Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers salaries are certainly among the highest in the construction industry. Iron and metal workers must serve a three to four year apprenticeship; they must be in excellent physical condition, and have no fear of heights. Installing iron and steel columns, girders, and other construction materials to build bridges, buildings, tunnels, highways and other structures are daily tasks for structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers. They also help repair as well as renovate older structures and buildings.
Even thought the main material used by iron and metal workers is steel they are affectionately known as “ironworkers” in the construction industry. Some metal and rebar workers fabricate metal in shops located away from the main construction site. They are still considered ironworkers, but are called fabricators and assemblers.
The medium hourly wage for structural iron and metal workers is around $22 an hour. The middle fifty percent earn between $16 and $28 an hour and the lowest ten percent earn around $11 an hour. The top ten percent earn more than $35 an hour plus benefits. The medium hourly wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers is around $17 an hour and the middle fifty percent earn between $13 and $26 an hour. The lowest ten percent earn around $10 an hour and the top ten percent earn over $33 an hour.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
About half of the workers are members of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers. Those members earn more per hour and receive better benefits than nonunion workers. The ironworkers in large metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia earn more per hour than workers in smaller cities.
Job Description and Outlook
Before construction begins ironworkers must assemble cranes that move buckets of concrete, reinforcing bars, structural steel, lumber, and other construction materials. They also stack prefabricated steel so it can be hoisted easily by the cranes. Ironworkers operate the crane as well as direct the movement of the material using hand signals to direct the operator. Two connectors position the steel using spud wrenches and connecting bars as well as driftpins in order to align the holes in the steel with the holes in the framework. Ironworkers check the horizontal and vertical alignment with levels, laser equipment, plumb bobs and transit equipment before the bolts are tightened permanently. Once the structure is aligned it is welded or bolted permanently in place.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers set reinforcing bars in the concrete forms before concrete is poured. The reinforcing bars are usually prefeabricated, but they may have to be cut in order to fit into the concrete form. Ironworkers make the necessary adjustments using several different tools. The prefabricated bars are then fastened together, and then inspected so they fit the form according to the blueprints. Post-tensioning is another method of reinforcing concrete. Cables are substituted for reinforcing bars. After the concrete is poured and cures ironworkers tighten the cables. Post-tensioning is used when supports need to be further apart to create larger open areas.
According to the bureau of Labor Statistic the job outlook for ironworkers is good thanks to government as well as private building projects. The bureau projects a ten percent increase for the next five years. There are over one hundred and fifteen thousand ironworkers working in the construction industry and even with the economic slowdown job growth remains consistent. State and federal highway and bridge projects as well as residential and commercial construction are helping fuel the need for structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Ironworkers must be at least eighteen and most companies require a three year apprenticeship which includes classroom instruction and on-the-job training. These programs are administered by local chapters of the ironworkers union. Some contractors offer employees extensive training programs that focus on a variety of duties in several different construction settings. The only formal education needed for an ironworker apprenticeship is a high school diploma. The ability to communicate in Spanish as well as English is a plus and good agility, eyesight, balance, and depth perception are essential in order to work on narrow beams and girders.
All contractors require an apprenticeship before structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers are certified. Future ironworkers contact the local chapter of Associated General Contractors or the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Ironworkers Union to enroll in an apprenticeship program. The joint-union management ironworkers committee usually has a local chapter than offers apprenticeships and certifications.
The main association for ironworkers is the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Apprenticeship Department, 1750 New York Ave. NW., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006. Their website is: http://www.ironworkers.org
There are two other associations that supply general information about ironworkers and apprenticeships. They are:
- Associated Builders and Contractors, Workforce Development Department, 4250 North Fairfax Dr., 9th Floor, Arlington, VA 22203. Their website is: http://www.trytools.org
- Associated General Contractors of America, Inc., 2300 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 400., Arlington, VA 22201. Their website is: http://www.agc.org