Becoming a Steelworker: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a steelworker career? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a steelworker is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Steelworker Career

The job of steelworker, also known as an ironworker or erector, has many pros and cons. Continue reading to more learn about the career of a steelworker.

Pros of a Steelworker Career
Strong career prospects (job growth projected at 22% between 2012 and 2022)*
Paid on-the-job training*
Good job benefits (health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave)**
Opportunity to perform work that makes a large impact on the landscape (building skyscrapers, bridges and other large structures)***

Cons of a Steelworker Career
Possibility of a fall from high elevations*
Risk of injury due to cuts and burns**
Risk of muscle strains*
Exposure to inclement weather conditions**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **iseek.org, ***International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Steelworkers unload steel and iron columns, girders, beams and other structures and then raise them into place using cranes. In this occupation, you'll attach these structural elements by using bolts or welding equipment. Since steelworkers stand on girders atop bridges, buildings and other structures, the work is often performed at high elevations. It is a dangerous occupation. Falls, cuts from sharp edges and strains from heavy lifting are some of the hazards you'll be exposed to on a construction site. Since falls are a common hazard, you'll often use nets, safety harnesses and scaffolds. You may also wear personal protective equipment, including hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, hearing protection and safety shoes.

Many steelworkers are employed by foundation, structure or building contractors, though you could also find work in the civil engineering construction industry. Some steelworkers work inside metal fabrication shops rather than on construction sites. Their job is to cut and shape the metal into the forms that will be used at the construction sites.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), steelworkers earned a mean annual wage of more than $53,000 as of 2014. The highest-paying industry for these workers was local government, which offered about $74,000 per year. Prospects are good for this career, since job growth in the field is projected to increase by 22% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. Growth will be spurred by the need to repair and maintain deteriorating highways and bridges as well as the demand for new commercial and industrial buildings.

What Are the Requirements?

The majority of steelworkers get their career training through apprenticeship programs offered by unions and contractor associations. Most apprenticeships last three or four years. As an apprentice, you'll receive on-the-job training with pay in addition to classroom training. To qualify for an apprenticeship, you must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or GED. You must also be physically capable of performing the job, which requires strength and stamina. Other skills and abilities you may need for success in this occupation include:

  • Good vision for reading blueprints
  • Arm and hand steadiness
  • Ability to operate mechanized equipment
  • Manual dexterity
  • Ability to solve complex problems
  • Depth perception
  • Physical coordination
  • Good sense of balance

Job Postings by Real Employers

Job postings for steelworkers typically list the experience required and the job duties the candidates can expect. Employers tend to emphasize the types of tools steelworkers need to be familiar with as well as the need for skills specific to the industry in which they'll work. Following is a sample of real job postings that were available in May 2012:

  • A Wisconsin shipbuilding company seeks steelworkers to weld parts and assemblies. Other duties include installation, inspection, testing and repair of equipment. A high school diploma, three years of experience and the ability to read blueprints are required. Candidates must be available to work any shift and in inclement weather.
  • A civil engineering firm in West Virginia wants to hire structural ironworkers for a bridge project. Experience is required, and this is a full-time position.
  • A company in New Jersey is looking for a structural steelworker with experience in lifting, welding, power tools and fabrication to position and attach structural elements.

How to Gain an Edge in the Field

Taking high school classes in blueprint reading, math, shop and welding will give you a head start in learning some of the skills necessary for a career as a steelworker. Obtaining an internship is also a good way to gain entry into a steelworker career. The American Welding Society (AWS) lists companies that offer internships, when available. These companies often recruit interns for permanent, full-time positions. Obtaining welding certification is another way to enhance your skills and make yourself more valuable to an employer. The AWS offers several certification programs for steelworkers at different levels of welding expertise.

Other Careers to Consider

Boilermaker

If you like the idea of working with metal but prefer a job that doesn't often involve working at great heights, you might be interested in a boilermaker career. Boilermakers assemble and install large vats by following instructions on blueprints. These vats are used to store gases and liquids. You'll also repair and clean pipes, boilers, vats and valves as well as inspecting and testing these large vessels and their components.

Like steelworkers, a boilermaker's entry into the occupation is usually through an apprenticeship program; however, boilermakers have higher earning potential. According to the BLS, boilermakers earned a mean annual wage of about $57,000 as of 2011. Career prospects are also good, with job growth projected to increase by 21% between 2010 and 2020.

Cement Mason

Another growing career option in the construction industry is cement masonry. Cement masons pour concrete to make roads, sidewalks, curbs and concrete floors. First they set the forms so the concrete will dry in the desired shape, then they pour the concrete into the forms. After the concrete is poured, cement masons smooth the surface and round the edges. You'll learn the skills for this career on the job, but you could also complete an apprenticeship program in cement masonry.

According to the BLS, cement masons earned a mean annual wage of $39,000 as of 2011, considerably less than steelworkers and boilermakers; however, their career prospects are much brighter, with the number of jobs projected to increase by 34% between 2010 and 2020.

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