Although most ironworkers learn through an apprenticeship, some learn on the job. Certifications in welding, rigging, and signaling can be helpful for new entrants.
A high school diploma or equivalent is generally required. Courses in math, as well as training in vocational subjects such as blueprint reading and welding, can be particularly 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 mathematics, blueprint reading and sketching, general construction techniques, safety practices, and first aid.
A few groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Some programs have preferred entry for veterans. The basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program are as follows:
Minimum age of 18
High school diploma or equivalent
Physical ability to perform the work
Pass substance abuse screening
After completing an apprenticeship program, they are considered to be journeymen who perform tasks without direct supervision.
Balance. Ironworkers often walk on narrow beams, so a good sense of balance is important to keep them from falling while doing their job.
Depth perception. Ironworkers must be able to judge the distance between objects and themselves in order to work safely. Ironworkers often signal crane operators who move beams and bundles of rebar.
Hand-eye coordination. Ironworkers must be able to tie rebar together quickly and precisely. An experienced worker can tie rebar together in seconds and move on to the next spot; a beginner may take much longer.
Physical stamina. Ironworkers must have physical endurance because they spend many hours performing physically demanding tasks, such as moving rebar, each day.
Physical strength. Ironworkers must be strong enough to guide heavy beams into place and tighten bolts.
Unafraid of heights. Ironworkers must not be afraid to work at great heights. For example, as they erect skyscrapers, workers must walk on narrow beams—sometimes over 50 stories high—while connecting girders.