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Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets, such as ducts used in heating and air conditioning systems.
Sheet metal workers typically do the following:
Sheet metal is thin steel, aluminum, or other alloyed metal that is used in both manufacturing and construction. Sheet metal is commonly used to make ducts for heating and air conditioning systems, but it is also used to make products such as rain gutters, outdoor signs, and siding.
In addition to installing sheet metal, some workers install nonmetallic materials such as fiberglass and plastic board.
The following are examples of types of sheet metal workers:
Fabrication sheet metal workers, sometimes called precision sheet metal workers, make precision sheet metal parts for a variety of industries, from power generation to medical device manufacturing. Most work in shops and factories, operating tools and equipment. In large-scale manufacturing, the work may be highly automated and repetitive. Many fabrication shops have automated machinery, such as computer-controlled saws, lasers, shears, and presses, which measure, cut, bend, and fasten pieces of sheet metal. Workers often use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) systems to make products. Some of these workers may be responsible for limited programming of the computers controlling their equipment. Workers who primarily program computerized equipment are called metal and plastic machine workers.
Installation sheet metal workers install heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts. They also install other sheet metal products, such as metal roofs, siding, and gutters. They typically work on new construction and on renovation projects. Information about workers who install or repair roofing systems can be found in the profile on roofers.
Maintenance sheet metal workers repair and clean ventilation systems so the systems use less energy. Workers remove dust and moisture and fix leaks or breaks in the sheet metal that makes up the ductwork.
Testing and balancing sheet metal specialists ensure that HVAC systems heat and cool rooms properly by adjusting sheet metal ducts to achieve proper airflow. Information on workers who install or repair HVAC systems can be found in the profile on heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers.
Sheet metal workers hold about 138,900 jobs. The largest employers of sheet metal workers are as follows:
|Specialty trade contractors||62%|
|Construction of buildings||3|
Sheet metal fabricators usually work in manufacturing plants and small shops, where they must 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.
Sheet metal workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Common injuries include cuts from sharp metal, burns from soldering or welding, and falls from ladders or scaffolds.
Some sheet metal fabricators work around high-speed machines, which can be dangerous. Because of these hazards, workers must often wear safety glasses 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.
The majority of sheet metal workers work full time.
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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.
Most sheet metal workers have a high school diploma or equivalent. Those interested in becoming a sheet metal worker should take high school classes in algebra, geometry, and general vocational education courses including blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and welding.
Many technical schools have programs that teach welding and metalworking. These programs help provide the basic welding and sheet metal fabrication knowledge that many workers need to perform 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 classroom 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.
Although most construction workers enter apprenticeships directly after finishing high school, some start out as helpers before entering apprenticeships.
Apprenticeship programs are offered 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. Some apprenticeship programs give veterans preference.
After completing an apprenticeship program, sheet metal workers are considered to be journey workers who are qualified to perform tasks on their own.
Although not required, sheet metal workers can earn certifications for several of the tasks that they perform. For example, some sheet metal workers can become certified in welding from the American Welding Society. In addition, the International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry offers certification in building information modeling (BIM), welding, testing and balancing, and other related activities. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, offers a certification in precision sheet metal work.
Computer skills. Sheet metal workers use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) programs and building information modeling (BIM) systems as they design products and cut sheet metal.
Dexterity. Sheet metal workers need good hand–eye coordination and motor control to make precise cuts and bends in metal pieces.
Math skills. Sheet metal workers must calculate the proper sizes and angles of fabricated sheet metal, as it is important to ensure the alignment and fit of ductwork.
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 operate and maintain equipment.
Physical stamina. Sheet metal workers in factories may spend many hours standing at their workstation.
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.
The median annual wage for sheet metal workers is $46,940. 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 $26,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,340.
The median annual wages for sheet metal workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Specialty trade contractors||48,270|
|Construction of buildings||42,060|
The starting pay for apprentices is usually between 40 percent and 50 percent of what fully trained sheet metal workers make. As they learn more skills, their pay increases.
The majority of sheet metal workers work full time.
Compared with workers in all occupations, sheet metal workers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union. Although there is no single union, the largest organizer for sheet metal workers is the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART).
Employment of sheet metal workers is projected to grow 9 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as 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.
Job prospects should be good for sheet metal workers due to employment growth and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.
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.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Sheet metal workers||138,900||151,000||9||12,000|