Millwrights install, assemble, and maintain heavy industrial machinery and other equipment. If necessary, they construct foundations for certain large assemblies. They may also dismantle, operate, or repair these machines. Approximately 59,000 millwrights are employed in the United States.
Millwright Career History
The history of the millwright dates back to the industrial revolution. While milling machines, power looms, drill presses, lathes, and other equipment made mass production of goods possible, these new machines were too complicated for the average worker to understand. It became necessary to assign workers with specialized training to install, maintain, and repair equipment. With the growth of industrial establishments and the increasing complexity of machines, the millwright became an integral part of the labor force.
Millwright Job Description
Millwrights are highly skilled workers whose primary function is to install heavy machinery. When machinery arrives at the job site, it must be unloaded, inspected, and moved into position. For light machinery, millwrights use rigging and hoisting devices such as pulleys and cables to lift and position equipment. For heavier jobs, they are assisted by hydraulic lift-truck or crane operators. To decide what type of device is needed to position machinery, millwrights must know the load-bearing properties of ropes, cables, hoists, and cranes.
New machinery sometimes requires a new foundation. Millwrights either prepare the foundation themselves or supervise its construction. To do this, they must be able to work with concrete, wood, and steel, and read blueprints and schematic diagrams to make any electrical connections.
When installing machinery, millwrights fit bearings, align gears and wheels, attach motors, and connect belts according to the manufacturer’s instructions. They may use hand and power tools, cutting torches, welding machines, and soldering guns. In order to modify parts to fit specifications, they use metalworking equipment such as lathes and grinders.
Millwrights must be very precise in their work and have good mathematical skills to measure angles, material thicknesses, and small distances with tools such as squares, calipers, and micrometers. When a high level of precision is required, such as on a production line, lasers may be used for alignment. Once machinery is installed, millwrights may do repair or preventive maintenance work such as oiling and greasing parts and replacing worn components.
Millwrights may be hired to change the placement of existing machines in a plant or mill to set up a new production line or improve efficiency. Their contribution is key to the planning of complicated production processes. In large shops and plants, they may update machinery placement to improve the production process. They may even move and reassemble machinery each time a new production run starts. In smaller factories, however, machinery is rearranged only to increase production and improve efficiency. Millwrights consult with supervisors, planners, and engineers to determine the proper placement of equipment based on floor loads, workflow, safety measures, and other important concerns.
The increasing use of automation in many industries means that millwrights are responsible for installing and maintaining more sophisticated machines. When working with this more complicated machinery, millwrights are assisted by computer or electronic experts, electricians, and manufacturers’ representatives.
Millwright Career Requirements
Employers prefer applicants with a high school diploma or equivalency. You should take courses in science, mathematics, and shop to give you a technical and mechanical foundation. Any class with an emphasis on mechanical reasoning, such as mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, hydraulics, and machine shop, is of particular value.
Millwrights receive their training either through a formal apprenticeship program or through community colleges combined with informal on-the-job training. Apprenticeships last for four years and combine hands-on training with classroom instruction. During the program, apprentices gain experience dismantling, moving, erecting, and repairing machinery. They may also work with concrete and receive instruction in carpentry, welding, and sheet metal work. Classes focus on mathematics, blueprint reading, hydraulics, electricity, and computers.
To handle the physical demands involved in the work, applicants should be in good health and physically fit. A high level of coordination and mechanical aptitude is necessary to read complicated diagrams and work with the machinery. Communication and interpersonal skills also are needed for giving instructions and working in teams.
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing: $57,900 Pulp, paper, and paperboard mills: $47,700 Building equipment contractors: $43,000 Nonresidential building construction: $41,140
Exploring Millwright Career
One of the best ways to find out more about this career is to talk with a working millwright. You should develop a list of questions to ask, such as details about the responsibilities, hours, pay, and how he or she first got into the work. You could also visit an industrial setting that employs millwrights to watch these workers in action. Local unions that represent millwrights can also provide you with information on the career.
Millwrights work in every state but are concentrated in highly industrial areas. Most are employed in industries that manufacture durable goods, such as automobiles, steel, and metal products, or in construction. Others work in plants that manufacture paper, chemicals, knit goods, and other items, or with utility companies. Manufacturers and retailers of industrial machinery often employ millwrights, usually under contract, to install machines for their customers. There are approximately 59,000 millwrights employed in the United States.
The usual entry method is through an apprenticeship. Most apprentices start out with unskilled or semiskilled work in a plant or factory. As they gain experience and job openings become available, they move into positions requiring more skilled labor. Openings are generally filled according to experience and seniority.
Most advancement for millwrights comes in the form of higher wages. With the proper training, skill, and seniority, however, workers can move to supervisory positions or work as trainers for apprentices. Others may choose to become self-employed contractors.
Millwrights are typically paid by the hour. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, hourly earnings averaged $21.24 (or $44,170 annually) in 2004. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13.41 an hour (or $27,890 annually) and the highest 10 percent earned more than $32.20 an hour (or $66,970 annually).
Most workers in this field receive a benefits package that includes life and health insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and a retirement pension.
Salary rates can vary depending on experience, geographic location, industry, and union membership. Approximately 54 percent of millwrights are represented by labor unions, one of the highest rates of membership for one profession. The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America are three unions to which millwrights belong.
Approximately one-third of all millwrights work more than 40 hours a week. They often work overtime and in varying shifts to accommodate production schedules. Millwrights may be called to work at unusual times or for longer hours during emergencies. An equipment breakdown can affect an entire plant’s operation and be very costly, so machines need to be immediately tended to when problems arise. Rearranging whole production lines often requires long hours.
Depending on the industry, working conditions vary from indoors to outdoors, one location to much travel. In manufacturing jobs, millwrights work indoors in a shop setting. In construction jobs, they may work outside, in all weather conditions. Millwrights that do contract work may travel from plant to plant. Others are employed by a single manufacturer and remain on site much of the time.
What is consistent throughout the profession is the amount of labor involved. Millwrights often endure hard physical labor in surroundings made unpleasant by heat, noise, grime, and cramped spaces. In addition, the work can be hazardous at times, although protective gear and other safety regulations serve to protect workers from injury.
Millwright Career Outlook
Employment for millwrights is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. New automation, the introduction of new, labor-saving technologies, limited growth in industrial construction, and the use of lower-paid workers for installation and maintenance of machinery are contributing to this slow growth.
However, millwrights will still be needed to keep existing machinery in working order, dismantle outdated machinery, and install new equipment. Many openings will arise each year as experienced workers transfer to other jobs or retire.