Sheet metal workers held about 143,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of sheet metal workers were as follows:
|Specialty trade contractors||57%|
|Construction of buildings||3|
Sheet metal fabricators usually work in manufacturing plants and small shops, where they often lift heavy materials and stand for long periods of time.
Workers who install sheet metal at construction sites must bend, climb, and squat, sometimes in close quarters, in awkward positions, or at great heights. Sheet metal installers who work outdoors are exposed to all types of weather. The work environment may be noisy or dusty, and job tasks may create vibrations.
Injuries and Illnesses
Sheet metal workers risk injury on the job. Common injuries include cuts from sharp metal, burns from soldering or welding, and falls from ladders or scaffolding.
Some sheet metal fabricators work around high-speed machines, which may be dangerous and also may carry risks of loud noise, dust particles, and vibrations. To reduce injuries resulting from these hazards, workers often must wear safety glasses, ear protection, and dust masks and must not wear jewelry or loose-fitting clothing that could easily get caught in a machine. To avoid repetitive strain injuries, sheet metal workers may rotate through different production stations.
Most sheet metal workers work full time.
Sheet metal workers who work in construction typically learn their trade through an apprenticeship. Those who work in manufacturing often learn on the job or at a technical school.
Sheet metal workers typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. Those interested in becoming a sheet metal worker should take high school classes in algebra and geometry. Vocational-education courses such as blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and welding are also helpful.
Technical schools may have programs that teach welding and metalworking. These programs help provide the basic welding and sheet metal fabrication knowledge that sheet metal workers need to do their job.
Some manufacturers have partnerships with local technical schools to develop training programs specific to their factories.
Most construction sheet metal workers learn their trade through 4- or 5-year apprenticeships, which include both paid on-the-job training and related technical instruction. Apprentices learn construction basics such as blueprint reading, math, building code requirements, and safety and first aid practices. Welding may be included as part of the training.
Some workers start out as helpers before entering apprenticeships.
Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions and businesses. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are being 18 years old and having a high school diploma or the equivalent.
After completing an apprenticeship program, sheet metal workers are considered journey workers who are qualified to perform tasks on their own.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some states require licenses for sheet metal workers. Check with your state for more information.
Although not required, sheet metal workers may earn certifications for several tasks that they perform. For example, some sheet metal workers become certified in welding from the American Welding Society. In addition, the International Certification Board offers certification in testing and balancing, HVAC fire life safety, and other related activities for eligible sheet metal workers. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, offers a certification in precision sheet metal work.
Sheet metal workers typically have an interest in the Building interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building interest which might fit with a career as a sheet metal worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Sheet metal workers should also possess the following specific qualities:
Computer skills. Designing and cutting sheet metal often requires the use of computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) programs and building information modeling (BIM) systems.
Customer-service skills. Because many sheet metal workers install ducts in customers’ homes, workers should be polite and courteous.
Manual dexterity. Sheet metal workers need good hand-eye coordination to make precise cuts and bends in metal pieces.
Mechanical skills. Sheet metal workers use saws, lasers, shears, and presses to do their job. As a result, they should have good mechanical skills in order to help operate and maintain equipment.
Physical strength. Sheet metal workers must be able to lift and move ductwork that is often heavy and cumbersome. Some jobs require workers to be able to lift 50 pounds.
Spatial relationships. Airplane manufacturing requires the placement of structural metal pieces to be precise. Using hand-held tablets, for example, workers must be able to compare the installed sheet metal to the design specifications.
The median annual wage for sheet metal workers was $50,400 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $88,070.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for sheet metal workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Specialty trade contractors||51,910|
|Construction of buildings||46,070|
The starting pay for apprentices is usually less than what fully trained sheet metal workers make. As apprentices learn more skills, their pay increases.
Most sheet metal workers work full time.
Employment of sheet metal workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.
Employment growth reflects an expected increase in the number of industrial, commercial, and residential structures that will be built over the coming decade. It also reflects the continuing need to install and maintain energy-efficient air conditioning, heating, and ventilation systems in existing buildings.
About 17,300 openings for sheet metal workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.
Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who exit the labor force, such as to retire, and from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations.
Employment of construction sheet metal workers, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, peak periods of building activity may produce shortages of sheet metal workers.
For more information about apprenticeships or other work opportunities, contact local sheet metal contractors or heating, refrigeration, and air conditioning contractors; a local of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association; a local of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association; a local joint union–management apprenticeship committee; or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. Visit Apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.
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