Career Facts

Investigate MORE INFO on all professions that sound interesting. Take your time. Don't skip a step.

Job Outlook: 11% (Much faster than average)

  1. Is WHAT YOU DO enjoyable?
  2. Does the WORK ENVIRONMENT feel comfortable?
  3. Are you ok with THE REQUIREMENTS?
  4. Is the PAY ENOUGH?
  5. Is the JOB OUTLOOK positive- more than 7%?
  6. Still interested? WATCH THE VIDEO
  7. RELATED OCCUPATIONS Click here to view similar jobs.
FIND A JOB and more.

What Ironworkers Do About this section

Structural iron and steel workers
Reinforcing ironworkers install rebar to strengthen concrete walls.

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

Duties

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, torches, handtools, 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
  • Install metal decking used in building construction

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 also help in the demolition, decommissioning, and rehabilitation of older buildings and bridges.

Structural iron and steel workers erect, place, and join steel girders, columns, and other pieces to form structural frameworks. They also may assemble precut metal buildings and the cranes and derricks that move materials and equipment around the construction site. Some ironworkers install precast walls or work with wood or composite materials.

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers position and secure steel bars or mesh in concrete forms for purposes of reinforcement. Those who work with reinforcing steel (rebar) are sometimes called rod busters, in reference to rods of rebar.

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

Work Environment About this section

Structural iron and steel workers
Ironworkers wear safety harnesses when they work at heights.

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers held about 18,800 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of reinforcing iron and rebar workers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 71%
Nonresidential building construction 8
Heavy and civil engineering construction 7
Other specialty trade contractors 5

Structural iron and steel workers held about 77,000 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of structural iron and steel workers were as follows:

Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 46%
Nonresidential building construction 23
Building equipment contractors 7
Heavy and civil engineering construction 7
Manufacturing 6

Ironworkers usually work outside in many types of weather. Some work at great heights. Their tasks are physically demanding, as they spend much of their time moving and stooping to carry, bend, cut, and connect iron or steel at a steady pace so projects stay on schedule.

Injuries and Illnesses

The work of ironworkers can be dangerous. Common injuries include cuts, sprains, overexertion, and falls; from great heights, falls can be deadly. To reduce these risks, ironworkers must wear safety equipment such as harnesses, hard hats, boots, gloves, and safety glasses.

Work Schedules

Most ironworkers work full time. They may have to travel to jobsites.

Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work when conditions are wet, icy, or extremely windy. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by precipitation.

How to Become an Ironworker About this section

Structural iron and steel workers
Many ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship.

Most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.

Education

A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required to enter an apprenticeship. Workers learning through on-the-job training may not need a high school diploma or equivalent. Courses in math, as well as training in vocational subjects such as blueprint reading and welding, are useful.

Training

Many ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. Sponsors of apprenticeship programs, nearly all of which teach both reinforcing and structural ironworking, include unions and contractor associations. 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. Ironworkers who complete an apprenticeship program are considered journey-level workers and may perform tasks without direct supervision.

Other ironworkers receive on-the-job training that varies in length and is provided by their employer.

On the job, apprentices and trainees learn to use the tools and equipment of the trade; handle, measure, cut, and lay rebar; and construct metal frameworks. They also learn about topics such as blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certifications in welding, rigging, and crane signaling may make ironworkers more attractive to prospective employers. Several organizations provide certifications for different aspects of the work. 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.

Advancement

After gaining experience, ironworkers may advance to become a supervisor or a manager, a position in which they have more responsibilities and are tasked with directing other ironworkers. 

Important Qualities

Ability to work at heights. Ironworkers must not be afraid to work at great heights. For example, workers connecting girders during skyscraper construction may have to walk on narrow beams that are 50 stories or higher.

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

Critical thinking. Ironworkers need to identify problems, monitor and assess potential risks, and evaluate the best courses of action. They must use logic and reasoning when finding alternatives so that they safely accomplish their tasks

Depth perception. Ironworkers often signal crane operators who move beams and bundles of rebar, so they must be able to judge the distance between objects.

Hand-eye coordination. Ironworkers must be able to tie rebar together quickly and precisely.

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.

Pay About this section

Ironworkers

Median annual wages, May 2020

Structural iron and steel workers

$54,830

Ironworkers

$53,210

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

$49,390

Construction trades workers

$47,480

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers was $49,390 in May 2020. 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 $32,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $88,380.

The median annual wage for structural iron and steel workers was $54,830 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,140.

In May 2020, 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 $56,830
Nonresidential building construction 52,340
Other specialty trade contractors 51,020
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 48,860

In May 2020, 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 $62,830
Building equipment contractors 61,700
Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors 56,650
Nonresidential building construction 51,860
Manufacturing 46,890

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

Most ironworkers work full time. Structural ironworkers who work at great heights do not work when conditions are wet, icy, or extremely windy. Reinforcing ironworkers may be limited by precipitation.

Job Outlook About this section

Ironworkers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

5%

Ironworkers

5%

Structural iron and steel workers

5%

Total, all occupations

4%

Construction trades workers

3%

 

Overall employment of ironworkers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, 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

About 10,600 openings for ironworkers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Jobseekers 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, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Ironworkers

95,900 100,400 5 4,500

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers

47-2171 18,800 19,800 5 900 Get data

Structural iron and steel workers

47-2221 77,000 80,600 5 3,600 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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. Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

For ironworker and apprenticeship information, visit

International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers

For more information about ironworkers, visit

Associated Builders and Contractors

Associated General Contractors of America

National Center for Construction Education and Research

For more information about certification, visit

National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators

American Welding Society

O*NET

Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers

Structural Iron and Steel Workers

Video