Steel Erector

The Job and What's Involved

Steel erectors work in the construction and engineering sectors. They install and fix together prefabricated steel girders, pipework and beam sections that make up the framework of buildings and other structures. A steel erector may work on projects of all sizes, from office developments, warehouses and industrial units to multi-storey residential apartments or car parks, sports stadiums and bridges.

Work can be on both new buildings and the extension or adaptation of existing buildings. Typical duties can involve:

  • Careful initial planning of the job to be carried out, reading and following plans drawn up by architects and design engineers.
  • Using tower cranes to lift and guide individual steel components into position.
  • Accurately aligning and levelling each steel component into place before bolting and welding them into fixed positions.
  • Using mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs) as the structure gains height, to access sections off the ground.
  • Laying metal decking, and fixing safety netting and edge rails as the structure is built up.
  • Installing personnel lifts and hoists to carry building materials for other craftspeople, such as electricians, window installers or plumbers, who work on the next stage of the building.

Health and safety is very important, so strict adherence to safe working practices is essential at all times. Steel erectors work in small teams, using both hand and power tools to secure the steelwork. They are often responsible for the operation of mobile cranes and machinery in the areas where they are working. Steel erectors may also be required to dismantle steel on some demolition sites.

With specialist training, they may carry out fabrication and modification work on site, using oxy-fuel cutting equipment, portable drilling machines and welding processes.

Steel erectors usually work a set number of hours from Monday to Friday. Start and finish times can vary, depending on seasons and daylight hours. Shifts and overtime may be required, including evenings and weekends, to meet deadlines.

Most of the time steel erectors work outdoors, at varying heights. It is a physically demanding role, involving rigging, climbing and carrying ladders, tools and equipment. At all times, steel erectors would need to wear personal protective equipment, which includes safety helmets, protective footwear and a safety harness.

Steel erectors will travel from site to site, working on a project and then moving on to the next one. Sometimes the work is local, or it may involve travelling to different parts of the country or abroad. This may require working away from home for variable durations. A driving licence is useful.

Trainees and apprentices under the age of 19 can earn between £8,639 and £14,439 a year, depending on their stage of training. Newly qualified steel erectors with an NVQ Level 2 earn around £18,150 a year, up to £21,111 a year with an NVQ Level 3.

There is potential for experienced workers to earn up to £30,000 or more a year.

The Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC) agrees base wage rates annually. Steel erectors working away from home usually receive an overnight allowance, overtime payments and incentive bonuses, as well as having their accommodation paid for. This can significantly increase income to between £28,000 and £40,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are approximately 26,400 steel erectors and riggers in the UK. Most work for steel erection and steel fixing companies as subcontractors, although some are employed directly by construction and engineering firms. Steelwork contractors are located across the country.

Teams are usually made up of two steel erectors, a groundsperson and a crane driver, so good teamwork is essential. There is currently a shortage of skilled steel erectors.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers or industry publications, such as New Steel Construction, Construction News and Building. Jobs may also appear in Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices. It may be advisable to approach companies direct to enquire about jobs and training opportunities.

The British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) maintains a list of steelwork contractors for bridges and buildings on its website at www.steelconstruction.org. Information about careers in steel construction is also available at www.steelconstruction.org/careers.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications. However, GCSE's (A*-E) in English, maths, science subjects, and design and technology may be useful when seeking employment, owing to the numerical calculations and the practical aspects of this work. Employers usually require applicants to be 18 years old, owing to legal requirements relating to equipment used.

The Diploma in construction and the built environment or the Diploma in engineering may provide a good introduction to this type of work. Any experience and work-based qualifications as a construction labourer, scaffolder or engineer can also be useful.

Many enter this area of work through a ConstructionSkills or Engineering Apprenticeship. Applicants for Craft Apprenticeships in steel erecting should ideally possess GCSE's (A*-C) in maths, English and a science or a technical subject. Applicants will usually take aptitude tests involving maths and problem solving, and are assessed for their ability to work at heights. Medical screening tests may also be conducted.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most steel erectors are trained on the job, with employers providing apprentices and trainees with access to a wide choice in courses that can be studied part time or by day release, including:

  • NVQ Level 2 in steelfixing occupations.
  • ECITB NVQ Level 3 in constructing capital plant steel structures (erecting).
  • ECITB NVQ Level 2 in constructional steelwork site operations (providing pathways in erecting structural steelwork and installing metal floor decking).

Trainees and apprentices would also need to qualify for the appropriate Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, proving they are competent to work on site. Steel erectors can apply for Red, Experienced Worker, Blue or Gold cards, depending on qualifications and experience. To qualify, steel erectors must pass the Operative Health and Safety Test.

Steel erectors working on engineering construction sites may need to pass the Client Contractor National Supply Group (CCNSG) Safety Passport to cover clients' health and safety requirements. See www.ccnsg.com or the ECITB website for details.

Trainees may also receive extra training in welding and the use of flame cutting equipment. Additional training may also be offered in health and safety, crane management, access training, slinger/signaller, and associated site plant training.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Steel erectors should have:

  • Good practical skills for using tools.
  • Logic and good problem-solving ability.
  • Good listening skills and the ability to follow verbal instructions.
  • Good physical fitness and agility.
  • A sense of balance and head for heights.
  • An accurate, organised and methodical approach to work.
  • A co-operative approach to team working.
  • An awareness and respect for health and safety working practices.

Your Long Term Prospects

Steel erectors often work on a subcontract basis. Career options can be improved by obtaining additional licences for operating plant equipment on site. With experience, progression to supervisory and site management positions is feasible.

There are good opportunities for self-employment, with some steel erectors setting up their own business. There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA),
4 Whitehall Court, Westminster,
London SW1A 2ES
Tel: 020 7839 8566
Websites: www.steelconstruction.org
and www.steelconstruction.org/careers

Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
Tel: 0844 576 8777
Website: www.cscs.uk.com

ConstructionSkills
Tel: 0844 844 0046
Websites: www.cskills.org
and www.bconstructive.co.uk

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB),
Blue Court, Church Lane,
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000
Website: www.ecitb.org.uk

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