Sheet Metal Workers


Quick Facts: Sheet Metal Workers
2017 Median Pay $47,990 per year 
$23.07 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Apprenticeship
Number of Jobs, 2016 138,900
Job Outlook, 2016-26 9% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 12,000

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Sheet Metal Workers Career, Salary and Education Information

What Sheet Metal Workers Do

Sheet metal workers fabricate or install products that are made from thin metal sheets, such as ducts used in heating and air conditioning systems.

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sheet metal workers

Duties of sheet metal workers

Sheet metal workers typically do the following:

  • Select types of sheet metal according to plans

  • Measure and mark dimensions and reference lines on metal sheets

  • Drill holes in metal for screws, bolts, and rivets

  • Install metal sheets with supportive frameworks

  • Fabricate or alter parts at construction sites

  • Maneuver and anchor large sheet metal parts

  • Fasten seams or joints by welding, bolting, riveting, or soldering

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.


Work Environment for Sheet Metal Workers

Sheet metal workers held about 138,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of sheet metal workers were as follows:

Specialty trade contractors: 62%

Manufacturing: 23%

Government: 5%

Construction of buildings: 3%

Employment services: 2%

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.

Injuries and Illnesses

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.

Work Schedules

The majority of sheet metal workers worked full time in 2016.


How to Become a Sheet Metal Worker

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.

Education

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.

Training

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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 Industryoffers 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.

Important Qualities

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.


salaries for Sheet Metal Workers

The median annual wage for sheet metal workers was $47,990 in May 2017. 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 $27,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,120.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for sheet metal workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government: $55,960

Specialty trade contractors: $49,550

Construction of buildings: $43,430

Manufacturing: $40,330

Employment services: $36,980

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.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, sheet metal workers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2016. 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).


Job Outlook for sheet metal workers

Employment of sheet metal workers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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

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.

Employment projections data for Sheet Metal Workers, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 138,900

Projected Employment, 2026: 150,900

Change, 2016-2026: +9%, +12,000


Careers Related to sheet metal workers

Assemblers and Fabricators

Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them. They use tools, machines, and their hands to make engines, computers, aircraft, ships, boats, toys, electronic devices, control panels, and more.

Boilermakers

Boilermakers assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers, closed vats, and other large vessels or containers that hold liquids and gases.

Glaziers

Glaziers install glass in windows, skylights, and other fixtures in storefronts and buildings.

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers—often called heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration(HVACR) technicians—work on heating, ventilation, cooling, and refrigeration systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings.

Insulation Workers

Insulation workers, also called insulators, install and replace the materials used to insulate buildings and their mechanical systems.

Machinists and Tool and Die Makers

Machinists and tool and die makers set up and operate a variety of computer-controlled and mechanically controlled machine tools to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

Metal and Plastic Machine Workers

Metal and plastic machine workers set up and operate machines that cut, shape, and form metal and plastic materials or pieces.

Roofers

Roofers replace, repair, and install the roofs of buildings, using a variety of materials, including shingles, bitumen, and metal.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, also known as PV installers, assemble, install, and maintain solar panel systems on rooftops or other structures.

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts. They also fill holes, indentations, or seams in metal products.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Assemblers and FabricatorsHigh school diploma or equivalent$31,850
GlaziersHigh school diploma or equivalent$42,580
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and InstallersPostsecondary nondegree award$47,080
Machinists and Tool and Die Makers$44,110
Metal and Plastic Machine Workers$35,400
RoofersNo formal educational credential$38,970
BoilermakersHigh school diploma or equivalent$62,260
Insulation Workers$39,930
Solar Photovoltaic InstallersHigh school diploma or equivalent$39,490
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and BrazersHigh school diploma or equivalent$40,240

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Sheet Metal Workers,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/sheet-metal-workers.htm