Structural iron and steel workers are responsible for manufacturing, modifying and raising and joining of construction grade iron and steel structural components that go into the construction of buildings, bridges, roads, and other large scale projects. By using steel manufacturing processes, hand and power tools, heavy equipment, hoists, cables, and cranes, structural iron and steel workers make steel and iron structures come together into functional items used by the general public. They may work on the ground or above on any level of a building project, connecting steel and iron components with heavy duty rivets according to blueprints and other plans, and may have to modify these parts by using welding and cutting equipment.
- Most structural steel and iron workers work outside in the elements or in large foundries and manufacturing environments.
- Workers must be very physically fit and not be afraid of working in harnesses and on high-rise levels of construction.
- Jobs as structural steel and iron workers are plentiful in cities where large scale building and construction projects are on the rise.
- Job opportunities are favorable for those who are willing to do this work, as it is very physically risky.
- Structural steel and iron workers can expect to find more jobs as the work force ages, forcing many to retire.
Work Environment for Structural Steel and Iron Workers
Many structural steel and iron workers work in large iron or steel foundries, manufacturing plants, or in the field on construction work sites. That means they are exposed to the elements such as heat, cold and extreme weather conditions to meet project deadlines. Work hours are generally 40 per week in rotating shifts. Steel workers who work inside may work with dangerous metal manufacturing tools such as presses, lathes, cutting devices and welding equipment. They generally wear protective clothing which includes eye protection, steel toe boots and fire retardant garments. Structural steel and iron workers may also work in decorative iron work which involves traditional fire work. In addition, those who work on construction projects work in the outdoors, and may have to work on ground crews and in the air on columns and girders as buildings and structures are assembled.
Education, Training and Licensing
Employers of steel and iron workers generally prefer to hire candidates who have earned a high school diploma or the equivalent of a general education degree (GED). High school students with an interest in this industry should focus on courses in mathematics, reading, drawing, science and business to prepare them for a career in steel and iron work. There are also vocational opportunities to learn skills needed for basic welding and construction trades.
Most structural iron and steel workers earn their skills on the job through formal apprenticeships and welding programs. Certificates in welding and rigging techniques can increase the likelihood of getting hired as a structural steel or iron worker. Entry-level iron workers perform their duties under the close supervision of more experienced structural iron workers during the first three-to-four years of their apprenticeships. This is combined with classroom and industry vendor training, in which case, workers earn certificates of completion and licenses to perform this work independently.
In addition to being required to train for several years as apprentices, steel and iron workers are expected to become members of industry-recognized unions such as the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, Reinforcing Iron Workers Union (IABSORIW) or local chapters of iron contractor associations. Workers start out as journeymen, and then advance to certification by completing a certain number of man hours on the job and being tested on their skills by an industry association.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
Structural steel and iron workers held 65,130 jobs in the U.S., according to the most recent research published in May 2009 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
BLS expects employment in this field to grow 2.5% from 2008 to 2018, which is slower than the average for all occupations. This slow growth is a direct result of the slowdown of many government sponsored building and construction projects worldwide during the most recent economic downturn. However, as the economy recovers, these building processes will increase and jobs will return at an ever-increasing rate. In addition, those who are not afraid of the physical risks associated with this work will have an advantage when positions open up.
The BLS reports indicate that the average annual wage for structural steel and iron workers was $48,470 as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned approximately $44,500. While the lowest 10% of iron workers earned an annual income at or below $26,550, the top 10% earned upwards of $78,630 per year.