Education and Training: Apprenticeship
Salary: Median—$16.90 an hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Reinforcing ironworkers assemble and install the steel bars, known as rebar, that are used to support the concrete in large structures like buildings and bridges. They place the rebar inside forms that will be filled with concrete, tying the bars together with wire according to the building's blueprint. They also lay steel mesh, spreading it over a surface to be covered with concrete. The concrete crew then pours the concrete into the form. While the concrete is still wet, the rebar workers move the bars and the mesh into position with long, hooked poles. Positioning of the steel is very important because the concrete must be evenly supported. Although their materials arrive at the construction site precut, the iron-workers sometimes have to cut, bend, hammer, or weld it to the correct size.
In some construction, the ironworkers use cables for reinforcement. When the concrete is poured, the ends of the cables are left exposed. Before the concrete is completely set, ironworkers tighten the cables using special equipment. This technique, known as post-tensioning, allows architects to design buildings with larger open areas, because vertical supports can be placed farther apart.
Education and Training Requirements
The best way to learn the trade is through an apprenticeship program. Applicants for apprenticeship positions should be at least eighteen years old and be high school graduates. The program consists of three or four years of on-the-job training with at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. On the job, experienced workers teach the apprentices how to assemble, install, and repair metal structures, using techniques including welding and riveting. In the classroom, apprentices are taught drafting, mathematics, blueprint reading, and other technical skills. Many reinforcing ironworkers who do not go through an apprenticeship program learn their trade by working as helpers.
Getting the Job
Prospective rebar workers should contact a local contractor or union. Either source will have information about apprenticeship programs. Another good way to learn the basics is to get a job as a laborer assisting ironworkers. Laborers often advance to helpers' positions.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Reinforcing ironworkers are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced workers can become supervisors. A few start their own businesses.
Employment for reinforcing ironworkers is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014. While the number of jobs in the construction industry varies with the general economy, the need to rehabilitate and replace older buildings, highways, and bridges will sustain the employment of ironworkers. Much of the growth in jobs will be in areas of increasing population, such as the Sunbelt states. Job openings will also result from the retirement of experienced ironworkers.
Reinforcing ironworkers generally work forty hours per week and earn extra wages for overtime work. Because most of their work takes place outdoors, bad weather can cause lost work time. Therefore, a high hourly wage does not always mean a high annual income. Above average strength is required to handle heavy and bulky materials. Ironwork is more hazardous than other building trades; however, the use of safety nets, scaffolding, and helmets reduces the risk of injury.
Reinforcing ironworkers must sometimes travel long distances for jobs. Because the local demand for workers is not always large enough to keep crews employed continuously, some contractors keep crews working by moving them to different parts of the country. Many workers belong to labor unions.
Earnings and Benefits
Wages for reinforcing ironworkers vary according to the worker's experience, the particular job, and the region of the country. In 2004 the median wage for these trade workers in all industries was $16.90 per hour. The lowest ten percent were paid less than $10.03. The highest ten percent made more than $32.59. Full-time rebar workers who belonged to a union earned slightly more than nonunion workers. About four out of five ironworkers are employed in the construction industry, with nearly half working for foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors. The highest wages were paid in metropolitan areas.
Where to Go for More Information
Associated General Contractors of America
2300 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 400
Arlington, VA 22201
United Steelworkers of America
Five Gateway Center
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Union workers generally receive paid holidays, life insurance, and hospitalization and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year.