Do you prefer working with your hands to writing essays?
Are you considering trade school as an alternative to more academic studies?
In this series of articles, we’re doing a deep dive into a wide range of professions. Today’s post focuses on how to become a millwright. In this article, we’ll cover education, working conditions, salary, job outlook, and more. Let’s get started!
What Do Millwrights Do?
Millwrights are responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing heavy equipment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups millwrights together with industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance workers. The BLS counts 384,800 industrial machinery mechanics in the United States and only 39,900 millwrights. The distinction between mills and factories is blurry, and some industries use the terms machinery mechanic and millwright interchangeably.
Millwrights are responsible for tasks such as these:
- Reading technical manuals to understand machinery
- Disassembling machinery and equipment when necessary
- Moving and installing machinery and equipment
- Calibrating equipment using precision lasers and optical equipment
- Repairing malfunctioning components
- Replacing broken parts
- Performing tests to ensure that machinery is functioning properly
- Welding metal components
- Performing basic diagnostic tests to detect problems
- Testing malfunctioning machinery to determine what repairs are needed
- Performing emergency breakdown repairs on critical equipment
- Cleaning and lubricating machinery and equipment
Disassembling machinery is necessary in order to move it. When this happens, millwrights are responsible for sorting and packaging the parts to facilitate reassembly. Assembling these complex machines may take days or weeks of work.
Millwrights typically work in factory settings. They may work in a single factory maintaining equipment, or they might travel from site to site in order to assemble new equipment. The majority work for manufacturing companies, but a significant number work for companies responsible for the care and maintenance of machinery.
In their work, millwrights use a variety of hand tools and other equipment. Their work often requires welding, brazing, and cutting metal. Large projects often require trucks and cranes. Even smaller projects (relatively speaking) usually require forklifts, winches, hoists, and other equipment to move heavier parts.
Millwrights generally work full time on a set schedule. Working overtime is common, and so is traveling to faraway job sites. Working with industrial machinery can be hazardous, and millwrights may need to wear gloves, hardhats, steel-toed shoes, safety glasses, and earplugs.
Conditions and schedules vary, but for some apprentices, the work can be grueling. This apprentice works twelve hours a day, seven days a week. She also goes months at a time without work between jobs, so it can be very feast or famine. Despite all that, she loves her work.
Here are some qualities that you’ll need to have or develop in order to become a millwright:
- Manual dexterity: You’ll need a steady hand and good hand–eye coordination in order to assemble and disassemble small parts.
- Organizational skills: You’ll need to be able to categorize a large number of parts and keep track of them when machines are moved from one place to another.
- Mechanical skill: You have to be able to understand technical manuals and sophisticated diagnostic equipment in order to assemble large, complex machines.
- Attention to detail: You should be able to focus and be thorough with details
- Troubleshooting skills: You must be able to diagnose, and fix mechanical problems.
How to Become a Millwright
Most millwrights learn their trade through an apprenticeship program that lasts about four years. Some choose to earn an Associate’s Degree in Industrial Maintenance, which takes about two years followed by additional training once they’ve begun work. Either way, they’ll need to study math, welding, hydraulics, and pneumatics.
In order to become a millwright, you’ll need to learn how to read blueprints and use a wide variety of hand tools. You’ll need to learn welding and become familiar with electrical systems. Because machinery is increasingly computer-run, chances are you’ll need to study computer programming as well.
Earning a Millwright and/or Industrial Maintenance Degree is one way to get started. We’ve included some popular programs below, but this isn’t a comprehensive list. Seek out other options in your home state or in the place you would most like to live.
Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, MO offers a Millwright Associate of Applied Science Degree. It includes general education requirements such as United States History but focuses on core curriculum requirements such as Industrial Electrical Safety, Fundamentals of Industrial Machine Repair, Fluid Power Fundamentals of Hydraulics and Pneumatics, and Welding Industry Fundamentals. Total cost of tuition ranges from roughly eight thousand dollars for local students to over twenty thousand dollars for out-of-state students.
Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, TX offers a Millwright – Industrial Maintenance Mechanic Associate of Applied Science Degree. This degree requires five semesters. The total cost is close to seven thousand dollars for residents and about twelve thousand dollars for out-of-state students. They also offer certificates that offer some of the same courses but can be completed in under one year.
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The University of West Alabama offers an Associate’s Degree in Industrial Maintenance. In-state tuition is $9,100 per semester and out-of-state tuition is double that. This two-year degree includes the following courses:
- Precalculus Trigonometry
- Industrial Mechanics
- Basic Blueprint Reading
- Fluid Power
- Workplace Safety and Health
- Electrical Motor Controls
- Instrumentation, Precision and Equipment Calibration
- Welding Fundamentals
Penn Foster offers an Associate Degree in Industrial Electronics and Electrical Maintenance Technology. Their flexible courses can be completed on your schedule, with each semester taking as little as three months or as many as eight. The program is four semesters and can be completed in one year, though it takes most students over two years to complete. The cost per semester is $1300 in advance or $1700 if you want to opt for low monthly payments. You must be at least seventeen and have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Some companies offer their own millwright apprenticeship programs. Rather than going into debt for a degree, you could earn a living wage while learning a trade.
Interfor Corporation’s Millwright Apprenticeship Program includes online learning, hands-on classroom training, and on-the-job experience gained in the mill. This program lasts for three years, and apprentices receive pay increases as they go. Upon completion of the program, apprentices earn a Journey Millwright Certificate. The program also pairs students with mentors for ongoing guidance and support.
Interfor’s apprenticeship program requires about ten hours of study each week, and some of that time is incorporated into the workday. Applicants must be at least eighteen years old and be willing to work any shift. Interfor has over thirty locations throughout North America.
Some technical colleges also offer millwright apprenticeship programs. Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, WI offers one such program, but apprentices must be employed by a company or organization that is willing to participate in the apprenticeship program. The four-year program includes 7,424 hours of on-the-job training and 576 hours of classroom instruction.
Training Institutes are another great option for apprenticeship programs. The Carpenters Training Institute has training locations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa. Their millwright program includes 7,000 hours of on-the-job training and 800 hours of classroom learning.
Courses included in the Carpenters Training Institute apprenticeship program include:
- Precision Tools, First-Aid/CPR/AED
- Introduction to Welding
- Introduction to Cutting – plasma cutting, welding
- Math for the Trades, Introduction to Rigging
- Confined Space Training, Mechanical Print Reading – install sole plates
- Machinery Installation, Leveling and Layout Instruments
- GE Familiarization – high-torque bolting and tensioning
- Machinery Alignment, Indicator Alignment, Laser Alignment
- Conveyors, Monorails, and Rack Installation
- Mechanical Power Transmission and Bearing Projects
- Flowserve – qualified pump repair
- Professionalism and “Stepping up to Foreman”
The millwright program at the Carpenters Training Institute requires four years of work and study before apprentices become journeymen. In their first year, apprentices earn over forty thousand dollars on average – and they receive benefits. By their fourth year, apprentices have the opportunity to earn over eighty thousand dollars annually.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Millwright?
You can begin earning a living wage as a millwright apprentice right out of the gate.
Earning a certificate isn’t necessary, but could help you find a job. That takes one year. Earning an Associate of Applied Science Degree could take one to three years.
On average, it takes four years of work as a millwright apprentice before you can become a journeyman millwright.
Career Outlook for Millwrights
The job outlook for millwrights and industrial machinery mechanics is excellent. The projected change in employment over the next decade is fourteen percent, much higher than the national average of five percent.
Millwrights are employed by a wide range of industries. Some of the primary employers are:
- Building equipment contractors
- Construction companies
- Commercial industrial machinery repair
- Pulp, paper, and paperboard mills
- Iron and steel mills
- Motor vehicle manufacturing
- Engineered wood product manufacturing
How Much Do They Make?
Millwrights earn about $30 per hour on average. The mean annual wage for millwrights in May 2021 was $61,260. The lowest ten percent of millwrights earn under forty thousand dollars per year, and the top ten percent earn over eighty thousand dollars per year.
That same year, the average wage for all workers was $45,760.
The top-paying states for millwrights are Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Alaska. In each of these states, the annual mean wage for millwrights is over seventy thousand dollars per year. Illinois is the best-paying state with a mean annual wage of $77,570. Other states with above-average salaries for millwrights include Connecticut, Ohio, Washington, Nevada, and Louisiana.
After becoming a Journeyperson, there’s still room for advancement in this field. Foremen can earn between seventy and one hundred thousand dollars per year, and superintendents earn between ninety and one hundred and thirty thousand dollars each year.
Becoming a Millwright: An Overview
Overall, becoming a millwright is a promising trade for mechanically-minded people who love to work with their hands. There will be plenty of jobs available in the coming years, and you have the opportunity to earn good money even as an apprentice. There’s plenty of room to grow, and salaries increase steadily with experience.
For those who are suited to the work, overall job satisfaction is high. Millwrights enjoy the rewarding work of building and maintaining important machinery. Work varies significantly from day to day and from job to job, which keeps millwrights on their toes and prevents boredom.
Here are some pros and cons to becoming a millwright:
- Above average salary
- Earn money while learning a trade
- Plenty of room for growth
- Useful to a wide range of industries
- Hazardous work conditions
- Loud work environment
- Long hours
If you’re interested in this profession, consider seeking out millwrights in your area to ask about the possibility of shadowing them to learn more about their work.
If you’re interested in learning more about other trades, check out these recent articles all about how to become an electrician or a heavy equipment mechanic. Stay tuned for upcoming articles on training to become an airplane mechanic or a power plant operator.