How to become an Ironworker | Forum

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Ray Aug 5 '19
Quick Facts: Ironworkers2018 Median Pay$52,770 per year 
$25.37 per hourTypical Entry-Level EducationHigh school diploma or equivalentWork Experience in a Related OccupationNoneOn-the-job TrainingApprenticeshipNumber of Jobs, 201690,300Job Outlook, 2016-2613% (Faster than average)Employment Change, 2016-2611,400


Ironworkers typically do the following:

  • Read and follow blueprints, sketches, and other instructions
  • Unload and stack prefabricated iron and steel so that it can be lifted with slings
  • Signal crane operators who lift and position structural and reinforcing iron and steel
  • Use shears, rod-bending machines, and welding equipment to cut, bend, and weld the structural and reinforcing iron and steel
  • Align structural and reinforcing iron and steel vertically and horizontally, using tag lines, plumb bobs, lasers, and levels
  • Connect iron and steel with bolts, wire, or welds

Structural and reinforcing iron and steel are important components of buildings, bridges, roads, and other structures. Even though the primary metal involved in this work is steel, workers often are known as ironworkers or erectors. Most of the work involves erecting new structures, but some ironworkers may also help in the demolition, decommissioning, and rehabilitation of older buildings and bridges.

When building tall structures such as skyscrapers, structural iron and steel workers erect steel frames and assemble the cranes and derricks that move materials and equipment around the construction site. Workers connect precut steel columns, beams, and girders, using tools like shears, torches, welding equipment, and hand tools. A few ironworkers install precast walls or work with wood or composite materials.

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers use one of three different materials to support concrete:

  • Reinforcing steel (rebar) is used to strengthen the concrete that forms highways, buildings, bridges, and other structures. These workers are sometimes called rod busters, in reference to rods of rebar.
  • Cables are used to reinforce concrete by pre- or post-tensioning. These techniques allow designers to create larger open areas in a building because supports can be placed farther apart. As a result, pre- and post-tensioning are commonly used to construct arenas, concrete bridges, and parking garages.
  • Welded wire reinforcing (WWR) is also used to strengthen concrete. This reinforcing is made up of narrow-diameter rods or wire welded into a grid.

Structural metal fabricators and fitters manufacture metal products in shops, usually located away from construction sites.


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 ironworkers 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. The basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Physical ability to perform the work
  • Pass substance abuse screeningAfter completing an apprenticeship program, they are considered to be journeymen who perform tasks without direct supervision.

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may increase a worker’s usefulness on the jobsite. Several organizations provide certifications for different aspects of ironworkers’ jobs. For example, the American Welding Societyoffers 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.

Important Qualities

Balance. Ironworkers often walk on narrow beams, so a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling while doing their job.

Depth perception. 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.

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.

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.

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.


The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers was $48,320 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. 

The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,590, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,400.

The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers was $53,970 in May 2018. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,760.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for reinforcing iron and rebar workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction$60,240Nonresidential building construction52,370Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors47,750Other specialty trade contractors46,290Manufacturing39,980

In May 2018, the median annual wages for structural iron and steel workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Heavy and civil engineering construction$59,150Building equipment contractors56,810Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors55,830Nonresidential building construction51,390Manufacturing47,360

The starting pay for apprentices is usually about 50 percent of what journeymen ironworkers make. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

The majority of ironworkers work full time. Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work during wet, icy, or extremely windy conditions. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by any kind of precipitation.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, ironworkers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016. Although there is no single union that covers all ironworkers, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.


Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Steel and reinforced concrete are an important part of commercial and industrial buildings. Future construction of these structures is expected to require ironworkers. The need to rehabilitate, maintain, or replace an increasing number of older highways and bridges is also expected to lead to some employment growth.

Job Prospects

Employment opportunities for job seekers are expected to be good. Those who are certified in welding, rigging, and crane signaling should have the best job opportunities.

As with many other construction workers, employment of ironworkers is sensitive to fluctuations of the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.

Employment projections data for ironworkers, 2016-26

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Occupational Title


SOC Code—Employment, 201690,300Projected Employment, 2026101,700Percent Change, 2016-2613Numeric Change, 2016-2611,400Employment by Industry—Occupational Title

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

SOC Code47-2171Employment, 201620,100Projected Employment, 202622,500Percent Change, 2016-2612Numeric Change, 2016-262,400Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsxOccupational Title

Structural iron and steel workers

SOC Code47-2221Employment, 201670,200Projected Employment, 202679,200Percent Change, 2016-2613Numeric Change, 2016-269,000Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx