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Structural and Reinforcing Iron and Metal Workers - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Ironworkers who complete apprenticeships are certified at the journey level, which often make them more competitive candidates for jobs and promotions. Those who meet education and experience requirements can become welders certified by the American Welding Society. Apprenticeship programs often provide trainees the opportunity to become welder-certified as part of their coursework because welding skills are useful for many ironworker tasks.

Some experienced workers are promoted to supervisor. Others may go into the contracting business for themselves. The ability to communicate in both English and Spanish will improve opportunities for advancement.

Employment
Ironworkers held about 97,800 jobs in 2008; structural iron and steel workers held about 70,200 jobs, and reinforcing iron and rebar workers held about 27,700 jobs. About 88 percent worked in construction, with 51 percent working for foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors. Most of the remaining ironworkers worked for contractors specializing in the construction of various structures, such as bridges, buildings, and factories.

Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers are employed in all parts of the country, but most work in metropolitan areas, where the bulk of commercial and industrial construction takes place.

Job Outlook
Average job growth is projected. In most areas of the country, job opportunities should be favorable.

Job Growth
Employment of structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers is expected to grow 12 percent between 2008 and 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The rehabilitation, maintenance, and replacement of a growing number of older buildings, powerplants, highways, and bridges also are expected to create employment opportunities. State and Federal legislatures will likely continue to call for road construction and related infrastructure projects, which will secure jobs for the near future. However, a lack of qualified applicants challenges the education and retraining needs of the industry to meet the demands of employment growth.

In addition to new jobs from employment growth, many job openings will result from the need to replace experienced ironworkers who leave the occupation or retire. In most areas, job opportunities should be favorable, although the number of job openings can fluctuate from year to year with economic conditions and the level of construction activity.

Employment of structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. Workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity. Similarly, job opportunities for ironworkers may vary widely by geographic area. Population growth in the South and West should create more job opportunities than elsewhere as bridges, buildings, and roads are constructed. Job openings for ironworkers usually are more abundant during the spring and summer months, when the level of construction activity increases. Workers who are willing to relocate are often able to find work in another area.

Earnings
In May 2008, median hourly wages of structural iron and steel workers were $20.68. The middle 50 percent earned between $15.18 and $29.15. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12.25, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $37.04.

In May 2008, median hourly wages of reinforcing iron and rebar workers were $19.18. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.35 and $27.29. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.78, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $35.26.

In May 2008, median hourly wages of structural iron and steel workers in foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors were $21.51 and in nonresidential building construction, $18.53. Reinforcing iron and rebar workers earned median hourly wages of $19.37 in foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors.

About 40 percent of the workers in this trade are union members. According to International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, average hourly compensation, including benefits, for structural and reinforcing metal workers who belonged to a union and worked full time were higher than the hourly earnings of nonunion workers. Structural and reinforcing iron and metal workers in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other large cities received the highest wages.

Apprentices generally start at about 60 percent of the rate paid to experienced journey level workers. Throughout the course of the apprenticeship program, as they acquire skills they receive periodic increases until their pay approaches that of experienced workers.

Earnings for ironworkers may be reduced on occasion because work can be limited by bad weather and economic downturns.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Ironworker
The Ironworker Program teaches a student how to build, assemble and repair products or structures, primarily working with steel and other metals. The Ironworker program also teaches students to become familiar with the properties of steel and other types of metal and be able to modify this metal by using ...more
Reinforcing Steel Installer
The Reinforcing Steel Installer Program is designed to teach a student how to place and secure rebar in formwork. A student will learn how to work on foundations, walls, slabs, and may prefabricate columns and zones. The Reinforcing Steel Installer Program can usually be completed within 18 months. ...more
Residential Construction Framing Technician
The Residential Construction Framing Technician Program is designed to teach a student how to construct the frame or supporting structure of single and multi-family buildings. He/She will also be expected to know how to enclose the building, and install the windows and doors to the "lock-up" stage. ...more