Sheet Metal Workers

Summary

sheet metal workers image
Workers mark before drilling holes.
Quick Facts: Sheet Metal Workers
2012 Median Pay $43,290 per year
$20.81 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Apprenticeship
Number of Jobs, 2012 142,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 15% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 22,000

What Sheet Metal Workers Do

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

Work Environment

Sheet metal workers often lift heavy materials and stand for long periods. Those who install sheet metal often must bend, climb, and squat, sometimes in awkward positions. Most work full time.

How to Become a Sheet Metal Worker

Although most sheet metal workers, particularly those in construction, learn their trade through an apprenticeship, those who work in manufacturing often learn on the job or at a technical college.

Pay

The median annual wage for sheet metal workers was $43,290 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of sheet metal workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities should be particularly good for sheet metal workers who complete apprenticeship training or those who are certified welders.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of sheet metal workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about sheet metal workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Sheet Metal Workers Do About this section

Sheet metal workers
Workers often use shears to cut metal.

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

Duties

Sheet metal workers typically do the following:

  • Select types of sheet metal or nonmetallic material
  • 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 large sheet metal parts to be installed, and anchor the parts
  • Fasten seams or joints by welding, bolting, riveting, or soldering

Sheet metal workers fabricate, install, and maintain thin sheet metal products. Although sheet metal is used to make many products, such as rain gutters, outdoor signs, and siding, it is most commonly used to make ducts for heating and air conditioning.

Sheet metal workers study plans and specifications to determine the kind and quantity of materials they will need. Using computer-controlled saws, lasers, shears, and presses, they measure, cut, bend, and fasten pieces of sheet metal.

In shops without computerized equipment, sheet metal workers make the required calculations and use tapes and rulers to lay out the work. Then, they cut or stamp the parts with machine tools.

In manufacturing plants, sheet metal workers program and operate computerized metalworking equipment. For example, they may fabricate sheet metal parts for aircraft or industrial equipment. Sheet metal workers in those jobs may be responsible for programming the computer control systems of the equipment they operate. Additionally, they may make custom pieces and operate equipment that is manually controlled.

Before assembling pieces, sheet metal workers check each part for accurate measurements. If necessary, they use hand rotary or squaring shears and hacksaws to finish pieces.

After inspecting the metal pieces, workers fasten seams and joints with welds, bolts, rivets, solder, or other connecting devices. Then they take the parts constructed in the shop and further assemble the pieces as they install them.

Most fabrication work is done in shops with some final assembly done on the job. Some jobs are done completely at the jobsite. When installing a metal roof, for example, sheet metal workers usually measure and cut roofing panels onsite.

In addition to installing sheet metal, some workers install fiberglass and plastic board. 

In some shops and factories, sheet metal workers maintain the equipment they use. 

Sheet metal workers do both construction-related work and the mass production of sheet metal products in manufacturing. Sheet metal workers are often separated into four specialties: fabrication, installation, maintenance, and testing and balancing.

The following are examples of types of sheet metal workers:

Fabrication sheet metal workers, sometimes called precision sheet metal workers, make ducts, gutters, and other metal products. Most work in shops and factories, operating tools and equipment. Although some of the fabrication techniques used in large-scale manufacturing are similar to those used in smaller shops, the work may be highly automated and repetitive. Many fabrication shops have automated machinery, and workers use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) systems to make products.

Installation sheet metal workers install heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts. They also install other sheet metal products, such as metal roofs, siding, or gutters. They typically work on new construction and on renovation projects. 

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 making sure that air is transferred through sheet metal ducts efficiently. 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 About this section

Sheet metal workers
Some sheet metal workers install metal roofs.

Sheet metal workers held about 142,300 jobs in 2012. About 59 percent worked in the construction industry and 27 percent worked in manufacturing.

Sheet metal fabricators usually work in small shops and manufacturing plants that are well ventilated. They often must lift heavy materials and stand for long periods.

Workers who install sheet metal at construction sites must bend, climb, and squat, sometimes in close quarters or in awkward positions.

Sheet metal installers who work outdoors are exposed to all kinds of weather.

Injuries and Illnesses

Sheet metal workers have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. 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 often must wear safety glasses and must not wear jewelry or loose-fitting clothing that could easily get caught in a machine. To avoid repetitive-type injuries, sheet metal workers may work at a variety of different production stations.

Work Schedules

Nearly all sheet metal workers are employed full time.

How to Become a Sheet Metal Worker About this section

sheet metal workers image
In shops, sheet metal workers operate machines to make cuts.

Although most sheet metal workers, particularly those in construction, learn their trade through an apprenticeship, those who work in manufacturing more often learn on the job or at a technical college.

Education

Those interested in becoming a sheet metal worker should take high school classes in English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing and blueprint reading, and general shop.

Many technical colleges have programs that teach welding and metalworking. These programs help provide the basic knowledge that many sheet metal workers need to do their job. 

Some manufacturers have partnerships with local technical schools to develop training programs specific to their factories.

Training

Most sheet metal workers learn their trade through 4- or 5-year apprenticeships. Each year, apprentices must have at least 1,700 to 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training and a minimum of 246 hours of related technical instruction. Apprentices learn construction basics such as blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices.   

After completing an apprenticeship program, sheet metal workers are considered to be journey workers, qualifying them to do tasks on their own.

Apprenticeship programs are offered by unions and businesses. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are reaching the age of 18 and having a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly after finishing high school or getting their GED, some start out with a job as a helper before entering an apprenticeship.

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 Sheet Metal Institute offers certification in building information modeling (BIM), welding, testing and balancing, and other related skills.

Important 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.

Pay About this section

Sheet Metal Workers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Sheet metal workers

$43,290

Construction trades workers

$38,970

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for sheet metal workers was $43,290 in May 2012. 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 $25,310, and the top 10 percent earned more than $74,740.

The starting pay for apprentices usually is between 40 percent and 50 percent of what fully trained sheet metal workers make. As they gain more skill, their pay increases.

Nearly all sheet metal workers are employed full time. Those who work in manufacturing are more likely to participate in profit sharing, work overtime, and receive output incentives to supplement their basic wages.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, sheet metal workers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012. Although there is no single union, the largest organizer for sheet metal workers is the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Job Outlook About this section

Sheet Metal Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Construction trades workers

22%

Sheet metal workers

15%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of sheet metal workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, 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 need to install energy-efficient air conditioning, heating, and ventilation systems in older buildings and to maintain these systems.

Sheet metal workers in manufacturing are expected to experience faster-than-average employment growth as some work that was previously outsourced to other countries returns to the United States.   

Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be particularly good for sheet metal workers who complete apprenticeship training or who are certified welders.

Some manufacturing companies report having difficulty finding qualified applicants. Workers who program equipment, possess multiple welding certifications, and show commitment to their work will have the best job opportunities.

In addition, workers at smaller firms are less likely to be laid off when demand for products slow down.

Employment of 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, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Sheet metal workers

47-2211 142,300 164,300 15 22,000 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of sheet metal workers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Glaziers

Glaziers

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

High school diploma or equivalent $37,610
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration and mechanics and installers

Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

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

Postsecondary non-degree award $43,640
Assemblers and fabricators

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $28,580
Machinists and tool and die makers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,910
Metal and plastic machine workers

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.

High school diploma or equivalent $32,950
Roofers

Roofers

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

Less than high school $35,290

Contacts for More Information About this section

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 toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, and Employment and Training Administration

For general information about sheet metal workers, visit

International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry

NCCER

Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Sheet Metal Workers International Association

For certification information, visit

American Welding Society

Sheet Metal Institute

O*NET

Sheet Metal Workers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Sheet Metal Workers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/sheet-metal-workers.htm (visited November 25, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014