber, and other materials and equipment around the construction site. The structural metal arrives at the construction site in sections. There, it is lifted into position by a crane. Ironworkers then connect the sections and set the cables to do the hoisting.
Once this job has been completed, workers begin to connect steel columns, beams, and girders according to blueprints and instructions from supervisors and superintendents. Structural steel, reinforcing rods, and ornamental iron generally come to the construction site ready for erection—cut to the proper size, with holes drilled for bolts and numbered for assembly.
Ironworkers at the construction site unload and stack the prefabricated steel so that it can be hoisted easily when needed. To hoist the steel, metal workers attach cables from a crane or derrick. One worker directs the hoist operator with hand signals. Another worker holds a rope (tag line) attached to the steel to prevent it from swinging. The crane or derrick hoists steel into place in the framework, where several workers, using spud wrenches, position the steel with connecting bars and jacks. Workers using drift pins or the handle of a spud wrench—a long wrench with a pointed handle—align the holes in the steel with the holes in the framework. Then, they temporarily bolt the piece in place; check vertical and horizontal alignment with plumb bobs, laser equipment, transits, or levels; and bolt or weld the piece permanently in place.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers set the bars in the forms that hold concrete, following blueprints showing the location, size, and number of reinforcing bars (rebar). They then fasten the bars together by tying wire around them with pliers. When reinforcing floors, workers place blocks under the rebar to hold the bars off the deck. Although these materials usually arrive ready to use, ironworkers occasionally must cut bars with metal shears or acetylene torches, bend them by hand or machine, or weld them with arc-welding equipment. Some concrete is reinforced with welded wire fabric. Using hooked rods, workers cut and fit the fabric and, while a concrete crew places the concrete, metal workers properly position the fabric in the concrete. Post-tensioning is another technique used in reinforcing concrete; workers substitute cables for reinforcing bars. When the concrete is poured, the ends of the cables are left exposed. After the concrete dries, ironworkers tighten the cable. Post-tensioning allows designers to create larger open areas in a building because supports can be placed further apart. This technique is commonly employed in parking garages and arenas.
Ornamental ironworkers install elevator shafts, stairs, curtain walls (the nonstructural walls and window frames of many large buildings), and other ornamentation pieces after the structure of the building has been completed. As they hoist pieces into position, ornamental ironworkers check that the pieces are properly fitted and aligned before bolting, brazing, or welding them for a secure fit.
Working ConditionsStructural and reinforcing
iron and metal workers usually work outside in all kinds of weather. However,
those who work at great heights do not work during wet, icy, or extremely windy
conditions. Because the danger of injuries due to falls is great, ironworkers
use safety devices such as safety belts, scaffolding, and nets to reduce risk.
Some ironworkers fabricate structural metal in fabricating shops, which usually are located away from the construction site.
EmploymentStructural and reinforcing iron and metal workers held about 111,000 jobs in 2009. About half worked for structural steel erection contractors. Most of the remainder worked for contractors specializing in the construction of homes; factories; commercial buildings; churches; schools; bridges and tunnels; and water, sewer, communications, and power lines.
Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers are employed in all parts of the country, but most work in metropolitan areas, where most commercial and industrial construction takes place.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Most employers recommend
a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship, consisting of on-the-job training and evening
classroom instruction, as the best way to learn this trade. Apprenticeship programs usually are administered
by committees made up of representatives of local unions of the International
Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers or
the local chapters of contractors' associations.
Ironworkers must be at least 18 years old. A high school diploma may be preferred by employers and may be required by some local apprenticeship committees. High school courses in general mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are helpful. Because materials used in iron working are heavy and bulky, metal workers must be in good physical condition. They also need good agility, balance, eyesight, and depth perception to safely work at great heights on narrow beams and girders. Ironworkers should not be afraid of heights or suffer from dizziness.
In the classroom, apprentices study blueprint reading; mathematics for layout work; the basics of structural erecting, rigging, reinforcing, welding, and burning; ornamental erection; and assembling. Apprentices also study the care and safe use of tools and materials. On the job, apprentices work in all aspects of the trade, such as unloading and storing materials at the job site, rigging materials for movement by crane or derrick, connecting structural steel, and welding.
Some ironworkers learn the trade informally on the job without completing an apprenticeship. These workers generally do not receive classroom training, although some large contractors have extensive training programs. On-the-job trainees usually begin by assisting experienced ironworkers by doing simple jobs, such as carrying various materials. With experience, trainees perform more difficult tasks like cutting and fitting different parts; however, learning through work experience alone may not provide training as complete as an apprenticeship program and usually takes longer.
Some experienced workers are promoted to supervisor. Others may go into the contracting business for themselves.
of structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers is expected to rise about
as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2010, largely based
on the continued growth in industrial and commercial construction. The rehabilitation, maintenance, and replacement
of a growing number of older buildings, factories, power plants, and highways
and bridges is expected to create employment opportunities. While some new jobs
will arise, most openings will result from the need to replace experienced ironworkers
who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
The number of job openings fluctuates from year to year as economic conditions and the level of construction activity change. During economic downturns, ironworkers can experience high rates of unemployment. Similarly, job opportunities for ironworkers may vary widely by geographic area. Job openings for ironworkers usually are more abundant during the spring and summer months, when the level of construction activity increases.
EarningsIn 2009, median hourly earnings of structural iron and steel workers in all industries were $17.92. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.34 and $24.16. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.05, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $29.62. In 2009, median hourly earnings of reinforcing iron and rebar workers in all industries were $16.78. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.57 and $23.64. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.90, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.86. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest number of structural iron and steel workers in 2009 were:
Miscellaneous special trade contractors $19.59
Heavy construction, except highway 17.55
Nonresidential building construction 15.86
Fabricated structural metal products 13.71
Many workers in this trade are members of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers. According to the union, average hourly earnings, including benefits, for structural and reinforcing metal workers who belonged to a union and worked full time ranged between $18 and $50 in 2006. Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other large cities received the highest wages.
Apprentices generally start at about 50 to 60 percent of the rate paid to experienced journey workers. They receive periodic increases throughout the course of the apprenticeship program, as they acquire the skills of the trade, until their pay approaches that of experienced workers.
Earnings for ironworkers may be reduced on occasion because work can be limited by bad weather, the short-term nature of construction jobs, and economic downturns.
and reinforcing iron and metal workers play an essential role in erecting buildings,
bridges, highways, powerlines, and other structures. Others who also work on these construction
jobs include assemblers and fabricators; boilermakers; civil engineers; cement
masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers; construction
managers; and welding, soldering, and brazing workers.
For more information on apprenticeships or other work opportunities, contact local general contractors; a local of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union; a local ironworkers’ joint union-management apprenticeship committee; a local or State chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors or the Associated General Contractors; or the nearest office of your State employment service or apprenticeship agency. For apprenticeship information, contact: For general information about ironworkers, contact either of the following sources:
Sources of Additional Information
For more information on apprenticeships or other work opportunities, contact local general contractors; a local of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union; a local ironworkers’ joint union-management apprenticeship committee; a local or State chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors or the Associated General Contractors; or the nearest office of your State employment service or apprenticeship agency.
For apprenticeship information, contact:
For general information about ironworkers, contact either of the following sources: