What do Steelworkers do?

B. Turner

Steelworkers are a type of construction worker who are responsible for fabricating and erecting steel building components. They use steel and iron beams, girders and trusses to form the skeleton of a building or bridge structure, and may also install metal components to reinforce concrete or masonry components. Depending on the type of work they perform, steelworkers may also be known as ironworkers or metalworkers. A steelworker may work outdoors on construction sites, or indoors in a metal fabrication plant.

Steelworkers assemble the skeleton of a bridge structure.
Steelworkers assemble the skeleton of a bridge structure.

Before steel is erected, it must first be cut to size and pre-drilled for installation. These tasks are performed indoors in a steel plant or welding shop. The steel is then delivered to a construction site, where steelworkers use cranes and derricks to move and place the steel. Once it is placed in the correct position, it is bolted or welded in place by a steel worker who has been trained in this area. Because they often work many stories in the air, installers typically wear safety harnesses and other gear designed to minimize the risk of falls.

A steelworker might operate a crane to move pieces of metal into place.
A steelworker might operate a crane to move pieces of metal into place.

Those looking to pursue a career as a steelworker should be comfortable working around heavy equipment, which can be loud, dirty and dangerous. Steelworkers must be comfortable working at great heights, and also under all types of weather conditions. Like any construction worker, the steelworker must take proper safety precautions at all times to avoid injury. To minimize risks, steelworkers often don't work on site during rain or snow, as precipitation can make the steel too slippery.

Formal education in construction, engineering or math can help individuals seeking to become steelworkers.
Formal education in construction, engineering or math can help individuals seeking to become steelworkers.

Most steelworkers work their way up in the industry through an apprenticeship program. Many of these programs are run by local labor unions, which are widespread in the steel industry. To be accepted into an apprenticeship program, applicants generally require a high school diploma. The apprentice will work for three to four years at a reduced rate of pay, and will often attend classes to learn about the industry. Once he has built his skills to a sufficient level, the apprentice becomes a journeyman and pay rates will usually increase.

Steelworkers at a metal fabrication plant should be skilled in cutting and welding with an oxyacetylene torch.
Steelworkers at a metal fabrication plant should be skilled in cutting and welding with an oxyacetylene torch.

Future steelworkers can prepare for a career in the industry by learning to read blueprints, or by taking classes on construction materials and methods. It is also helpful to understand the various types of tools and equipment used in steel work, and to be able to safely used these tools. Any education in construction, engineering, or math can also help those looking to become steelworkers.

Steelworkers are often employed in building construction.
Steelworkers are often employed in building construction.
Steelworkers must take proper safety precautions.
Steelworkers must take proper safety precautions.

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Discussion Comments


I have a question: Could one get into steelworkers/ironworkers just to weld? That's what I would like to do is weld all day.


Steelworkers work in mills that produce steel, pipe, cold rolled steel coils, etc. Normally, extreme heat is present, such as blast furnaces melt shops and so on. Working with molten steel up to 3000 degrees or steel heated for shaping close to 1800 degrees. Ironworkers are the men who build skyscrapers.


@titans62 - I think you may be overstating the importance of joining a steel workers union in order to rise in the profession.

Of course, it does help to join the local union, for a variety of reason, but just because someone is high up in the local union does not mean that they will get a better job in the steel industry.

Most of the steel unions that I know of have one of their own as the head of their local union, thus another steel mill worker. I doubt someone looking to do something else in the industry would want to be the union head of a low level job in the industry, hoping that it will transfer them somewhere else.

I believe that it all depends, like in any other job, how far you go in the industry and what you are qualified and trained for. There are appropriate channels to go to for this, the unions are one of them and definitely something to consider in the steel industry, but it is definitely something that is more of who is better qualified than anything as opposed to political reasons.


@jcraig - Well to answer your question it does depend on whether or not you are qualified for certain positions and how much training you have, but it also could depend on other things concerning the various steel unions.

For anyone wanting to get a foothold in the steel industry the must join the local union. The steel workers are a very united group of people and it is nearly essential for a steel worker to join the local union in order to establish themself in the industry.

There are various steel workers unions across America and they can prove to be a very powerful group. By becoming a member and gaining ground in the union it is almost for sure that one will be able to rise in the steel industry and be able to get noticed more.


@Izzy78 - Well that more or less depends on what part of the job the steel worker works in. Some are relegated to the factories and consist of the people you are thinking of. Most of these people are what steel workers are, but there are others that have more duties than the factory steel worker.

As the article said there are some that deal with reading blue prints and maybe even the actual construction of the buildings. There are also some that work administrative jobs as well as those that do clerical work, just like in any other major form of business.

The question I do have though is how does someone get into the steel industry and be sure that they are not going to work in the steel mills their entire life? Is it an industry where it is very possible to move up or does it depend on how trained you are for jobs in the industry?


I have always been under the assumption that steel workers were the people that work in the steel mills and create the steel that is used.

I do not know why I assume this, because there has to be other aspects of the steel worker profession that just does not relegate them to the factories, but has many different jobs or duties.

I guess it could be because of the perception that Pennsylvania has and the steel workers that work in the factories there and how they create the image of the steel worker.

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