A formal apprenticeship is the best way to learn this trade.
Average employment growth is expected; additional openings
will be created because many boilermakers are expected to retire.
Persons with a welding certification or other welding training
get priority in selection to apprenticeship programs.
Nature of the Work
Boilermakers and boilermaker mechanics make, install,
and repair boilers, vats, and other large vessels that hold liquids
and gases. Boilers supply steam to drive huge turbines in electric
powerplants and to provide heat and power in buildings, factories,
and ships. Tanks and vats are used to process and store chemicals,
oil, beer, and hundreds of other products.
Boilers and other high-pressure vessels usually are made in sections,
by casting each piece out of molten iron or steel. Manufacturers
are increasingly automating this process to increase the quality
of these vessels. Boiler sections are then welded together, often
using automated orbital welding machines, which make more consistent
welds than are possible by hand. Small boilers may be assembled
in the manufacturing plant; larger boilers usually are assembled
Following blueprints, boilermakers locate and mark reference
points on the boiler foundation, using straightedges, squares,
transits, and tape measures. Boilermakers attach rigging and signal
crane operators to lift heavy frame and plate sections and other
parts into place. They align sections, using plumb bobs, levels,
wedges, and turnbuckles. Boilermakers use hammers, files, grinders,
and cutting torches to remove irregular edges, so that edges fit
properly. They then bolt or weld edges together. Boilermakers
align and attach water tubes, stacks, valves, gauges, and other
parts and test complete vessels for leaks or other defects. They
also install refractory brick and other heat-resistant materials
in fireboxes or pressure vessels. Usually, they assemble large
vessels temporarily in a fabrication shop to ensure a proper fit
before final assembly on the permanent site.
Because boilers last a long time—35 years or more—boilermakers
regularly maintain them and update components, such as burners
and boiler tubes, to increase efficiency. Boilermaker mechanics
maintain and repair boilers and similar vessels. They inspect
tubes, fittings, valves, controls, and auxiliary machinery and
clean or supervise the cleaning of boilers using scrapers, wire
brushes, and cleaning solvents. They repair or replace defective
parts, using hand and power tools, gas torches, and welding equipment,
and may operate metalworking machinery to repair or make parts.
They also dismantle leaky boilers, patch weak spots with metal
stock, replace defective sections, and strengthen joints.
Boilermakers often use potentially dangerous equipment, such
as acetylene torches and power grinders, handle heavy parts, and
work on ladders or on top of large vessels. Work is physically
demanding and may be done in cramped quarters inside boilers,
vats, or tanks that are often damp and poorly ventilated. In some
instances, work may be done at high elevations for an extended
period. To reduce the chance of injuries, boilermakers may wear
hardhats, harnesses, protective clothing, safety glasses and shoes,
and respirators. Boilermakers may experience extended periods
of overtime when equipment is shut down for maintenance. Overtime
work also may be necessary to meet construction or production
deadlines. At other times there may be periods of unemployment
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Many boilermakers learn this trade through a formal apprenticeship.
Others become boilermakers through a combination of trade or technical
school training and employer-provided training. Apprenticeship
programs usually consist of 4 years of on-the-job training, supplemented
by a minimum of 144 hours of classroom instruction each year in
subjects such as set-up and assembly rigging, welding of all types,
blueprint reading, and layout. Those with welding training or
a welding certification will have priority in applying for apprenticeship
programs. Experienced boilermakers often attend apprenticeship
classes or seminars to learn about new equipment, procedures,
and technology. When an apprenticeship becomes available, the
local union publicizes the opportunity by notifying local vocational
schools and high school vocational programs.
Some boilermakers advance to supervisory positions. Because of
their broader training, apprentices usually have an advantage
in promotion over those who have not gone through the full program.
Boilermakers held about 19,000 jobs in 2004. Nearly 7 out of
10 worked in the construction industry, assembling and erecting
boilers and other vessels. More than 1 in 7 worked in manufacturing,
primarily in boiler manufacturing shops, iron and steel plants,
petroleum refineries, chemical plants, and shipyards. Some also
worked for boiler repair firms or railroads.
in employment of boilermakers is expected through the year 2014.
Additional openings will be created by the need to replace experienced
workers who are expected to retire in great numbers in the next
10 years. Unionized boilermakers are eligible to retire earlier
than many other workers, partly due to the physically demanding
nature of the work. Persons who have welding training or a welding
certificate should have the best opportunities for being selected
for boilermaker apprenticeship programs.
Growth will be limited by trends toward repairing and retrofitting,
rather than replacing, existing boilers; the growing use of small
boilers, which require less onsite assembly; and automation of
production technologies. However, many boilers are getting older
and will need replacing, which will create some demand for more
boilermakers. In addition, utility companies will need to upgrade
many of their boiler systems in the next few years to meet the
Federal Clean Air Act. Also, as more power companies convert to
coal as their primary source of fuel, additional boilers will
Most industries that purchase boilers are sensitive to economic
conditions. Therefore, during economic downturns, boilermakers
in the construction industry may be laid off. However, maintenance
and repairs of boilers must continue even during economic downturns
so boilermaker mechanics in manufacturing and other industries
generally have more stable employment.
In May 2004, the median hourly earnings of boilermakers were
about $21.68. The middle 50 percent earned between $17.80 and
$26.82. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14.07, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $32.46. Apprentices generally
start at about half of journey-level wages, with wages gradually
increasing to the journey wage as progress is made in the apprenticeship.
About half of all boilermakers belong to labor unions. The principal
union is the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Other
boilermakers are members of the International Association of Machinists,
the United Automobile Workers, or the United Steelworkers of America.
Workers in a number of other occupations assemble, install, or
repair metal equipment or machines. These occupations include
assemblers and fabricators; machinists; industrial machinery installation,
repair, and maintenance workers, except millwrights; millwrights;
pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters; sheet metal
workers; tool-and-die makers; and welding, soldering, and brazing
Sources of Additional Information
For further information regarding boilermaking apprenticeships
or other training opportunities, contact local offices of the
unions previously mentioned, local construction companies and
boiler manufacturers, or the local office of your State employment
For information on apprenticeships and the boilermaking occupation,
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders,
Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers, 753 State Ave., Suite 570,
Kansas City, KS 66101. Internet: http://www.boilermakers.org/
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition