Aboriginal Ironworkers
Aboriginal Ironworkers

Frequently asked questions

What is ironworking?

Is it for me?

Working conditions

Travel

Apprenticeship and certification

Wages and benefits

Hiring practices


What is ironworking?

Q: What do ironworkers do?
A: Ironworkers work with iron, steel and other metals to build, repair and maintain bridges, towers, highways, oil refineries, dams, amusement park rides and buildings such as stadiums, airports, hospitals, schools and large housing complexes.

Ironwork is a multi-faceted trade. Most ironworkers do more than one type of work and each has its own challenges and required skills.

Here are the main categories of ironwork:

  • structural
  • reinforcing and post-tensioning
  • ornamental
  • rigging and machinery moving
  • welding and burning
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Is it for me?

Q: What does it take to become an ironworker?
A: Ironworkers are remarkable people. The men and women who work in the industry are known for their bravery, skill and strong work ethic. Aboriginal ironworkers in particular have made a name for themselves as being among the best workers in the industry. They take pride in the buildings and bridges they craft with their own hands.

If you like seeing the results of your work on a daily basis and take pride in watching a structure take shape before your eyes, ironwork could be the career for you.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out whether ironworking is for you:

  • Do you like being able to see the work you’ve done at the end of the day?
  • Do you take pride in watching a structure you’re building take shape before your eyes?
  • Do you enjoy working as part of a team?
  • Are you comfortable at heights?
  • Do you have a good sense of balance?
  • Do you like working outdoors?
  • Are you interested in physically demanding work that also requires you to think quickly?
  • Do you have good math skills?
  • Would you like to earn a high wage for your work?
  • Are you looking for a career rather than just a job?
  • Do you enjoy new challenges?
  • Do you have a safety-conscious attitude?
  • Are you willing to travel?

If you answered yes to most of the above questions, ironworking could be the career for you!

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Q: Do I need to finish high school to enter the ironworking trade?
A: Each province and territory has its own set of requirements for becoming an ironworker. In some provinces/territories, you can start out on the job and learn ironworking skills as you work. In other provinces you are required to register as an apprentice before starting work as an ironworker.

To enter an ironworker apprenticeship program in most provinces, you must:

  • be at least 16 years of age
  • have completed Grade 10 or the equivalent
  • be in good physical condition

If you’re in high school and are interested in getting a head start on your ironworking career, you may be able to enrol in a Secondary School Apprenticeship Program. Check out the Apprenticeship section of this Web site for more information.

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Q: How long do most ironworkers work? When do they retire? How does the work affect them when they get older?
A: There is a huge range in how long ironworkers work. Some start out in the industry as teenagers and work until retirement age—around 60 or 65. Others get into ironworking as middle-aged adults, after having tried other careers. Some ironworkers stop working in the field after a few years, but stay in the industry as instructors or apprenticeship coordinators.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how long an ironworking career can last. If you want to make it a life-long career, there is nothing to stop you. Ironworkers are strong and have good common sense on-the-job. They’re familiar with the right lifting techniques, have respect for the tools and machinery they use, and don’t take risks when working at great heights. So there’s no reason an ironworker can’t stay on the job well into their sixties if that’s what they want.

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Working conditions

Q: Is all ironwork done outdoors?
A: Most ironwork is done outside and is carried out year-round, and you may have to work in all kinds of weather. However, depending on the project, there is often indoor work that is done during severe weather.

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Q: Do ironworkers work year-round?
A: That depends. Most ironworking projects are carried out year-round, during all types of weather. But ironwork can be cyclical: as with most careers in construction, there are peak periods and slower periods.

The great wages you earn as an ironworker more than make up for the down time. And you can enjoy the benefits of having extra time off. Many ironworkers choose to work for only part of the year so they can spend more time raising a family or pursuing other interests.

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Q: Is ironworking dangerous?
A: You’re dealing with very large power equipment and massive pieces of metal, and you can be doing all this 70 metres in the air … so, yes, it can be dangerous. That’s one of the reasons that safety techniques and standards are an important part of the apprenticeship course.

Being alert and quick on your feet and, above all, working as a team player is essential. Ironworkers tend to have very strong and long-lasting bonds and one of the reasons for that is that we rely on each other for our safety.

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Q: How often do ironworkers get hurt on the job? Are they paid while they are recovering from their injuries?
A: Safety is the top priority in ironworking. Ironworkers are trained to work safely, and use safety devices such as harnesses, hard hats, steel-toed boots and scaffolding to protect themselves from injury. So it’s quite rare for an ironworker to get hurt on the job.

When it does happen, compensation and payment while recovering depend on your benefits package and on the workers’ compensation board in your province. For more information on compensation and disability payments, contact your provincial workplace health and safety organization.

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Q: Do ironworkers work with other tradespeople on construction sites?
A: Yes. Construction jobs involve a lot of teamwork, and not just with other ironworkers. You’ll interact with a number of tradespeople including crane operators and welders.

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Q: Are there many Aboriginal ironworkers in the industry today?
A: Yes. Aboriginal people have played a huge role in North America’s ironworking industry for several generations. And with their continued success in the trade, the number of Aboriginal ironworkers keeps growing.

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Q: Are there many women ironworkers?
A: There are more than there used to be. It was once a very male profession, but there have been women ironworkers for decades, and more women are entering the industry than ever before. Many of the women who have become ironworkers will tell you that the work is very rewarding, that they’re accepted on the job and respected for their skills, and that they earn far better money than they would in more traditional careers.

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Travel

Q: Will I have to travel as an ironworker?
A: Canadian ironworkers work across Canada and the United States on projects like the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Lions Gate Bridge, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the Red River Floodway, and oil refineries in Alberta’s oil sands. Some ironworkers stay close to home and don’t travel often; others look forward to exploring the continent and travelling to various job sites.

Because of the nature of the industry, ironworkers have some control over their workload and can choose the types of projects they work on.

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Q: Where do ironworkers live when they’re travelling? Will my employer pay for travel and accommodation?
A: Ironworkers work in pairs. When they travel to job sites, they travel and live with their ironworking partner. Employers arrange and pay for living arrangements not far from the job site. They also pay for travel costs.

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Q: Can ironworkers work close to home if they want to spend time with their families and in their communities?
A: That depends largely on where you live. Many ironworkers make a living without ever having to stay away from home. But it’s harder to do if you don’t live near an industrialized area or a major urban centre.

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Apprenticeship and certification

Q: What is an apprenticeship?
A: Apprenticeship allows you to earn money while learning the trade from certified ironworkers (called journeypersons). It combines classroom study with on-the-job experience, and gives you the opportunity to learn first-hand from people who have practised the trade for years.

  • In most apprenticeship programs you will spend 80% of your time on the job, being paid while you work towards your journeyperson certification.
  • Apprentices and journeypersons earn higher wages, find work more easily and enjoy more respect on job sites. Being part of the apprenticeship program tells your employers and co-workers that you’re committed to your trade.
  • Depending on the project and the jurisdiction, there are between one and five journeyperson ironworkers for every apprentice ironworker. Journeypersons act as mentors to each apprentice and teach them every aspect of the trade.
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Q: Do ironworker apprentices perform all of the tasks that a certified ironworker does?
A: As an apprentice, you should be prepared to perform all ironworking tasks. Throughout your apprenticeship, different journeyperson ironworkers will teach you all aspects of the trade. It’s important that you be comfortable working with heavy equipment and at heights in all kinds of weather.

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Q: How long do I have to apprentice before I can be certified as an ironworker?
A: The length of time it takes to complete an apprenticeship varies across Canada. Generally, it takes about three years. This includes:

  • at least 4500 hours of working on the job
  • several weeks of in-class technical training
  • a final certificate exam

Related work experience or completion of an ironworker program at a technical institute can reduce the time required to complete your apprenticeship.

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Q: How much can I earn as an apprentice?
A: Depending where you apprentice, wages start from about 50% to 70% of a journeyperson ironworker’s hourly rate and increase during your apprenticeship until you reach the full rate.

Certified workers earn between $21 and $33 an hour, and can earn up to $43 an hour, including salary and benefits*.

*Wages vary across Canada, among labour organization locals, and among open-shop construction contractors.

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Q: Where do I apply to become an apprentice?
A: To enter an apprenticeship program, you need an employer who will sponsor you. To find a sponsor and register as an apprentice, you can either:

  • arrange employment through a labour organization, or
  • contact an employer directly

If you choose to contact an employer directly, it’s up to you to arrange the terms of your agreement. You will have to ensure that your hours on the job are counted towards your apprenticeship.

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Q: Will I have to enroll in an ironworker course before I can begin work as an apprentice?
A: That depends on where you start. In some provinces, you need some in-class training before starting your apprenticeship.

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Q: How much do apprenticeship programs cost?
A: Apprenticeships cost very little. Generally, tuition for in-school technical training is $200-$500 per year, depending on the province. There are additional expenses for books and other materials, but the cost of training is more than offset by your earnings.

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Q: Where can I study to become an ironworker?
A: There are many formal ironworker training programs in Canada. If you’re in high school, you may be able to start out in a Secondary School Apprenticeship Program. Most labour organizations also offer training through private technical institutions.

The following public Canadian technical institutions also offer ironworking programs:

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Q: Is ironworking a Red Seal certified trade?
A: Yes. As a journeyperson ironworker, you can apply for Red Seal Certification, a national certification standard. For more information, visit www.red-seal.ca.

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Wages and benefits

Q: How much can I earn as a certified ironworker (journeyperson)?
A: Certified workers earn between $21 and $33 an hour, and can earn up to $43 an hour, including salary and benefits*. With overtime, many ironworkers earn up to $2000 a week!

*Wages vary across Canada, among labour organization locals, and among open-shop construction contractors.

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Q: Do ironworkers receive work-related benefits?
A: Your benefits package will depend on your employer. Most ironworkers receive statutory holiday and vacation pay, as well as group insurance for health, dental and vision care, retirement packages, and training benefits up to 30% of their hourly rate.

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Hiring practices

Q: As an ironworker, will I belong to a labour organization? If so, what does that involve?
A: Ironworkers can work through a labour organization, through open-shop associations or as direct-hires. Both labour organizations and open-shop associations make sure you have job security, fair pay and benefits.

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Q: How do ironworkers find jobs? Does one employer find them work or do they have to go looking for new jobs at the end of each project?
A: Ironworking is project-based. If you’re signed up with a labour organization or open-shop association, they will contact you when a job comes up. Contracts can last from 1 month to 2 years depending on the project. It’s important to maintain regular contact with your hiring organization; it will keep you front and centre in their minds and will lead to continued work opportunities.

If you aren’t connected to an organization, it’s up to you to find work with construction contractors.