What Is a Boilermaker? (And How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 22, 2021 | Published March 22, 2021

Updated June 22, 2021

Published March 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Working as a boilermaker can be a rewarding career that requires a high degree of knowledge, a dedication to excellence and technical skills. Boilermakers work in the construction, industrial, manufacturing and shipbuilding industries.

To succeed in this field, you need to meet specific requirements. In this article, we discuss what a boilermaker is, how to become a boilermaker, important skills for a boilermaker and the salary and job outlook.

What is a boilermaker?

Boilermakers are tradespeople who create, assemble, test and install tanks, furnaces, towers, heat exchangers and other heavy metallic structures. A boilermaker can be responsible for erecting water storage that holds over 700,000 gallons of water or for constructing specific components for a hydroelectric power station. Boilermakers can work in various industries to include:

  • Iron and steel industry

  • Railroad companies

  • Oil refineries

  • Chemical plants

  • Factories

What does a boilermaker do?

Boilermakers are responsible for handling issues related to boilers, vats and other large structures. Boilers can heat water and fluids under absolute pressure, generating electric power that provides power and heat to buildings.

Ships, factories and buildings use vats and tanks to store large products and process chemicals. Boilermakers can also install heat-resistant materials in pressure vessels or fireboxes and maintain the large pipes used in dams to move water to and from hydroelectric power generation turbines. Other tasks boilermakers perform are:

  • Interpreting and reading blueprints to discover the locations, dimensions and positions for constructing the boilers

  • Directing crane operators

  • Loading and unloading materials

  • Laying out components and marking cuts

  • Making bends and welds on components before joining them

  • Welding, burning and gouging

  • Assembling boiler tanks

  • Testing and inspecting the boiler system for any defects or leaks

  • Using hand, power tools and welding tools to replace broken pipes, regulators, water columns and valves

  • Installing pre-made boilers into residential and commercial buildings

  • Cleaning the boilers and boiler furnaces

  • Erecting supporting steel beams and columns

  • Replacing parts

Boilermakers may sometimes have to take a boiler apart to fix it or strengthen joints using metal pieces to mend weak spots. On other occasions, they may replace a whole section of a boiler.

How long does it take to become a boilermaker?

With a high school diploma or GED, most boilermaker apprenticeships take 4-5 years to complete, comprised of both classroom/virtual and hands-on apprentice work.

Apprenticeships must be applied to and the boilermaker apprentice must be registered with an employer that can offer hands-on accredited training. After the coursework, the apprentice must take a trade test administered by the Department of Labor.

Salary and Job outlook

A boilermaker's salary depends on expertise, education, level of experience and other factors. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the median annual income for boilermakers in 2019 was $63,100 per year, or 29.93 per hour. The lowest 10% earned less than $39,840, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,440.

The median income refers to the wage at which half of the workers earned more than that amount and half of the workers earned less. The apprentices earn less than qualified boilermakers, but they make more as they acquire more skills.

According to the BLS, the employment of boilermakers may increase by 1% from 2019 to 2029. An estimated 1,400 job openings across the country may be available every year during this period. The need to replace workers who have transferred or retired may contribute to this increase in job openings.

Related: How Much Does a Boilermaker Make in the United States?

How to become a boilermaker

There are two important steps to becoming a boilermaker:

1. Meet eligibility requirements for an apprenticeship

To become a boilermaker, you must learn the trade through an apprenticeship program under an experienced professional. A degree isn't required, but aspiring boilermakers need to meet specific requirements to be eligible for the program. These requirements include:

  • Age: The applicant must at least be 18 years old. There is no maximum age.

  • Education: The applicant must have a high school diploma or GED.

  • Health: The applicant must be in good health and physically able to perform the work.

  • English comprehension: The applicant must be able to speak, read and write in English.

  • Experience: Applicants who have completed mathematics courses and have experience or certification in welding have a higher chance of being admitted to an apprenticeship program.

Read more: Learn About Being a Welder

2. Complete an apprenticeship program

The apprenticeship program is a four-year training program that requires applicants to complete 6,000 hours of paid on-the-job training and 576 hours of classroom studies. Apprentices learn the following skills:

  • Rigging: How to use the various devices and elements required to lift and move objects safely

  • Welding: How to fuse two or more metals using pressure and heat

  • Reading and sketching blueprints: How to interpret and draw blueprints

  • Metal cutting: How to use tools and machinery to cut unwanted pieces of metal

  • Knot tying: How to tie knots in ropes

  • Hand signals: How to use different types to communicate with fellow workers on site

  • First aid and medical response: How to respond to medical emergencies

  • Operation monitoring: How to read gauges, dials or other indicators to make sure machines are working correctly

  • Quality control analysis: How to test and inspect the boilers to ensure they meet quality standards

After boilermakers have completed their apprenticeship program, they become journeyman workers.

Related: How To Find an Apprenticeship Program

Skills for a boilermaker

Boilermakers need to have various skills that range from technical skills to soft skills. These skills include:

  • Active listening: Active listening is the ability to pay attention to what others say without interruption. You need to take time to understand essential instructions and be able to ask questions when appropriate.

  • Dependability: Boilermakers must be dependable, responsible and reliable in fulfilling their obligations.

  • Critical thinking: Boilermakers need to know how to apply logic and reasoning to develop practical approaches that identify errors and solve problems.

  • Innovation: You must be creative and come up with new ideas that can make your work more efficient.

  • Active learning: When taking in new information, boilermakers should be aware of what repercussions that information could have in the present and future. Boilermakers learn to build a rational and positive attitude toward problem-solving and decision-making opportunities.

  • Independence: Boilermakers need to develop ways of performing tasks without having any guidance or supervision.

  • Determination: Boilermakers need to be persistent in overcoming the obstacles they may face.

  • Adaptability: Boilermakers travel on many occasions. You need to be open to whatever changes may come.

  • Problem-solving skills: You must have the ability to identify, analyze and review complex problems and develop strategies to solve them.

  • Attentiveness: Boilermakers must pay attention to details when performing their tasks.

  • Self-control: You must have the ability to keep your emotions in check, maintain composure and avoid aggressive behavior if confronted with difficult situations.

Related: Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Areas of expertise

Boilermakers must know their way around certain fields and subjects to perform their job efficiently. For instance:

  • Building and construction: Boilermakers must know which materials and tools to use for constructing houses and buildings, as well as the different methods to apply when working.

  • Mechanical: Boilermakers must know how machines operate and what devices and tools are used to carry out repairs or maintenance.

  • Customer service: You must know what principles and actions are required to meet customer needs. Providing quality work and guaranteeing customer satisfaction is crucial.

  • Processing and production: You must know about raw materials, quality control, production processes and other techniques that maximize effective manufacturing and distribution.

  • Security and public safety: Boilermakers must know what procedures, policies, equipment and strategies meet the safety requirements of national, state or local regulations designed to protect properties, people and institutions.

  • Reading comprehension: You must understand paragraphs and written sentences that help you read necessary documentation with detail.

  • Mathematics: You must know algebra, statistics, geometry, calculus and arithmetic.

Related: 12 Jobs in Construction That Pay Well

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