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Steel Construction Contractors – The Key Differences Between Them
The steel industry is full of different career options for interested parties, but it’s important to mention that not every single role is the same. On a given steel construction site, there are many different professionals responsible for creating the final product, all playing different roles. For the layman, they may seem interchangeable, but for professionals, they all need to work together.
One key example of this is a steel fixer vs a steel erector. While they may be working alongside each other on a construction project, they each handle different aspects of it. Here’s a closer look at the difference between steel construction contractors.
When we talk about the difference between steel construction contractors, this is the obvious area to start. Steel erectors are responsible for creating the frames that buildings are built on. This includes key components like steel girders, steel bars, and columns. Some people also call them structural steelworkers, as their primary job function is to position and secure steel. Here is a snapshot of some of their regular tasks:
- -Unloading prefabricated steel and stacking it before it’s lifted into place
- -Moving the different components into place with cranes
- -Positioning steel after it’s lifted through signaling or aligning it
- -Double-checking to make sure the steel frames are aligned
- -Welding the different pieces into place, following the blueprint
There is also a side component that comes with steel erector work, ornamental work. Not every construction project requires these, but sometimes, architectural details are needed. This is a side job that includes items like
- -Window frames
- -Door frames
Compared to beams and girders, the concern is less about the weight of the items involved as much as it is precisely placing and mounting these for aesthetic reasons.
Steel fixers, as their name implies, are focused more on installing and fixing together steel. This is part of the reason why they are also sometimes known as reinforcement steelworkers. Their primary job happens after the steel erector does their job, they bend the steel to align with the schedule for bar bending and the project design, making for a stronger structure. Here’s a look at some of their other regular tasks:
- -Positioning and securing steel mesh and bars to create reinforced concrete
- -Cutting bars or mesh as needed
- -Tying reinforcing bars (rebars) into cages
- -Fitting spacers and supports
- -Building casts that will be used to set concrete later on
- -Physical tasks like lifting steel and bending bars
- -Installing beams and slabs that are precast
- -Using cables to reinforce concrete. This lets designers create open areas in a building by placing support further apart
- -Strengthening concrete through welded wire reinforcing
To be fair, there are a few similarities between the jobs. For example, both are highly physically intensive and both require professionals to work at high heights and utilize specialized equipment. However, jobs aren’t one and the same. Steel erectors create the frames that an entire building is built on, while steel fixers create the reinforcement that allows these frames to hold the weight of an entire building.
When it comes to the path and progression of working as a steel fixer or steel erector, things generally start off the same, then diverge as you get deeper into the learning process. However, for both positions, it’s recommended that you start off as an apprentice. The reason why this is preferred is that it provides more structure to learning the industry, rather than just learning on the job. You also have the chance to work under a skilled professional who is ready to help you with your professional growth.
The fundamental requirements to become an apprentice are:
- -Being 18 years old
- -Passing a drug test
- -Having your high school diploma, GED, or an equivalent
- -Being in appropriate physical condition to handle steel
If all these apply to you, there are a few ways you can pursue an apprenticeship. If you already know someone in the industry, you can appeal to them directly. Another option is reaching out to an organization that can connect you to a master steelworker, like a construction industry training board or your local union.
At this point, the paths diverge. Someone who wants to be a steel erector would work alongside a journeyman/master steel erector, while a steel fixer would work with a professional in that area. This generally takes place over a 3-4 year period, at around 38-40 hours a week (2000 hours per year). Their earning power is generally 50% of the average wage for a journeyman, and they are also responsible for 160 hours of classroom instruction a day. The classroom instruction generally covers information like:
- -Reading blueprints
- -Necessary math skills
- -The fundamentals of rigging/reinforcing
- -How to weld/assemble
- -Appropriate safety training
- -How to care for materials
- -How to care for your tools
Of course, what’s taught is different, as erectors would be more concerned with learning how to rig steel beams, while fixers would need to learn how to create reinforced concrete properly. At the end of the intermediate apprenticeship, they become journeyman steelworkers and qualify for their full pay.
So, which position should you get into? A lot of it will probably boil down to job availability in your area. Both have similar qualifications and challenges even if the work is quite different. Before applying for an apprenticeship, see what position has the most openings.
A steel fixer and steel erector may be part of the same industry, but that doesn’t mean they have the same job duties or training to get there. For people looking to start work in construction, it’s essential that they do the proper research into the different facets of each job to find what best suits them and their goals.
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