Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers position and install iron and metal components needed to build structures such as bridges, office buildings, towers, etc. They may also be involved in repairing and renovating older buildings and structures. Working on roofs, scaffolds, girders, and other high structures puts these workers at an increased risk for falls.
Workers perform a wide variety of tasks. When prefabricated steel arrives at a construction site, it must be unloaded and stacked for use when it is needed. Before work can begin, workers erect steel frames and assemble the cranes and derricks that move structural steel, reinforcing bars, buckets of concrete, lumber, and other materials and equipment around the construction site. When everything is ready, metal workers attach cables from the crane to the steel and then lift steel columns, beams, and girders into position. They then fasten them together by following the plan outlined on the blueprints. Ironworkers must check vertical and horizontal alignment before bolting or welding components into place.
Reinforcing iron and rebar workers, sometimes referred to as rod busters, specialize in positioning iron or steel bars called rebars into forms that hold concrete. These rebars are used to reinforce cement structures. Blueprints indicate the number, type, size, and placement of the rebars.
Ornamental ironworkers specialize in making finishing details such as handrails, curtain walls, metal stairways, and elevator doors. They are responsible for positioning the products and securing them in place.
While some workers learn informally on the job, most employers recommend a three to four year apprentice program administered by committees made up of local union representatives of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers or local chapters of contractors’ associations. All workers must be in good physical condition and have good agility, balance, eyesight, and depth perception. They must not be afraid of heights. In order to be accepted into an apprenticeship program, applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, and be legally authorized to work in the United States. Most apprenticeship programs consist of on-the-job training and at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. Classroom course work covers subjects such as blueprint reading, mathematics, basics of structural erecting, rigging, reinforcing, welding, assembling, and safety.
Hourly salaries vary depending upon experience and specialty, but tend to be highest for those who belong to a union and work full time. The median hourly wage for structural iron and steel workers is $20.68. The middle 50 percent earn between $15.18 and $29.15 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $12.25 per hour and the highest 10 percent earn more than $37.04 an hour.
The median hourly wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers is $19.18. The middle 50 percent earn between $14.35 and $27.29 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $11.78 per hour and the highest 10 percent earn more than $35.26 an hour.
The median hourly wage for structural iron and steel workers specializing in foundations and structures or working as building exterior contractors is $21.51. For those employed in nonresidential building construction, the median hourly wage is $18.53. The median hourly wage for reinforcing iron and rebar workers specializing in foundations and structures or working as building exterior contractors is $19.37.
The job opportunities for ironworkers may vary widely by geographic area, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook expects average employment growth of about 12 percent over the next 10 years. While all jobs in the construction industry are sensitive to economic fluctuations, increased spending by the federal government on local infrastructure projects such as improvements to roads, bridges, railroads, electric transmission systems, and water and sewer systems will generate numerous jobs, as will the rehabilitation, maintenance, and replacement of a growing number of older buildings and power plants.