Reliance Foundry is known for bollards, but we also specialize in industrial wheels. We work with millwrights who need a high degree of confidence in the quality of parts. After the purchase order is in, it’s often the millwright we talk to about specification—yet millwrighting is often not well understood as a career. We thought we’d shine a light on this profession in honor of those we work with.
What is a millwright?
Historically, a millwright was a mechanic that kept a mill’s machines running smoothly. Today, the millwright definition has expanded. It includes industrial mechanics in all sectors who install, maintain, repair, and disassemble industrial machines. As machines evolve and engineering advances, the millwright’s expertise has expanded. This is a varied and interesting trade with many specialties.
How much does a millwright make?
Potential millwrights may be curious about average compensation and regional job availability. We pulled information out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES May 2018 data, to address these questions. Below is a map showing workforce participation and median and top wages for millwrights on a state-by-state basis. Top wages are important: millwrights learn on-the-job, and so there are both apprentices and journeymen in the wage data. We’ve picked 90th percentile wages to reflect experience and specialty.
- The national median wage for millwrights was $55,060
- The 2018 national 90th percentile wage for millwrights was $80,660
- Millwrights account for an average of 0.4% of workers (using available state-by-state data)
- New York has a $46K gap between median and top paid millwrights. Experienced NY State millwrights make the highest wage in the nation. However, even junior millwrights do well in this state, making $5K/year more than the median national wage.
- In comparison, West Virginia only shows a $9K gap between median and top paid millwrights. The median wage there is slightly less than the national median, but top paid millwrights in West Virginia make $17K less than the national benchmark.
- Alaska has more millwrights per capita than any other state. Louisiana has the next highest percentage. (Millwrights are often employed in oil and gas plants.)
- In metropolitan data, Longview, WA is the town with the greatest number of millwrights per capita. This is likely due to the manufacturing nature of the town, where Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone are the major employers, and a vigorous manufacturing sector overall. This town has 220 millwrights in an overall population of just 38K.
- However, the metropolitan area including Chicago, Naperville, and Elgin employs the highest total number of millwrights. There are 1490 industrial mechanics working in that region.
What does a millwright do?
Millwrights install, maintain, repair, dismantle, and reassemble machinery in industrial and construction settings. Their work must be precise so as not to introduce strain into complex mechanical systems. As industrial mechanics, millwrights often have expertise in fields including:
- Machinery alignment, installation, repair
- Precise fitting of bearings, gears and shafts, motors, couplings
- Vibration analysis
- Scaffolding, aerial lifts
- Lift trucks/forklift certification
- Blueprint reading, electrical and mechanical design
- Conveyors, carousels, ASRS systems, monorails, bulk conveyors
- Pumps, valves, and seals
- Material handling, MSDS
- Software programs and packages, new avenues into robotics
Personal qualities required for millwrights
Factories, power plants, mills, and refineries are dependent on their machinery. They rely on millwrights to keep their businesses productive. This can be a stressful environment, and millwrights rely on certain personal qualities. They must be able to:
- think through a problem, taking necessary time, when everyone else is upset that a critical machine is down—and come up with a solid solution
- read detailed plans and prints, and translate them into working knowledge of unfamiliar machines
- troubleshoot mechanical systems
- problem-solve, estimate time, and communicate with their team
- stay organized
- work with precision
- value and promote safety
- be strong, coordinated, and have excellent fine-motor skills
How does someone become a millwright?
There are many different paths to becoming a millwright.
Over the course of a millwright’s career, most aim to achieve Journeyman or Red Seal status. This requires a four-year apprenticeship that combines on-the-job training and classes.
However, a journeyman millwright will have been working in the field for many years before certification. Getting an apprenticeship is the first step, but getting hired in that role can be a challenge. To find an apprenticeship, candidates must build a strong resume. Making connections within the industry is also very helpful.
Pre-apprenticeship educational programs are available at many technical colleges. Often listed as “industrial mechanics” courses, these lay a foundation for working as a mechanic within a factory. However, they are not the only way into the field.
Some millwrights start as shop-hands and laborers. These are given an apprenticeship based on their experience and aptitude. When a supervising journeyman sees potential in a young factory worker, he may offer an apprenticeship, even if the worker hasn’t had any prior trades education.
Contacting a union that represents millwrights is another common approach to making a first step. Unions have a good view of the current local workforce and what employers need. Union representatives may see a need for resume building. They might direct an interested jobseeker into pre-apprenticeship education or a shop-hand position. If the candidate looks ready, the union may simply suggest places to apply. Not all millwrights are union, but for those mechanics interested membership, they are an excellent resource.
For a motivated job-seeker, it’s worthwhile to submit resumes and contact employers working in appealing sectors. Factories often create long-term plans. A great candidate may be hired at an entry-level position so that they can be tested or tried before apprenticeship. In competitive markets, those with a pre-apprenticeship program under their belts may still start as a laborer. This practical experience is not a bad thing. It gives both the worker and the company a chance to evaluate whether the career is a good fit, and to see what skills need brushing up.
What tools does a millwright need?
A recurring theme on the subreddit r/millwrights (an excellent resource for those in, or considering, the trade) is that the first and most important tool for millwrights is good boots. Eye protection is also often mentioned.
After that, careful assessment of the physical demands and hazards of each new site are vital. A millwright’s best tools are mind and body. Everything else is replaceable.
Expertise and preference determine what’s in a millwright’s toolbox. Since tools can be lost or stolen, some millwrights prefer mid-grade tools. Others like the confidence they have in top end tools, or enjoy treating themselves at the Snap-on truck when they have the money.
Starting with mid-grade is the most common approach. Many inexpensive basic tools will last for decades.
Over the course of a career, education and worksites will dictate what to buy and when. First-year millwright apprentices’ tool lists often include:
- measuring and leveling devices of many types
- socket sets
- screw drivers
- Allen keys
- sleever bar(s)
- vice grips
- a utility knife
The future of millwrighting in the US
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections, the millwright profession will grow more rapidly than other sectors between 2018–2028. Average growth of all professions during this time is predicted to be 5%. However, millwrights are projected to gain 3,900 new positions, which represents a 9% increase in employment.
Rates of retirement and workers transitioning to other fields means that BLS expects 4,400 new hires per year. Industrial Mechanics, closely related to millwrighting and a career that millwrights may transition to or from, is a much bigger employment category. 37,800 hires are projected in this field every year, although the industry overall is projected to grow only as much as average.
Another change in the millwrighting industry is the computerization and robotization of factories. There are opportunities for millwrights who learn skills in these areas.