Ironworkers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, and roads.
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.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers held about 18,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of reinforcing iron and rebar workers were as follows:
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||68%|
|Nonresidential building construction||10|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||7|
|Other specialty trade contractors||2|
Structural iron and steel workers held about 80,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of structural iron and steel workers were as follows:
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||45%|
|Nonresidential building construction||22|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||8|
|Building equipment contractors||5|
Structural ironworkers usually work outside in most types of weather, and some work at great heights. In doing so, they perform physically demanding and dangerous work. Workers must wear safety devices, such as harnesses, to reduce the risk of falls. Reinforcing ironworkers must be able to carry, bend, cut, and connect rebar at a steady pace to keep projects on schedule. The work is physically demanding, and they spend much of their time moving, bending, and stooping.
Injuries and Illnesses
The work of ironworkers can be dangerous, and falls from great heights can be fatal. Ironworkers wear personal protective equipment like hard hats, boots, gloves, and safety glasses to prevent injury. Common injuries include falls, cuts, sprains, and overexertion.
The majority of ironworkers work full time. They may have to travel regionally to job sites.
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.
Although most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job.
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 Society offers 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.
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||$60,240|
|Nonresidential building construction||52,370|
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||47,750|
|Other specialty trade contractors||46,290|
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||$59,150|
|Building equipment contractors||56,810|
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors||55,830|
|Nonresidential building construction||51,390|
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.
Compared with workers in all occupations, ironworkers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union. 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.
Median annual wages, May 2018
- Structural iron and steel workers
- Reinforcing iron and rebar workers
- Construction trades workers
- Total, all occupations
Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much 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.
Employment opportunities for jobseekers 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.
|Occupational Title||SOC Code||Employment, 2018||Projected Employment, 2028||Change, 2018-28||Employment by Industry|
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers
Structural iron and steel workers
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of ironworkers.
|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|
Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$62,150|
Carpenters construct, repair, and install building frameworks and structures made from wood and other materials.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$46,590|
Construction laborers and helpers perform many tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.
|See How to Become One||$34,810|
Masonry workers use bricks, concrete blocks, concrete, and natural and manmade stones to build masonry structures.
|See How to Become One||$44,810|
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|
For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities as an ironworker, contact local structural and reinforcing iron and steel construction contractors, 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 Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627.
For ironworker and apprenticeship information, visit
For more information about ironworkers, visit
For more information about certification, visit
National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Ironworkers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/structural-iron-and-steel-workers.htm (visited ).
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