How to Become a Sheet Metal Worker 2021 (Things to Know)


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How to Become a Sheet Metal Worker 2021 (Apprenticeships, Education & Prospects)

Sheet metal workers fabricate, repair, and install items made from sheet metals including steel, aluminum, and other alloyed metals. An essential job in manufacturing and construction industries, sheet metal work can be lucrative and challenging for people with a particular skill set.

In an ever industrializing world, sheet metal workers are always needed for a variety of work in a range of environments. Let’s take a look at some of the responsibilities, characteristics, and educational considerations of sheet metal workers today.

We’ll also dive into salary and career outlook information, which are important to keep in mind when considering pursuing a career as a sheet metal worker.

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What Does a Sheet Metal Worker Do?

As mentioned above, sheet metal workers make, install, and repair items made out sheet metal. Common items fabricated include ducts for heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. Many sheet metal workers also craft products related to drainage and roofing.

Depending on the type of sheet metal worker you become, your day to day tasks may differ slightly. An installation sheet metal worker installs HVAC ducts and products for roofs, siding, and gutters.

Maintenance sheet metal workers repair and clean ventilation systems to ensure that they run efficiently. They remove dust and moisture from the ducts and fix and leaks or breaks in the metal.

Precision sheet metal workers often fabricate parts for power generation and medical device manufacturing. Some of their work is automated, so knowledge of computer systems is required.

Duties of a Sheet Metal Worker

Major tasks of fabrication, installation, or repair sheet involve the following processes:

  • Select sheet metal types that are appropriate for the task at hand
  • Measure dimensions and reference lines on metal for cutting
  • Drill holes for screws, bolts, and other hardware necessary for assembly
  • Fabricate products at construction sites according to project needs
  • Maneuver and anchor heavy sheet metal parts
  • Use a variety of precision tools and math to ensure accuracy

Sheet Metal Worker Equipment Required for the Job

sheet metal machinery
Sheet metal workers use large and small tools and machines to complete their work. Devaes at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sheet metal workers use a variety of large and small tools throughout the day, depending on the type of project being completed and the specific tasks required for fabrication or repair.

Many of the projects completed by sheet metal workers today involve some automated machinery that runs CAD (computer-aided design) programs. Machines include plasma cutters, saws, and presses.

Small measuring tools like micrometers are also frequently utilized.

What Items Do Sheet Metal Workers Make?

ac duct
Sheet metal workers make a range of products, including air conditioning and heating ducts. Mk2010, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sheet metal workers make ducts, drainage products, and parts for other industries. The products made vary depending on who you work for, and most sheet metal workers become highly efficient in producing certain finished products.


Education Paths for Sheet Metal Workers – Where to Begin?

One of the benefits of becoming a sheet metal worker is that it requires a very straightforward and affordable educational path. Instead of spending thousands of dollars at a college or university, you can enter an apprenticeship after high school and learn all aspects of the job in a real-world learning environment.

1) High School Diploma 

The first step towards becoming a sheet metal worker is taking relevant high school classes and graduating with good grades. It is highly recommended that aspiring sheet metal workers take several math classes such as algebra and geometry. Higher-level math classes will be beneficial for your career in the long run.

Other helpful classes include general metalworking, welding, and even woodworking classes. Any hands-on classes that require precision and attention to form and function are relevant to fabricating sheet metal.


2) Sheet Metal Worker Apprenticeships

apprentice sheet metal worker
Apprenticeships teach aspiring sheet metal workers all the necessary skills of the trade in a real-world setting.

After graduating from high school, aspiring sheet metal workers enter into 4-5 year apprenticeships with manufacturing companies or independent sheet metal workers in their area.

Apprenticeships cover all required skills and safety considerations that are necessary for entering the workforce. Students learn to read blueprints, hone their math and measuring skills, learn how to operate machinery, and practice on real projects.

Sheet metal worker apprenticeships are paid, so you will learn and earn a little income at the same time. After the completion of the apprenticeship, sheet metal workers are eligible for entry level positions.

Some cities and states do require licensing or affiliation with local organizations in order to get hired in a sheet metal position. Check out requirements in your specific area to ensure you are qualified. Certifications are also available, though not always required.


Additional Skills & Requirements of Sheet Metal Workers

Besides knowing the fundamentals of fabrication, installation, and repair, sheet metal workers who succeed in the industry generally have the following skills and personality traits:

1) Manual Dexterity

Working with sheet metal requires manual dexterity and precision. You should be able to use measuring tools and operate larger equipment with care to ensure good results. This career requires you to work with your hands and be able to create finished products that have uniform dimensions and quality.


2) Attention to Detail  

Because sheet metal work is so precise, close attention to detail is required. Reading blueprints and other instructions and accurately translating those requirements onto metal takes a lot of patience. Small mistakes can compromise large projects, so being detail oriented will help prevent any major mishaps.


3) Strong Math and Mechanical Skills

As previously discussed, sheet metal workers are very mechanically inclined and rely on mathematics to ensure excellent results. Because you will be turning a flat sheet of metal into a three dimensional finished product, a strong comprehension of geometry is extremely important.

Being able to visualize a finished product is also an essential characteristic of a mechanically inclined mind.


4) Stamina and Strength 

Lifting and manipulating large metal sheets throughout the day requires a good deal of stamina and physical strength. Sheet metal workers should be able to routinely lift over 50 pounds.


Where Would You Work As A Sheet Metal Worker?

Sheet metal workers are employed in several different settings depending on the types of products they create or maintain. The following are some of the most work environments for sheet metal workers.

It is important to note that regardless of the work environment, working with sheet metal is potentially dangerous. Workplace hazards include injuries from sharp metal, welding, falls, and machinery.

1) Manufacturing Plants

sheet metal worker at plant
Manufacturing plants are one of the most common places of employment for sheet metal workers. US Army Corps of Engineers / CC BY-SA

Most precision sheet metal workers are employed in large manufacturing plants that utilize both large and small machinery to complete daily tasks. Those employed in manufacturing plants may perform more repetitive tasks and use automated machinery than those in other settings.

If you enjoy routine and the more technological side of sheet metal work, consider a large manufacturing plant.


2) Construction Sites

sheet metal worker at construction site
The expertise of sheet metal workers is often needed at construction sites.

Some construction companies require an on-site sheet metal worker for duct work and other metal implements. Sheet metal workers who work at construction sites are expected to fabricate, repair, or install products at the site.

Weather, noise, and the distraction of other workers are all factors to consider when applying at a construction site.


3) Small Shops

sheet metal machine
Small shops hire a close-knit team of sheet metal workers to create custom products for clients.

The last major workplace option for sheet metal workers is a small shop. Some experienced workers open their own sheet metal shop for custom projects. Small shops are more common in towns and villages without large manufacturing plants, as competition is low.

If you are someone who prefers working with a small, but close-knit team in a  quieter work environment, a small shop may be the best fit for you. Keep in mind that getting hired may be more difficult than the other options.


What is a Sheet Metal Worker’s Salary? 

Sheet metal workers living in the United States can expect to earn a median salary of about $48,596-$51,370 per year. This is a great median salary when compared to jobs in other industries. Annual salary can vary based on where you live and what type of company or work environment you choose.

In the United Kingdom, sheet metal workers can expect to earn a median salary of approximately £25,000. Again, salary estimates vary depending on where you live.


How Long Do Sheet Metal Workers Work?

Sheet metal workers usually work full time hours: 8 hours per day, or 40 hours per week. Shifts may fluctuate, but many sheet metal workers are able to work daytime shifts with weekends off. The number of hours worked and specific days worked will depend on employer needs, just like any other job.

Sometimes sheet metal workers are required to work overtime, which obviously increases their hours worked, but also adds to their annual salary.


What Are the Career Prospects for Sheet Metal Workers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated job growth for sheet metal workers is currently 1%. This is slower than other occupations, but there are still around 13,000 job openings in this industry each year. So although job growth is small, there is still a need for sheet metal workers across various manufacturing settings.

If you are an aspiring sheet metal worker who is wondering whether it is worth it to pursue this career, consider the role of manufacturing in your area. This can differ from city to city and state to state, so consider where you currently live or would like to live in the future.


Preparing for a Career as a Sheet Metal Worker (Things You Can Do Right Now!)

If becoming a sheet metal worker is something you are interested in pursuing, you can take actionable steps towards your goal by jumping in and learning as much as you can about the trade.

1) High School Math and Metalworking Classes 

If you are currently in high school, take as many math and metalworking classes as you can and consider how these skills can transfer to your future career. Algebra, geometry, and higher level math classes are all beneficial. Any metalworking or woodworking classes will help you gain an eye for detail and a love for working with your hands.

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2) Related Job Experience 

Whether you are a student or an adult seeking a career change, experience in a related job field can help you learn the skills needed for working with sheet metal and can help you stand out from other applicants.

Related jobs include assembling, welding, heating/air conditioner installation, machining, and roofing. If you already excel at any of these occupations, you will likely perform well as a sheet metal worker.


Are You Ready to Become a Sheet Metal Worker?

Sheet metal work is an ideal career path for individuals who enjoy both mental and physical challenges during the work day. Although the career growth for sheet metal workers is currently slower than other occupations, there is always a need for practical manufacturing jobs in the economy. With nearly 13,000 job openings each year in this specialized industry, becoming a sheet metal worker may be the right career for you.

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