Pros and Cons of a Career as a Chassis Fabricator
Chassis fabrication professionals work in chassis production on factory assembly lines or in automotive manufacturing plants. There are a few things you may wish to consider when determining if a career as a chassis fabricator is right for you.
|Pros of Being a Chassis Fabricator|
|Educational requirements are limited*|
|Most jobs are full-time*|
|May have input into product development*|
|Union members might benefit from advocacy for workplace safety and benefits**|
|Cons of Being a Chassis Fabricator|
|Below-average employment growth (4% projected for all assemblers and fabricators from 2012-2022)*|
|Low to average income potential (structural metal fabricators earned a median salary of about $37,000 in May 2014)*|
|Noisy, potentially hazardous working conditions*|
|High level of strength and dexterity required*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).
Job Description and Duties
Chassis manufacturing may be conducted by team assemblers or skilled sheet metal fitters on an assembly line or in an auxiliary production plant. Manual fabricators must possess welding skills as well as a great deal of strength, dexterity and physical stamina. Chassis fabricators may have a hand in all phases of chassis production, from development to the finished piece. They need to possess mathematics and technical skills to read blueprints, use programmable computer devices and perform quality control over manufacturing processes. Common tasks include using tools for welding, metal cutting, fitting and grinding.
Career Outlook and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected slow overall growth in assembly and fabrication careers between 2012 and 2022. Much of this is due to the increasing use of robotics and programmable motion control devices by major manufacturers. The BLS projected slightly better employment growth for structural metal fabricators and fitters, predicting an 8% increase over the 2012-2022 decade.
Although many chassis fabricators are employed in the U.S. auto industry, they also might be employed in the motorsports and custom or high-performance automobiles industry. While the BLS doesn't collect salaries for chassis fabricators specifically, the agency reported in 2014 that the median salary of structural metal fabricators, which can include chassis fabricators, was about $37,000.
For many careers in assembly and fabrication, a high school diploma is all the formal education you need. However, engine manufacturers might require or prefer some level of postsecondary vocational or technical training in welding, metal fabrication or a related field of study, according to the BLS. Thus, you might want to complete a technical certificate or apprenticeship program that teaches you to read blueprints and fine-tune manufactured parts to within acceptable tolerance levels to maintain quality production standards.
Real Job Listings for Chassis Fabricators
Many career opportunities for fabricators require some experience and technical training. Here are a few real job listings from April 2011 for chassis fabricators:
- A Florida custom car business was looking for a lead project engineer to coordinate design and fabrication. The ideal candidate needed demonstrable experience in suspension, chassis and body panel fabrication for custom cars.
- A Detroit automobile manufacturer wanted to hire a design fabricator/build coordinator to evaluate, plan and complete fabrication projects. Requirements included a high school diploma plus training in computer-aided design and five years of experience in prototype fabrication. An associate's or bachelor's degree was preferred.
- A San Diego hauling facility sought a welder/fabricator for repairs, welding, cutting and grinding for trucks and roll-off containers. Applicants needed to have a high school diploma plus three years of heavy metal welding experience. Preferred qualifications included blueprint reading experience and training in metal technology.
How to Get Ahead in Your Career
Postsecondary Technical and Design Training
Collision repair programs, such as an Associate of Applied Science in Collision Technology or a bachelor's degree in a field like industrial technology with a vehicle design concentration, can provide you with chassis fabrication training and offer the postsecondary training some employers prefer. If you have specialized interests, other specialty certificate programs offer chassis fabrication and welding training for motorsports or high-performance vehicles.
Since many careers feature technical design oversight, training in computer-aided design (CAD) may also provide you with a competitive advantage. Many fabrication specialists work closely with designers and engineers to increase productivity and facilitate design improvements without sacrificing quality.
Certification and Union Membership
While professional certification may not be required for fabrication positions, you may choose to obtain the Precision Sheet Metal Operator certification issued by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International. Many manufacturing jobs also offer the opportunity for union membership. In the auto industry, the UAW supports worker benefits and promotes safety measures. Other manufacturing unions include the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA), a collective bargaining organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). SMWIA offers apprenticeship and training opportunities for entry-level fabricators.
Alternative Careers in Manufacturing and Automobile Service
If you're interested in a career like chassis fabricator but would like a higher salary, you might consider becoming an aircraft assembler; the BLS reported in 2010 that aircraft assemblers earned a median salary of about $45,000, approximately $10,000 more than structural metal fabricators. With higher growth potential than many areas of assembly and fabrication, the number of jobs for aircraft assemblers was predicted by the BLS to increase by 14% from 2010-2020. As an aircraft assembler, you would fit, fasten and install a variety of airplane components, from landing gear to fuselages and wings to heating and ventilation systems. U.S. aircraft manufacturers are seeing increasing demand from international buyers, and as commercial airlines struggle to remain competitive in a slowed economy, new fleets of planes will be needed to increase overall efficiency.
Auto Body Repairer
Maybe you'd rather not be limited to working on only a car's chassis; in that case, you could utilize similar skills in the field of general auto body repair. In addition to repairing and refitting body panels and other auto shell components, auto body repairers re-align frames and chassis using many of the same welding and grinding skills used by chassis fabricators. These professionals also prepare cost estimates and provide customer services. The BLS reported that 61% of auto body repairers work in repair shops, while 16% are self-employed and the rest work for car dealers.
Employment of auto body repairers is expected by the BLS to increase by 19% between 2010 and 2020, with the best prospects expected for professionals with formal training and industry certification for specific makes and models of cars and trucks. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence issues ASE certification in collision repair and refinishing as well as damage analysis and estimating. While the top ten percent of industry professionals earned in excess of about $64,000, the median salary for auto body repairers, based on BLS 2010 data, was about $38,000, only slightly more than that of chassis fabricators.