Help Wanted: American ironworkers recruiting next generation

National demand increases for new workers to replace retirees

Orlando Iron Workers Local 808 is just one of dozens of union locals from Orlando to Detroit that has launched a recruiting blitz to bring in “unrepresented” journeymen and offer paid apprenticeships to the potential next generation of skilled welders.

Bobby Knost, the union’s veteran business manager, said the average age of the union’s 545 skilled journeymen is 45 years of age -- that’s more than half of Local 808′s 900 membership.

“The apprentice is great and they always will be,” Knost said‚” But the apprentice takes four years and we don’t have four years.”

According to Career Explorer, the projected job growth for U.S. ironworkers will be just under 13% nationwide.

The findings, based on data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggests the U.S. will need 16,500 ironworkers. That number “is based on 9,000 additional ironworkers, and the retirement of 7,500 existing ironworkers.”

According to the bureau, there are an estimated 70,200 ironworkers in the United States.

Knost said he wants to bring in “unrepresented” journeymen to fill the gap in anticipation of new projects, including Universal Delta, Orlando International Airport and expansion on the space coast.

“The more contractors you have, the more work you are awarded, and that’s how we grow,” Knost said. “Our worker is making $27.25 in their pocket and then $16 an hour in benefits.”

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While the salary is good, the work is hard and there seems to be a growing concern that the social media generation is not attracted to the life of an ironworker.

Jason Giguere, 43, who has been with the local ironworkers union for 10 years, is convinced the life of the skilled trade worker is a tough sell.

“The generation today, they’re more gamers, TikTok videos and stuff like that‚” Giguere said. “The people that actually come out here and work in the field are a dying breed.”

Daniel Alderinger, a third generation union man, said the union work has provided a paycheck and security for his family, including medical insurance, pension and an annuity, but in his view that may not be enough for Gen Xers and beyond.

“For a long time in this country, we put the trades on the back burner,” he said. “The average age of the tradesman is kind of creeping up and up and up.”

Federal statistics show an estimated 3,710 ironworkers employed in Florida with an average annual salary of $47,380.

“It’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s more of a lifestyle kind of thing,” Aldinger said. “If you’re willing to work and not afraid of heights, it’s definitely something to look into.”

Knost said the most compelling part of the union job is you can work anywhere in the country once you have union certification.

“Everything you see, any infrastructure, every skeleton bridge, and skyscraper starts with us,” Knost said. “The work is there.”

In Washington, Bobby Knost’s counterpart for the International Iron Workers, Kenny Waugh, said future federal projects point to big demand in the Solutionaries viewing network. Waugh said the national stage offers openings in Jacksonville, Orlando, Houston, Roanoke, Virginia and Detroit.

“We can put people to work in every city you just mentioned,” Waugh said. “If you are a skilled welder, you can make six figures all day long.”

If you are interested in an apprentice program or you have skills and want to join the union, go to Ironworkers808.com.


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