The return of ironworkers in West Virginia

WHEELING, W.Va. — A rebounding job market for ironworkers in the Mountain State has apprentice program leaders hopeful for renewed interest in the field.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 22 percent increase in ironworker employment opportunities from 2012 to 2022.

In West Virginia, interest in the field dwindled about five years ago according to John Rothaker, apprenticeship coordinator for Iron Workers Local #549 in Wheeling.

An influx of 500 applicants a year for training programs dropped by more than half as job seekers pursued direct positions in the gas and oil well industry.

But, Rothaker told MetroNews well pads and fracking sites are indirectly providing opportunities for his trainees.

“We have a good bit of our membership on some of the gas plants doing a lot of the structural work, a lot of foundation work and reinforcing for the concrete,” Rothaker explained.

Testing, two times a year, by the Iron Workers Joint Apprenticeship Training and Journeyman Program has been cut to once a year.

Recruitment continues each year in April.  Rothaker said the industry is reaching out to a wider pool of future iron workers.

“We go through helmets to hard hats.  We try to bring veterans in that do have some construction experience.  That works very well for us.”

Women are taking an interest in the apprenticeship program too.

“We actually have a young lady who is graduating this year.  We have another woman who will be graduating next year.  We have actually some female applicants this year,” said Rothaker.  “That’s a big trend.”

Applicants accepted by the #549 Iron Workers Retraining Committee are put to work 40 hours a week.  Over a three- year period, they work in the field three weeks at a time followed by a week of training.

Rothaker said wages start at 55 percent of the journeyman scale and go up incrementally to journeyman’s status after 4200 hours of on-the-job training.

Proposed power projects in Moundsville and Follansbee, cracker plant talk in Parkersburg and construction in Morgantown is promising for future ironworkers.

“Everybody in the valley here, in this area, shouldn’t (have) much trouble looking for or finding jobs here.  Hopefully down the road, I think it looks positive,” Rothaker added.

National statistics have salaries ranging from $26,970 to $83,970.  The median annual wage for structural ironworkers was $46,140 in May 2012.

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