Boilermakers


Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Duties

Boilermakers typically do the following:

  • Read blueprints to determine locations, positions, and dimensions of boiler parts
  • Install small premade boilers in buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Lay out prefabricated parts of larger boilers before assembling them
  • Assemble boiler tanks, often using robotic or automatic welders
  • Test and inspect boiler systems for leaks or defects
  • Clean vats with scrapers, wire brushes, and cleaning solvents
  • Replace or repair broken valves, pipes, or joints, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment

Boilers, tanks, and vats are used in many buildings, factories, and ships. Boilers heat water or other fluids under extreme pressure to generate electric power and to provide heat. Large tanks and vats are used to process and store chemicals, oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.

Boilers are made out of steel, iron, copper, or stainless steel. Manufacturers are increasingly automating the production of boilers to improve the quality of these vessels. However, boilermakers still use many tools to assemble and maintain boilers. For example, they often use hand and power tools and flame-cutting torches to align, cut, and shape pieces for a boiler. Boilermakers also use plumb bobs, levels, wedges, and turnbuckles to align pieces accurately.

During a boiler installation, boilermakers first line up boilerplates and parts, and then use metalworking machinery and other tools to remove irregular edges so that the parts fit together properly. If the plate sections are very large, boilermakers signal crane operators to lift the parts into place. Boilermakers then join the parts by bolting, welding, and riveting them together.

Boilermakers may help erect and repair air pollution abatement equipment, blast furnaces, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and smokestacks. Boilermakers also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Some install and maintain the huge pipes used in dams to send water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines.

Boilers last a long time—sometimes 50 years or more—and boilermakers must maintain them regularly by repairing and replacing parts. They inspect fittings, feed pumps, safety and check valves, water and pressure gauges, and boiler controls.

Boilermakers held about 14,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of boilermakers were as follows:

Utility system construction 18%
Nonresidential building construction 16
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 11
Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors 10
Other building equipment contractors 6

Boilermakers perform physically demanding work in cramped spaces inside boilers, vats, or tanks that are often dark, damp, noisy, and poorly ventilated. They frequently work outdoors in all types of weather, including extreme heat and cold.

Because dams, boilers, storage tanks, and pressure vessels are large, boilermakers frequently work at great heights. For example, they may be hundreds of feet above the ground when working on a dam.                                                                                                               

Injuries and Illnesses

The work that boilermakers do can be dangerous. To reduce the chance of injuries, boilermakers wear hardhats, protective clothing, earplugs, safety glasses, and other safety equipment. When working in enclosed spaces, boilermakers often wear a respirator.

Work Schedules

Nearly all boilermakers work full time and may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime work also may be necessary to meet construction or production deadlines, especially during the spring and fall seasons, when many power plants receive routine maintenance. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete. There may also be periods of unemployment during the winter and summer when major maintenance is complete.

Boilermakers may travel to worksites and be away from home for extended periods.

Most boilermakers learn their trade through an apprenticeship program.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required.

Training

Boilermakers typically learn their trade through an apprenticeship program. During training, workers learn how to use boilermaker tools and equipment on the job. They also learn about metals and installation techniques, mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.

Apprenticeship programs typically last 4 years. When boilermakers finish the apprenticeship program, they are considered to be journey workers, performing tasks under the guidance of experienced workers. A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Apprentices must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Candidates with certified or documented welding experience may have priority over applicants without experience.

Some boilermakers enter apprenticeships after working as pipefitters, millwrights, sheet metal workers, or welders. The core training for these occupations is similar to the training for boilermakers.

Important Qualities

Mechanical skills. Boilermakers use and maintain a large variety of equipment, such as hoists and welding machines.

Physical stamina. Boilermakers must have high endurance because they spend many hours on their feet while lifting heavy boiler components.

Physical strength. Boilermakers need to be strong enough to move heavy vat components into place.

Unafraid of confined spaces. Boilermakers often work inside boilers and vats.

Unafraid of heights. Some boilermakers work at great heights. While installing water storage tanks, for example, workers may need to weld tanks several stories above the ground.

The median annual wage for boilermakers was $62,150 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 $37,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,940.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for boilermakers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors $71,120
Utility system construction 64,570
Nonresidential building construction 63,490
Other building equipment contractors 61,930
Fabricated metal product manufacturing 57,080

Apprentices receive less pay than fully trained boilermakers. They receive pay increases as they learn more skills.

Nearly all boilermakers work full time and may experience extended periods of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime work also may be necessary to meet construction or production deadlines, especially during the spring and fall seasons, when many power plants receive routine maintenance. In contrast, because most field construction and repair work is contract work, there may be periods of unemployment when a contract is complete. There may also be periods of unemployment during the winter and summer when major maintenance is complete.

Boilermakers may travel to worksites and be away from home for extended periods.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, boilermakers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union. Although there is no single union that covers all boilermakers, the largest organizer of these workers is the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and HelpersOpens in a new tab..

Boilermakers

Median annual wages, May 2018

Boilermakers

$62,150

Construction trades workers

$44,810

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

Employment of boilermakers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Although boilers typically last more than 50 years, the need to replace and maintain parts, such as boiler tubes, heating elements, and ductwork, is an ongoing process that will require the work of more boilermakers. Boilermakers also are needed to install new boilers, pressure vessels, air pollution abatement equipment, water treatment plants, storage and process tanks, and stacks and liners.

Job Prospects

Jobseekers may face competition for positions as boilermakers. As with many other construction workers, employment of boilermakers 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, during peak periods of building activity some areas may require additional number of these workers.

Employment projections data for boilermakers, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Boilermakers

47-2011 14,500 15,300 6 900 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of boilermakers.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Assemblers and Fabricators

Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them.

High school diploma or equivalent $32,820

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment.

High school diploma or equivalent $60,440

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to join, repair, or cut metal parts and products.

High school diploma or equivalent $41,380

Machinists and Tool and Die Makers

Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

See How to Become One $44,950

Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and Millwrights

Industrial machinery mechanics, machinery maintenance workers, and millwrights install, maintain, and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery.

High school diploma or equivalent $51,630

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry liquids or gases.

High school diploma or equivalent $53,910

Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,460

Insulation workers

Insulation Workers

Insulation workers install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings and their mechanical systems.

See How to Become One $41,910

Elevator Installers and Repairers

Elevator installers and repairers install, fix, and maintain elevators, escalators, moving walkways, and other lifts.

High school diploma or equivalent $79,780

Structural iron and steel workers

Ironworkers

Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.

High school diploma or equivalent $52,770

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as a boilermaker, contact local boiler construction contractors; a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; a local joint union–management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s ApprenticeshipOpens in a new tab. program online, or by phone at 877-872-5627.

For more information about apprenticeship and training, visit

Boilermakers National Apprenticeship ProgramOpens in a new tab.

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and HelpersOpens in a new tab.

NCCEROpens in a new tab.

For information about welding certification, visit

American Welding SocietyOpens in a new tab.

O*NET

BoilermakersOpens in a new tab.


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Boilermakers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/boilermakers.htm (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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