Ironworkers - What They Do

Ironworkers fabricate, erect, hoist, install, repair and service structural ironwork, precast concrete, concrete reinforcing materials, curtain walls, ornamental iron and other metals used in the construction of buildings, bridges, highways, dams and other structures and equipment. They are employed by construction ironwork contractors.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Read blueprints and specifications to lay out work
  • Unload and position steel units so each piece can be hoisted as needed
  • Erect and install scaffolding, hoisting equipment and rigging
  • Signal crane operator to position steel units according to blueprints
  • Align and weld or bolt steel units in place
  • Erect structural and architectural precast concrete components for buildings, bridges, towers and other structures
  • Assemble and erect prefabricated metal structures
  • Position and secure steel bars or metal mesh in concrete forms to reinforce concrete structures
  • Install ornamental and other structural metalwork such as curtain walls, metal stairways, railings and power doors
  • Examine structures and equipment for deterioration, defects or non-compliance with specifications
  • May dismantle structures and equipment.

Job titles

  • ironworker apprentice
  • reinforcing ironworker
  • ornamental ironworker
  • structural steel erector
  • ironworker
  • ironworker - metal building systems erector
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a two- to three-year apprenticeship program or Over three years of work experience in the trade and some high school, college or industry courses in ironworking are usually required to be eligible for trade certification.
  • Trade certification for ironworker (generalist) is compulsory in Alberta and available, but voluntary, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.
  • Trade certification for ironworker (reinforcing) is compulsory in Quebec and Alberta and available, but voluntary, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
  • Trade certification for ironworker (structural/ornamental) is compulsory in Alberta and available, but voluntary, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
  • Trade certification for ironworker (metal building systems erector) is compulsory in Alberta.
  • Red Seal endorsement is also available to qualified ironworkers upon successful completion of the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

Essential Skills


  • Read brief memos and notes. For example, they read cutting and placement instructions on drawings. They read instructions for travel to job sites and descriptions of equipment, tools and supplies to take with them. They read notes on jobsite bulletins boards to learn about upcoming meetings and health and safety issues such as the location of hazardous areas. (1)
  • Read comments in job safety inspection reports to learn about jobsite hazards and avoid unsafe conditions. (2)
  • Read bulletins from their employers and unions. For example, they scan bulletins to understand and apply new procedures for fall protection, accident reporting and scaffolding installation. (2)
  • Read their organizations' health and safety policies to be familiar with safety standards and job task procedures. (3)
  • Read collective agreements to learn about topics such as grievance procedures, pay rates, travel reimbursements and hours of work. (3)
  • Read trade publications and union newsletters to learn about training opportunities and new products. For example, they may read articles about new tie off techniques and recent accidents in magazines such as Trade Talks and The Ironworker. They read about training courses and the benefits of training in union newsletters. (3)

Document use

  • Locate data on signs and labels. For example, they locate material codes and placement coordinates from stamps on steel structures. They scan safety signs for hazard icons. They observe warning signs for overhead wires, crane operations, high voltages and through traffic. (1)
  • Locate material, hazard and safety information in Material Safety Data Sheets to understand hazardous products located in work areas. (2)
  • Locate data in tables and lists. For example, they locate beam weights and sling and bolt sizes in specification tables. They locate bolt and beam codes in material lists. They locate details about supplies and tools needed for particular jobs in job lists. (2)
  • May complete forms and checklists. For example, they enter names, hours, and job codes into daily timesheets. They enter job site locations, measurement data and outstanding defects and nonconformities in inspection sheets. They add checkmarks to indicate inspections were performed. They complete accident-incident reporting forms. (2)
  • Review assembly drawings to locate assembly sequences for columns, beams, reinforced structures and decorative steel to verify the order and size when loading onto crane chokers. (3)
  • Locate dimensions and other features on construction drawings. For example, they locate dimensions and angles on drawings. They may examine drawings to understand the construction sequence of steel and steel reinforced structures. (3)


  • Write brief notes and comments. For example, they write notes in their daily logbook to record job instructions provided by their supervisors. They write notes on drawings to describe inconsistencies in measurements to create records for their supervisors. (1)
  • May write descriptions and explanations on forms. For example, they describe safety concerns such as unmarked open areas and frayed cables on connectors in safety inspection forms to create records for their supervisors. They complete incident-accident forms to describe accidents, injuries incurred and required follow-up actions. (2)


Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Take measurements using rulers, tapes, angle finders, sliding squares and combination squares. For example, they measure the lengths, widths and heights and placement angles of columns, beams, curtain walls, trusses and rebar for reinforced concrete. (1)
  • Calculate distances and angles when placing structural steel and rebar. For example, they may calculate the spacing of supports and reinforcing bars. They total lengths and widths to ensure the supports and reinforcing bars are evenly placed. They calculate distances and angles to lay out materials for cutting and fabrication. (3)

Data Analysis Math

  • Compare measurements to specified dimensions to ensure steel columns, beams, wiring and fabricated and reinforced structures are correctly fabricated and installed. (1)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate supply quantities such as bolts, welding rods and extension cords they require to complete installations. They consider the number of structural pieces to install and distances from power and supply sources. (1)
  • Estimate times required to complete tasks such as cutting and installing rebar, and inspecting and welding columns and beams. They consider previous times, the complexity of tasks and the availability of ironworkers. (2)
  • Estimate the weights of materials. For example, they estimate the weight of loads using factors such as weight per foot and length as factors. They use these estimations to determine sling sizes. (2)

Oral communication

  • Participate in toolbox meetings to learn about their assignments, job site safety and special instructions. (2)
  • Chat about work with supervisors, co-workers and other trade workers throughout the day. For example, they discuss work locations, job assignments, required tools, measurement locations and supplies with co-workers and supervisors. They speak with other trade workers to organize access to work space. (2)
  • May give instructions and provide guidance to apprentices and junior ironworkers. They discuss installation sequences and techniques. They outline the selection of tools and supplies for different types of jobs and how and where to tie off on structures and discuss reasons for these choices. (3)
  • Interact with supervisors and co-workers to coordinate work during hazardous activities. For example, they maintain ongoing discussions with crane operators, other erectors and supervisors when connecting, hoisting and installing steel and steel reinforced structures. Their communications are brief but clear to ensure safety and efficiency. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Find that they do not have the necessary tools. They may ask other workers to bring them and complete other work while waiting. They inform supervisors of delays and changes in work locations. (1)
  • Find that they are unable to move materials and equipment to jobsites because of physical obstructions. For example, building erectors may find that steel structures cannot fit through building openings. They speak with their supervisors and other ironworkers to discuss options such as disassembly. (2)
  • Are unable to continue constructions because they encounter discrepancies between dimensions marked in drawings and measurements of existing structures. They inform their supervisors about the errors and receive instructions before continuing their work. (2)
  • Find faults in materials and supplies which prevent them from continuing their work. For example, ironworkers cannot match up drilled boltholes and find that beams and columns have been cut incorrectly. If discrepancies are small they may loosen bolts on other beams and columns to align boltholes and cut materials to fit. For larger errors, they inform their supervisors and seek advice before continuing. Rod workers may find faulty rod installations and damage to existing rebar structures. If possible, they add support braces and continue work. For more extensive faults and damage, they seek supervisors' advice before resuming. (3)

Decision Making

  • Select tools and supplies to take to job sites. They are guided by the nature of the jobs but other factors such as weights and sizes of tools and locations of additional supplies are critical factors. (2)
  • Decide to stop work when they feel work areas are unsafe. They speak with their supervisors about their concerns, discuss options to make areas safe and carry out alternate activities until concerns are resolved. For example, they may choose not to work in areas where loaded cranes are working. (2)
  • Choose methods and tools for fabrication jobs of varying types and sizes. They are guided by safety specifications and experiences with similar situations. Other factors such as crane limitations, working temperatures, dimensions of structures being installed and existing built structures are critical factors in their choices. For example, ironworkers choose to loosen bolts on ground floor columns while tightening cables on others to straighten beams and columns several floors up. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Judge the safety of job sites and equipment throughout their shifts. They inspect work sites and equipment using standard safety criteria. They inspect work areas for proper marking of hazards and the correct placement and set-up of equipment. They visually inspect items such as safety ropes, harnesses and tools for wear. They compare operating readings to specifications. (2)
  • Evaluate the quality of materials such as steel beams, columns, rods, decorative iron, curtain walls and concrete reinforced materials. They compare dimensions to specifications and visually inspect the fit between parts and the overall finish of structures. (2)
  • Assess the efficiency and suitability of installation sequences. They consider the effects installation of materials will have on access for subsequent installations. They speak with their work teams and other trade workers for details about their tasks and activities. They may make recommendations for modifications to installation procedures. (2)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Ironworkers and rod workers receive their daily assignments and priorities from their supervisors. They are responsible for determining what tools, equipment and supplies to bring with them. They are responsible for remaining in contact with supervisors to receive new assignments if interruptions occur. They interact and integrate tasks with other ironworkers and crane operators to hoist, move and install steel beams, columns, steel reinforced building materials and decorative ironwork. (1)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Ironworkers may be responsible for task assignments for apprentice ironworkers. They plan apprentices' tasks to ensure they get experience working on projects suited to their knowledge, skills and capacities.

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember instructions from supervisors and job details such as bolt sizes, weld depths and cut angles.
  • Remember details of successful sequences of operations. For example, they remember the order of tasks for hoisting structural ironwork and steel supplies and bringing steel structures and concrete reinforcing material measurements within specifications.

Finding Information

  • Find information for installations and fabrication jobs by reviewing construction drawings and speaking with their supervisors. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Ironworkers generally work as part of teams. They are responsible for coordinating and integrating their job tasks with those carried out by other ironworkers and crane operators to fabricate, hoist, manoeuvre and attach structural and decorative ironwork, concrete reinforcing materials and curtain walls. They work as team members with engineers, their supervisors and other ironworkers when troubleshooting faults in structures and materials. They may coordinate activities with other trades workers. (3)

Continuous Learning

Ironworkers generally identify their own skills development and learning needs but they may be guided by suggestions from their supervisors and union leaders. They attend training for mandatory recertification offered by their employers and local unions. They may attend skills development courses for reading drawings, welding and health and safety offered through their unions and community colleges. However, much of their learning occurs daily through their work experiences and from discussions with their supervisors and co-workers. They may also read union newsletters and industry publications to become familiar with trends and new technologies. (2)