How To Become An Ironworker

Ironworkers are vital to the construction process, so there is no shortage of work for properly-trained professionals. Ironworking is challenging, demanding, necessary work: Ironwork has built almost every town and city in this country. In other words, ironwork is historical. Your hard work will likely outlast you, and could benefit future generations.
Career Overview*
  • Median Salary:$53,210 annually / hourly
  • Career Outlook:6% growth through 2030
  • Certifications: AWS Recommended
  • Education/Training Duration:

What Does An Ironworker Do?

Ironworkers are professionals who fabricate, install, hoist, erect, repair, and service structural ironwork, steel reinforcing materials, precast concrete, ornamental iron, and other metals used in the construction of buildings, highways, bridges, dams, and other structures.

Some responsibilities of an ironworker include:

  • Examining structures and equipment for defects, deterioration, or non-compliance with regulations and specifications
  • Positioning and securing steel bars or metal mesh in concrete to reinforce structures
  • Reading blueprints and working to specifications 
  • Properly signaling crane operators to position materials to match blueprints
  • Unloading and positioning steel units so each piece is easier to hoist
  • Erecting and installing scaffolding, rigging, and ironwork foundations
  • Aligning, welding, and bolting steel units into place
  • Safely dismantling structures and equipment

How To Become An Ironworker

Ironworking is mentally demanding and requires one to be in good physical condition. Apprenticeship programs often require trainees to have completed high school or hold an equivalent degree.

Trainees undertake an apprenticeship with an employer or certified institution. During this period, you learn the trade while earning an income.

1 | Basic Requirements

  • Must be at least 18 years of age
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Able to pass drug test

2 | Education

Ironworking is mentally demanding and requires one to be in good physical condition. Apprenticeship programs often require trainees to have completed high school or hold an equivalent degree.

Trainees undertake an apprenticeship with an employer or certified institution. During this period, you learn the trade while earning an income.

3 | Internship/Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship is the best way to start out in the ironworking industry. An apprenticeship generally lasts for three to four years, each year of which allows for at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training, as well as 144 hours of related technical training. 

As an apprentice, you can earn as you learn while working on project sites. Wages generally start at about 70% of a journeyman’s starting salary and increase throughout your apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are usually free, and allow you to collect income as you learn. 

3 | Testing/Certification

One common misconception about ironworkers is that they only work on buildings and bridges. In reality, ironworking is a multi-faceted trade. Additional post-apprenticeship certifications broaden work possibilities even further.

Common complementary programs include rigging and crane-signaling. Many ironworkers also earn  welding certifications from the American Welding Society. By gaining additional skills, you can earn higher wages  and be granted access to specialized roles and positions.

Some useful specializations include:

  • Rigging. An ironwork rigger’s tasks involve loading, unloading, and setting structural steel, machinery, curtain walls, and other materials. A rigger must be skilled in using wire rope, fiber line, skids, hooks, rollers, hoisting equipment, and proper hand signals, and must have a comprehensive understanding of safety protocols. 
  • Structural. Structural ironworkers read blueprints and assemble cranes that carry steel beams, columns, and other construction materials. They also signal crane operators  and assist in structural reinforcement and positioning. 
  • Reinforcing. Reinforcing ironworkers, also known as rodmen, strengthen concrete structures by setting them with steel bars. They usually tie these bars together with wire and pack them on supports. 
  • Welding. While all ironworkers know how to weld to properly secure structures, some specialize further. Many ironwork training centers  offer burning and welding classes. After finishing training, you have the opportunity to become a certified welder. 
  • Ornamental. Ornamental ironworkers are highly skilled at fashioning metal pieces that are not part of a structure’s functional framework. They might fashion doors, frames, handrails, and stair sets for finished sites. Some even specialize in creating artistic pieces from steel, iron, and other materials. 

Recommended Skills For Ironworkers

Anyone interested in becoming an ironworker should develop these qualities in order to be successful in their trade:

Hand-Eye Coordination

Ironworking involves many technique-heavy tasks, which is why good hand-eye coordination is a must. 

Physical Strength + Endurance

Ironworking is physically demanding, so you need to be strong and able to endure difficult working conditions. Depending on the project and your role in it, you might be required to lift or move heavy objects on a regular basis. 

Nerves of “Steel”

It’s fairly common for ironworkers to perform tasks on narrow beams, at great heights, on steep or unsteady surfaces. 

Communication Skills

While many ironworkers work alone, most work as part of a larger project.  It’s important to have the ability to properly communicate with fellow professionals and collaborate appropriately. 

Pros & Cons Of Being An Ironworker

Ironworking is an excellent career, but it’s important to understand its good and bad aspects. Here are some pros and cons of the trade.

PROS

  • Good job security
  • High work satisfaction
  • Learn many practical skills
  • Excellent pay and benefits for those willing to work hard

CONS

  • Very physically demanding
  • You will often work in unpleasant environments
  • One of the more hazardous careers

How Much Do Ironworkers Make?

The median annual wage for ironworkers in 2020 was $53,210, with the top 20% earning over $90,000 and the bottom 20% earning only about $32,00.

Aside from gaining more work experience, you must keep your skills current, learn new technologies, and acquire optional certifications if you want  to increase your salary. 

Keep in mind that wages vary based on specialization.. For example, structural ironworkers earned a $54,830 median annual wage in 2020, while reinforcing ironworkers earned $49,390.

Ironworkers can also advance to supervisory and managerial positions, or take on new apprentices themselves. Some even go on to run their own businesses. 

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$53,210*
The median annual salary for an ironworker.

What Is The Job Outlook For Ironworkers?

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6%
increase in the amount of jobs through 2030.

Growth/Decline Percentage: 6% increase from 2020 to 2030*
General Outlook: Very Good

There were about 93,100 job openings in ironwork in 2020, and that number is steadily rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of  ironwork positions will increase by 6% from 2020 to 2030. Specialties that show promising growth include welding, rigging, iron reinforcement, rebar work, and crane signaling. 

Ironworking tends to be a relatively steady career, but the current economy and pandemic-decreased demand for construction work have qualified that somewhat. With extensive experience and the right certifications, however, you’ll have one of the  best job prospects there is.As an ironworker, you will most likely find employment with construction contractors, but some find work in industries like metal fabricating, iron and steel production, oil and gas production, rail transport, and electrical utilities.

Do you work in this career? Tell us about it!