Steel erector job guide: duties, requirements and FAQs

Updated 8 September 2023

In construction work, steelwork erectors assemble the metal framework of structures and other projects. They might do this for a building, bridge or tunnel. If this job interests you, knowing what it entails can help you decide if it's the right career path for you. In this article, we explain what a steel erector is, describe what they do with a list of responsibilities, discuss the requirements for the job, including skills, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

What is a steel erector?

Steel erectors put into place the various metal frames that hold up structures. These include steel beams, purlins and girders, which bear the load of the structure. They follow engineers' plans to guide their work and can install other metal assemblages or components, such as metal decking and metal handrails. This might include guiding them into position, welding or bolting them together and dismantling them for demolition work. These individuals typically undergo an apprenticeship or complete construction courses at college to get the skills and qualifications necessary for their job.

Their primary workplace is construction sites of various types, and they often work alongside others, including construction workers, engineers, scaffolders and electricians. They have good knowledge of construction, physical stamina, hand-eye coordination and attention to detail.

Related: 10 highly paid construction jobs and their responsibilities

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What does a steel erector do?

Knowing what these individuals can do can help you determine if this is the right career choice for you. Here are some of the tasks and responsibilities of this role:

Assembling steel frameworks

Among the primary duties for this role is placing the various steel components of buildings, such as girders and beams. These act as the primary and secondary load-bearing elements of a structure, respectively, requiring careful placement and additional work, such as welding or bolting. The assembly process may involve the use of equipment such as cranes, as these steel components can be very heavy.

Following technical plans

When working on a construction project, these individuals rely on technical plans to guide their work. In most cases, the plans come from architects or engineers, enabling you to see what's necessary for construction. In some cases, you may interact regularly with the engineer or architect, in addition to working collaboratively with other construction personnel in the implementation of these plans.

Related: What does a construction engineer do? (With salary)

Constructing metal decking

Metal or steel decking is a component of various types of construction projects. In floors, steel erectors put metal decking in place to form a platform with concrete slabs, with the decking consisting of steel sheets and rods. Together, this forms a relatively lightweight floor that's useful for features such as mezzanine floors, as it requires fewer steel supports than other methods.

In roofs, metal decking often has a trapezoidal shape consisting of single or double layers and steel purlins or beams. This is typically a supporting layer onto which it's possible to add other roofing materials. Just like in flooring, this is useful, as it requires relatively few intermediate supports.

Constructing safety features

There are various safety features in buildings constructed from steel, such as handrails, balustrades and guardrails. Just like steel frameworks, these features can involve the use of tools, machinery and vehicles. Since these safety features are typically smaller than structural components such as girders, there may be more manual work and use of hand tools when installing them.

Related: 18 different construction job types for you to consider

Dismantling steelwork

Just as these steel erectors understand what's necessary to put steel structures in place, they also know how to remove and dismantle them for demolition work. There are multiple approaches to this, including outright demolition and recovery of materials. They may also have a role in the subsequent separation and recycling of the various scrap metals at the site.

Related: How to become a demolition operative

Requirements to become a steel erector

If you want to know what's necessary for this role, consider the requirements and options below:

1. Finish your GCSEs

This role typically entails either an apprenticeship or college courses, both of which require some GCSEs as prerequisites. The number of GCSEs depends on the option you choose. For instance, if you decide to pursue an advanced apprenticeship, you'd typically require five GCSEs. For an intermediate apprenticeship, the required GCSEs are fewer. If you go for a level 1 or level 2 college course, the requirements are usually between one and three GCSEs.

Level 1 courses have lower grade requirements, while a level 2 course may require grades of D and above (3 or higher). Good subjects to consider include design and technology, maths and English.

2. Get an apprenticeship

One way to become a steelwork erector is to go through an apprenticeship. The advantage of apprenticeships is that they offer you the opportunity to work and learn simultaneously. You'd typically spend a fifth of your time learning and the remainder getting on-the-job experience. Apprenticeship options to consider include a structural steelwork erector intermediate apprenticeship and an engineering construction erector-rigger advanced apprenticeship. An advanced apprenticeship usually takes between 18 and 24 months to complete full-time. An intermediate apprenticeship typically lasts between 12 and 18 months.

Related: What are trade apprenticeships and how do they work?

3. Complete college courses

An alternative to an apprenticeship is to complete some college courses related to this kind of construction work. Options to consider include a Level 1 Certificate in Construction Skills, a Level 2 Certificate in Construction Operations and a Level 2 Award in Skills for Engineering. Having these alone may be insufficient to immediately work in this role, so consider the possibility of further training once you start working in construction with these qualifications.

4. Acquire a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) card

The CSCS card is necessary for anyone who's going to work on construction sites, even if they're in training. There are different types of cards depending on your position, such as trainee cards, experienced worker cards, apprentice cards and supervisory cards. Eligibility for these cards includes holding a recognised qualification for the type of card in question, in addition to passing the Construction Industry Training Board health and safety test.

Related: 5 vital construction certificates and their benefits

5. Develop your skill set

These individuals have a mix of hard and soft skills that enable them to do their job. Hard skills are technical competencies such as using machinery, while soft skills are transferable abilities such as attention to detail. Throughout your education, training and experience, you're going to encounter opportunities to develop and acquire various skills. Here are some skills to consider for this role:

  • knowledge of construction

  • knowledge of engineering

  • coordination and manual dexterity

  • patience and persistence

  • physical stamina and endurance

  • teamwork and collaboration

  • verbal communication

  • the ability to remain calm under pressure

  • the ability to use equipment and machinery

  • the ability to use mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs)

  • attention to detail and thoroughness

Related: 11 useful construction skills to develop to find work easily

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about this role, along with their respective answers:

Is it necessary to get a powered access licence (PAL) to be a steelwork erector?

No. Although it can be beneficial in the workplace and for getting jobs, a PAL isn't always going to be an absolute requirement for this role. These are licences that enable you to use MEWPs and mast climbing work platforms, among others.

What are the career progression options?

There are a few options to consider for career progression, usually in the construction industry. With experience, it's possible to become a site supervisor or safety supervisor. You could also transition to other roles with additional training, such as becoming a welder or scaffolder.

Related: How to be a scaffolder (with salary and education info)

Are the qualifications the same in Scotland and Wales?

They may be similar but not necessarily the same. In Wales, look for a Level 2 National Vocational Qualification in Steel Fixing Occupations in Construction and a Level 2 Apprenticeship in Construction Civil Engineering with Steel Fixing. In Scotland, look for a Scottish Vocational Qualification at level 5 in Modern Methods of Construction for Cold Formed Steel Frames.

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