Structural iron and steel workers, or ironworkers as they are most often called, are an important and integral part of the nation's workforce. They create the structural skeleton of buildings, bridges, highways and many other structures. They work at great heights or even underground, fabricating the framework of a structure. Their ingenuity and hard work enable the public to drive from place to place comfortably and safely and to work and live in structures made to withstand the elements and time. Without them, skyscrapers would be impossible. Through knowledge, understanding and cooperative work, they often endure adverse conditions to create structures that are essential for modern everyday life, and they typically share similar qualities.
Obtain Necessary Training
Most ironworkers acquire their skills through apprenticeships lasting between three and four years. An apprentice learns the trade through classroom instruction and on-the-job training. Apprenticeship programs are available through private employers, labor unions and contractor associations. Qualifications may include a minimum age of 18, a high school diploma or GED and the physical capacity to perform the needed tasks.
Possess Certain Physical Abilities
Ironworkers need to be in good physical condition with the capability to work in all types of weather conditions, including hot and cold temperatures. They must have upper-body as well as lower-body strength and the stamina to perform tasks involving considerable use of arms and legs. Finger dexterity as well as good vision and hearing are important attributes for an ironworker. They must be comfortable with working at great heights and have excellent coordination and balance.
Have Necessary Personal Traits
An ironworker must have acute attention to detail and be willing and able to apply their skill to all tasks with deliberate focus. They must be able to listen to and cooperate with others, even in the most difficult of situations. Logical thinking is needed to process and apply to work issues or problems. The ironworker must be ethical, dependable and responsible. An ironworker must be aware of all safety procedures and apply these to the everyday work situation.
Job Outlook and Wages
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of ironworkers to exceed the average for all occupations through 2020, with a 22 percent gain for ironworkers and a 14 percent gain for the nation. The growing number of older highways and bridges and the need to maintain or replace them will add employment opportunities. Ironworkers who are also certified welders and riggers will be particularly in demand to fill new and existing positions. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage in May 2012 was $50,740. States with the highest employment for ironworkers include Texas, California, New York and Florida, with 8,130, 4,290, 4,080 and 2,580, respectively. New York also offered the highest average salary, $78,830, when the BLS analyzed salaries on a state level. New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii followed, with respective annual salaries of $73,610, $72,650 and $66,350.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Structural Iron and Steel Worker
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Structural Iron and Steel Workers Do
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Structural Iron and Steel Workers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 -- Structural Iron and Steel Workers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Structural Iron and Steel Workers -- Job Outlook
- George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images