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Sheet Metal Worker


Description

Most people do not associate sheet metal workers with dining at a restaurant. However, they manufacture stainless steel range hoods, preparation tables and other types of restaurant equipment needed for a restaurant to properly operate. Yet sheet metal workers do much more than build for restaurants. They also design, fabricate, assemble, install, and repair the sheet metal products required in a wide variety of industries and settings.

Without sheet metal workers, we would have no roofs over our heads to stop the rain from coming in or proper ventilation systems in our homes and offices. Therefore, industries such as agriculture, construction, petrochemical and chemical plants, hospitals, and metal signs businesses require the expertise of a sheet metal worker. They are familiar with the properties of metal and can operate metalworking machines. They work from either verbal instructions or blueprints, or design small jobs themselves.

The first step is choosing materials for a project based on what will suit it best. Sheet metal workers use many types of metal including black and galvanized steel, copper, brass, nickel, stainless steel, aluminum and tin plate. Once this has been decided, they take the sheet metal to bend and shape to the proper size and then fasten it together. They often use welding equipment to join the metal sheets together and must therefore be expert welders, knowing the alloys of each metal. They also grind and polish metals and use plasma cutters.

Examples of the structures that sheet metal workers make are pollution control systems, dust collecting and control ducts, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, metal showcases, neon and metal sign equipment, metal cabinets, custom built tables, counters and fixtures for hospitals, kitchen equipment and items for the food service and beverage industry, roof drainage systems, and a larger number of other fixtures and structures.

Like in all fields that encompass design work, computers are changing the traditional role of the sheet metal worker. Knowing how to use computer-aided design (CAD) and computerized machinery will give workers a distinct advantage.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$19,760
 
Median Salary:
$34,570
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$61,422

  Interests and Skills  
Successful sheet metal workers need the strength and stamina required to work with heavy parts and equipment, along with manual dexterity, good coordination, mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity. They enjoy working with tools and machinery and working on precise projects. They also must be able to tolerate odors, noisy and dirty surroundings and heights, in close quarters with other workers.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Read drawings and sketches of work to be performed and lay out, measure and mark sheet metal according to drawings or templates
  • Use laser or plasma cutting equipment, numerically controlled or computerized equipment, hand and power shears and snips and light metalworking equipment to cut, drill or punch, bend, straighten and shape sheet
  • Fasten with bolts, screws, cement, rivets, adhesives, solder or by welding
  • Fit and join sheet metal parts using riveter, welding, soldering and similar equipment to fabricate products such as ventilation shafts, eavestroughs, partition frames, air and heat ducts, roof decking and sheet metal buildings
  • Install and repair sheet metal products and ensure installations conform to specifications and building codes
  • Do metal cladding of insulated piping and equipment on industrial sites
  • Grind and buff seams, joints and rough surfaces
  • Supply, install, service and repair air handling equipment, furnaces, fans and air terminal devices
  • Inspect product quality and installation to ensure conformance to specifications
  • Sheet metal workers employed in manufacturing work in enclosed buildings and are not subject to weather conditions. However, noisy, smelly and dirty factory conditions are the drawback. Those who work on construction sites often work in incomplete structures - outdoors but not outside. Many are employed on shift work, working a standard 40-hour week. Traveling to locations and relocating temporarily to remote areas for work might be required at times. Often, sheet metal workers work at heights on scaffolds or in cramped and awkward positions.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Sheet metal workers work for sheet metal fabrication shops, sheet metal product manufacturing companies, air-conditioning and heating contractors, and sheet metal work contractors. Few sheet metal workers are self-employed. The majority of employment for sheet metal workers is full-time through an employer or contractor.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced sheet metal workers may become specialists in design and layout work or in estimating the cost of installations. They may advance to supervisory positions, or go into business for themselves. With additional training, they can transfer their skills to related occupations such as welder, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic, machinist, millwright, plumber, boilermaker, ironworker, pipefitter, gasfitter, roofer and insulator.
 

  Educational Paths  
Sheet metal worker receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a sheet metal worker, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the sheet metal worker a certificate of completion.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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