Boilermakers Career Information
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Significant Points· A formal apprenticeship is the best way to learn
· Due to the limited number of apprenticeships available and the relatively good wages, prospective boilermakers are likely to face competition.
Nature of the WorkBoilermakers 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 power plants 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 on site.
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.
Working ConditionsBoilermakers 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 may be done in cramped quarters inside boilers,
vats, or tanks that are often damp and poorly ventilated. To reduce the chance
of injuries, boilermakers may wear hardhats, harnesses, protective clothing,
safety glasses and shoes, and respirators. Boilermakers usually work a 40-hour
week, but 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.
EmploymentBoilermakers held about 27,000 jobs in 2009. Nearly 6 out of 10 worked in the construction industry, assembling and erecting boilers and other vessels. About one-fifth 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, railroads, or in Navy shipyards and Federal power facilities.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.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 144 hours of classroom instruction each year in subjects such as set-up and
assembly rigging, welding of all types, blueprint reading, and layout.
Experienced boilermakers often attend apprenticeship classes to keep their knowledge
current. Also, the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, in conjunction
with the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Operators, offers seminars
on boiler equipment, operation, maintenance, and safety. When an apprenticeship
becomes available, the local union publicizes the opportunity by notifying local
vocational schools and high school vocational programs.
When hiring helpers, employers prefer high school or vocational school graduates. Courses in shop, mathematics, drafting, blueprint reading, welding, and machine metalworking are useful. Mechanical aptitude and the manual dexterity needed to handle tools also are important.
Some boilermakers advance to supervisory positions. Because of their broader training, apprentices usually have an advantage in promotion.
of boilermakers is expected to show little or no change through the year 2010.
Most job openings will result from the need
to replace experienced workers who leave this small occupation. Growth should
be limited by the trend toward repairing and retrofitting, rather than replacing,
existing boilers; the use of small boilers, which require less on-site assembly;
and automation of production technologies.
Most industries that purchase boilers are sensitive to economic conditions. Therefore, during economic downturns, construction boilermakers may be laid off. However, because maintenance and repairs of boilers must continue even during economic downturns, boilermaker mechanics generally have stable employment.
EarningsIn 2009, the median hourly earnings of boilermakers were about $17.80. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.06 and $23.19. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.60 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.81. Apprentices generally start at about 60 percent of journey wages, with wages gradually increasing to the journey wage as progress is made in the apprenticeship.
Almost one-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.
Related OccupationsWorkers 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; pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters;
sheet metal workers; tool and die makers; and welding, soldering, and brazing
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 service. For information on apprenticeships and the boilermaking occupation, contact:
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 service.
For information on apprenticeships and the boilermaking occupation, contact: