What Does a Boilermaker Do?

Career Information

••• Mark Benford / 123RF

A boilermaker is a tradesperson who manufactures, installs, and maintains boilers, tanks, and vats. Boilers heat the liquid, usually water, that is used to generate electric power or provide heat to buildings, factories, or ships. Tanks and vats are storage containers that hold chemicals, oil, and other liquids.

Quick Facts About Boilermakers

  • About 17,200 people work as boilermakers (2016).
  • Building equipment contractors employ most of them.
  • Jobs are typically full-time.
  • Boilermakers work overtime when there are deadlines to meet, for example when working on a construction project. They face periods of unemployment when their employers are between contracts.
  • The job outlook for boilermakers is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment will grow as fast as the average for all occupations through 2026.

Roles and Responsibilities

These are some typical job duties listed in job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Read blueprints and specifications to determine the scope of work"
  • "Identify all tools required for tasks"
  • "Follow the rules of safe conduct at all times"
  • "Examine boilers, pressure vessels, tanks, and vats to locate defects such as leaks, weak spots, and defective sections so that they can be repaired"
  • "Complete work orders and other maintenance documentation"
  • "Evaluate basic boiler room systems, gather information and help solve problems"
  • "Repair and make new fabrication heat exchangers of all types and sizes"

Reasons You May Not Enjoy This Work

  • You will have to work in confined spaces.
  • A lot of time outdoors will expose you to extreme temperatures.
  • Boilermakers are susceptible to injuries including burns, cuts, muscle strains and broken bones. Protective clothing and other precautions help mitigate these risks.

    How to Become a Boilermaker

    If you want to become a boilermaker, you can apply to a formal apprenticeship program offered by a union or employer. It is likely to include about four years of paid on-the-job training combined with classroom instruction. You must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED to enroll in such a program. Alternatively, you can attend classes at a trade or technical school and combine that with employer-provided training.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need?

    You will acquire the hard skills that allow you to do your job through your formal training, but boilermakers also need certain soft skills, or personal qualities. They are:

    • Physical Strength and Stamina: You must be able to lift heavy equipment and spend many hours on your feet.
    • Troubleshooting: The ability to correctly diagnose and then fix problems is essential.
    • Critical Thinking: Boilermakers must weigh various solutions to problems and then predict which one will be most effective.
    • Reading Comprehension: You must be able to understand written documentation.

    What Opportunities Are There to Advance in This Field?

    With experience, you may be able to move into a supervisory position. You can eventually become a project manager who supervisors other construction workers like plumbers, carpenters, masons, and electricians.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    In addition to skills and experience, what qualities do employers look for when they hire workers? Here are some requirements from actual job announcements on Indeed.com:

    • "Must be able to take good and bad criticism"
    • "Physical Requirements: Climbing, Balancing, Stooping, Kneeling, Crouching, Crawling, Reaching, Standing, Walking, Pushing, Pulling, Lifting, Fingering, Grasping, Feeling, Repetitive Motions"
    • "Work at heights without fear"
    • "Must be able to work in team environment"
    • "Follows policies and procedures; supports organization's goals and values"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Doing a self assessment will help you determine if your interestspersonality type, and work-related values are compatible with this career. Do you have the following traits?

    Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

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    Read About Other Construction Careers 

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited May 7, 2018).