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Sheet Metal Worker

Sheet Metal Worker

Education and Training: High school, apprenticeship

Salary: Median—$17.09 per hour

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Sheet metal workers make, install, and repair heating and air-conditioning ducts and many other building parts made of sheet metal. They also make and install roofing, siding, stainless steel kitchen equipment, gutters, and light metal partitions. These workers are different from sheet metal workers on a production line, who are semiskilled factory workers.

A duct is a long, hollow pipe or tube through which air or other substances pass. When installing heating and air-conditioning ducts, sheet metal workers first decide on the size and type of sheet metal to be used. They then use construction plans to figure out the measurements and angles for the ducts. They mark patterns for the shapes and sizes of the ducts on the sheet metal and cut out the ducts by hand or with power shears. They bend the metal to form the shape they need, and drill or punch holes in it so they will be able to bolt the pieces together. Workers put the ducts together by bolting, welding, soldering, or riveting the metal edges, and they smooth the rough edges with a file or grindstone. They nail, screw, bolt, or weld the ducts into place and use hangers and braces for support. Although ready-made ducts are often used, they need to be altered to fit certain structures.

Some workers specialize in shop work, which is the layout and manufacture of sheet metal parts. Others install the ducts at the construction site. Skilled sheet metal workers know how to do a variety of tasks. They also work on jobs not directly related to the construction of buildings. Some work in railroad, aircraft, and shipbuilding factories. Others work for shops that make kitchen equipment, electrical equipment, and machinery. Some work with Fiberglass, plastics, and other nonmetallic materials.

Education and Training Requirements

An apprenticeship, which lasts four to five years, depending on the worker' skill, is the best way to learn the trade. A high school diploma or its equivalent is required. Some workers learn their trade by working as helpers for experienced sheet metal workers.

To enter an apprenticeship program, applicants must be at least eighteen years of age and in good physical condition. This program includes on-the-job training and classroom instruction. On the job, apprentices learn to use tools and materials. In the classroom, apprentices are taught blueprint reading, drafting, and mathematics relating to layout work. Apprentices also learn the relationship of sheet metal work to the other building trades.

On-the-job training usually takes longer than an apprenticeship. The trainee starts as a helper and develops the skill and experience needed for more difficult work. Sometimes a trainee combines this work experience with courses at a vocational or technical school or a community college. High school classes in English, algebra, geometry, mechanical drawing, and shop are recommended.

Getting the Job

The best way to enter the sheet metal trade is to contact a local union or contractor and apply for the apprenticeship program. State employment agencies have information about apprenticeship opportunities. Local contractors will have information about on-the-job training.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Sheet metal workers are already at the top of their trade. However, experienced workers can become specialists in design or layout work, supervisors or job superintendents, and estimators. Estimators calculate the potential total cost of materials and labor. Some sheet metal workers open their own contracting businesses.

The number of sheet metal workers is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Employment opportunities for sheet metal workers in the construction industry depend on the state of the general economy. However, the growing demand for energy-efficient central air-conditioning and heating should create many jobs for sheet metal workers. Demand for decorative sheet metal products and increased architectural restoration will also spur growth.

Working Conditions

Although some jobs are indoors, sheet metal workers are often subject to bad weather and noisy construction sites. The work on ladders can be dangerous, and the sharp edges of sheet metal can cause injuries. Sheet metal workers must be able to stand for long periods and crawl about in cramped spaces in awkward, stooped positions. Sheet metal workers generally work forty hours per week, with higher wages paid for overtime hours. Many sheet metal workers belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association
4201 Lafayette Center Dr.
Chantilly, VA 20151-1209
(703) 803-2980

Sheet Metal Workers International Association
1750 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 783-5880

United States Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210
(202) 693-3813

Earnings and Benefits

In 2004 the median wage for sheet metal workers was $17.09. Union workers earned more than nonunion workers, and wages varied from one part of the country to another. Apprentices usually start at forty to fifty percent of a fully qualified worker's salary. Their pay increases periodically as they progress through the training program and become fully qualified sheet metal workers. Union members generally receive paid holidays, life and medical insurance, and pension plans. The number of vacation days they receive depends on the number of days they work each year.

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