Job Duties

Ironworkers install girders made of iron and steel, as well as iron columns and other materials. They assist in the construction of bridges, buildings, and other structures. Ironworkers work during the earliest phases of construction projects. They build frames made of steel. They build steel cranes that will move all different materials and equipment. around the construction site. They then work from blueprints to connect steel columns, beams, and girders under the guidance of their supervisors and foremen. The materials such as structural rods, reinforcing rods, and ornamental iron are usually precut and are ready for use when they arrive at the site.

Ironworkers unload steel bars as they are delivered to the construction site. They prepare the steel to be easily lifted by crane to other areas of the site. They attach slings made of cable to the bundles of steel that are then attached to the crane’s hoisting mechanism. They direct the crane with hand signals and hold tag lines to steady the loads. When the steel has been hoisted into place by the crane, ironworkers position and connect the steel using driftpins and spud wrenches. They check the alignment of the steel bars and then bolt them into place.

Job Skills

Ironworking is an intensely physical occupation and those considering entering it should have a strong physical constitution. They often work at great heights which requires them to have good eyesight, balance, depth perception, and agility. They also should not suffer from dizziness or have a fear of heights.


In 2002, ironworkers earned a median hourly wage of $19.55. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $10.81, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $31.81. Median hourly wages in foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors were $21.35.

Training and Education

Most ironworkers gain their skills through 3- or 4-year apprenticeship programs. These programs are comprehensive and include classroom training as well as on-the-job training. The programs are run by a mixture of local union representatives and local chapters of contractors’ associations. In order to qualify for apprenticeships, workers must be at least 18 years old and a high school diploma is usually required. Those who have completed high school courses in mathematics, mechanical drawing, and shop are typically given priority. Classroom training covers blueprint reading; mathematics relating to layout; structural engineering; ornamental erection; and assembly.

Apprentices learn how to safely handle tools, unload and store materials, rig materials to be moved by crane, and weld. A few learn their skills informally on the job and do not receive classroom training. They learn by assisting other experienced workers and gradually take on more responsibility. With experience, workers can be promoted to supervisory positions or open their own business. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.


In 2002, ironworkers held about 107,000 jobs. 4 out of 5 worked in the construction industry.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of ironworkers is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Industrial and commercial construction will experience continued growth, which in turn will create demand for these workers. Job prospects may fluctuate on a yearly basis because the industry is very sensitive to changes in the overall economy. During times of economic downturn, the occupation may experience high rates of unemployment. Job openings are usually best in spring and summer.