Although most structural iron and steel workers learn through a formal apprenticeship, some learn informally on the job. Certifications in welding and rigging can be useful.
Most ironworkers learn their trade through a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of related technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Nearly all apprenticeship programs teach both reinforcing and structural ironworking. On the job, apprentices learn to use the tools and equipment of the trade; handle, measure, cut, and lay rebar; and construct metal frameworks. In technical training, they are taught techniques for reinforcing and installing metals, as well as basic mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.
After completing an apprenticeship program, they are considered journey workers who do tasks with less guidance.
A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:
Many ironworkers become welders certified by the American Welding Society. Certifications in welding and rigging may increase a worker’s usefulness on the jobsite.
A high school diploma is generally required. High school courses in math, shop, blueprint reading, and welding are useful.
Balance. Because workers often walk on narrow beams, a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling while doing their job. They also need excellent eyesight and depth perception to work safely at great heights.
Physical strength. Ironworkers must be strong enough to guide heavy beams into place and tighten bolts.
Stamina. Ironworkers must have endurance because they spend many hours on their feet while connecting heavy and often cumbersome beams.
Unafraid of heights. Some ironworkers must not be afraid to work at great heights. For example, as they erect skyscrapers, workers must walk on narrow beams at great heights while connecting beams and girders.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition