How to Become a Structural Iron and Steel Worker

As buildings become skyscrapers, wood becomes steel. We have all seen the site of such a monumental construction project, whether it be through the media or in person. Brave men, unafraid of both heights and extremely hot welding torches at once, fasten together the skeleton for any behemoth of commerce and industry.

It is these individuals that create the headquarters of the many corporations whose operations increasingly ripple throughout the entire world economy. Without these individuals, there would be no home base for such corporations. Without these individuals, there would be no skyline.

$44,540
High School or GED
None
Apprenticeship
59,800
22%
13,100
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Structural iron and steel workers are responsible for the installation of iron and steel beams, columns, and girders to create the metallic skeleton of buildings. Typically commercial or industrial in nature because residential construction still prefers the homely feel of wood or brick, the product of these individuals, also known as ironworkers (a misnomer because most construction is steel to avoid rust) or erectors, fuels the appetites of many of the economy’s big players.

The process of erecting such structures involves the use of tools such as welding torches and metal shears, as well as excellent communication with crane operators to get the prefabricated steel beams into the proper place without endangering anyone.

Easily one of the most dangerous jobs in construction, it is not uncommon to see erectors stationed dozens, if not hundreds, of feet up in the air atop an already-constructed portion of the building-to-be. Physical aptitude, mechanical aptitude, and a cool head are all needed in equal measure to be a successful ironworker.

Education

Given the physical nature of the work of the structural iron and steel worker does not really require much book learning, but rather a calm head, diligence, and common sense, there are no post college degree secondary education requirements for obtaining a job as an erector; however a high school diploma or GED is required.

Still, the highly dangerous nature of the work makes it so the system simply can’t let anyone go atop a partially-fabricated building and start ordering crane operators around. People would likely start falling rather quickly. To that end, three and four year apprenticeship programs are offered by various institutions to teach the basic skills necessary to be successful up on the steel girding, including the proper handling of tools and communication between the various human resources on the ground.

Those ironworkers looking to become welders typically seek certification through the American Welding Society. Though not a strict requirement to begin work as an erector, such additional functionality enhances both the usefulness and the wages of the employee.

Advancement

Given the structural iron and steel worker is a construction job, the career is all about the execution of learned skills. To this end, the ironworker advances by becoming certified in welding, girding, and other skills that are gated by certification. By doing so and by gaining years of valuable experience on the job, that particular employee will find himself moving up from the median annual wage of $44,540 to the top of the range, an average of $80,030 annually for the top 10%.

This massive income disparity between the median and the top shows that application to gain more credentials is actively rewarded, as these credentials truly make the erector much more useful to a construction company.

Job Outlook

Anything that has to do with construction is expected to boom in the next decade. While the average industry is expecting to post 14% gains in the absolute number of employees by 2020, erectors are expected to grow anywhere from 22 to 23% in size from 2010 to 2020. This massive rate of growth nearly guarantees good work for those willing to apply themselves, as well as highly competitive pay for the foreseeable future.

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