Metal Fabricator Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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Metal fabricators earn a median annual salary of $45,000. Is this income worth the years of training? Read about job duties, salary and career information and see job postings from real employers that can help you decide if this profession is best suited for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Metal Fabricator

A metal fabricator is sometimes called a sheet metal fabricator or sheet metal worker. You will be required to use machinery to cut sheet metal. The following is a list of pros and cons that can aid in your decision in whether or not becoming a metal fabricator is right for you.

Pros of Being a Metal Fabricator
No formal training required*
Can complete an apprenticeship while getting paid*
Get to work with your hands*
Paperwork will be very limited*

Cons of Being a Metal Fabricator
Potential injuries due to nature of the job*
Requires standing for long periods*
Requires lifting heavy pieces*
Work may be repetitive*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description, Salary and Career Info

Working as a metal fabricator requires that you be knowledgeable in the various methods used to assemble sheets of metal. One of the first steps you must take prior to performing any work is to examine blueprints and determine what materials will be needed for the job. Once this process is completed, common duties you would perform include bolting, cutting, soldering and welding metal sheets

To perform these tasks, you must become proficient with using materials like fiber glass and plastic, as well as computerized metal-cutting tools like presses, flame cutters, laser and shears. After metals are fabricated, you would check to make sure the finished products meet certain specifications. Finished pieces are often used in ductwork, rain gutters and roof panels and are transported to the job site for installation.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salaries earned by sheet metal workers in the lowest ten percentile was below $25,000. Workers in the top ten percent earned over $79,000, as of May 2014. The median salary for sheet metal workers was about $45,000 per year. During this time, the building equipment contracting industry had the largest workforce of sheet metal workers and the state government paid the highest salary.

The BLS also projected that sheet metal workers would experience an 15% growth in employment from 2012-2022. The anticipated growth was due to the expected increase in residential and commercial construction. Additionally, unemployment is generally more likely for workers in the construction industry, especially during economic downturns and lack of projects.

Education and Training Requirements

You are not required to complete a formal education program to work as a metal fabricator, according to the BLS. However, you may improve your job prospects by completing a formal apprenticeship program to gain more specialized skills. An apprenticeship in this field consists of formal classroom and on-the-job training and generally last about 4-5 years. Training in the classroom typically covers topics in blueprint reading, computer-aided drafting (CAD), mechanical drawing and mathematics. Additionally, you may take specialized courses to work as a metal fabricator in areas like architecture, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), industrial welding and sign fabrication.

Job Postings from Real Employers

To work as a professional in this field, most employers require that you already have experience. If you are without experience, your best bet is to complete an apprenticeship program. By completing an apprenticeship, you will not only gain experience, but you also will get paid while doing it. Here are some job postings for metal fabricator positions that can give you an overview of what experience and skills real employers were looking for during February 2012:

  • A South Burlington, VT, staffing firm is looking for a sheet metal fabricator who has a 2-year technical degree or at least three years of experience in a position manufacturing raw materials.
  • A metal fabricating company in Antioch, TN, seeks an experienced sheet metal fabricator with five years of experience in metal fabrication installation and ten years of metal fabrication shop experience.
  • A Babylon, NY, company in the construction industry wants to hire an industrial metal fabricator who has 1-2 years of experience in various types of welding techniques and experience in using a CAD plasma cutter.
  • A roofing company in Lewisville, TX, seeks a sheet metal worker with experience in coping caps, gutters and downspouts for projects in the commercial and industrial industry.

How to Stand Out

To stand out or advance in this career, you can become certified in a metal fabrication specialty. An example of a certification is the Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) certification offered by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA). To qualify for this certification exam, you must have at least one year of experience as a machine operator or a year of technical training from an accredited program or apprenticeship program in precision sheet metal. Other certifications available include the Certified Welding Fabricator (CWF) credential offered by the American Welding Society (AWS).

To maintain a competitive edge in your trade, it is also essential that you remain informed on the latest fabrication technology, like those used for laser and layout cutting. In addition, subscribing for a membership with the FMA can give you access to online courses in metal fabrication procedures, such blueprint reading and parts layout, press brakes, shearing and tube bending.

Other Career Paths

Machinist

Much like a metal fabricator, a machinist must read blueprints to understand the specifications of making a part. In this position, you may mass produce large quantities of specific metal parts or produce smaller quantities of custom parts. To make these metal parts, you would use tools like grinders, latches and milling machines. Learning the trade through an apprenticeship is a common way to prepare for this job. The median salary for this position was $39,000, according to the BLS in 2011.

Machine Setter, Operator or Tender

On the other hand, if you want a job that's more automated and requires using less metal working tools, you may work as a machine setter, operator or tender. Generally, your duties would involve setting-up machines for production or operating machines to produce parts. These machines are used to produce various parts for items like consumer appliances. Typically, you can work in this position with only a few weeks of training on the job. The BLS reported that workers in this field earned a median annual salary of $32,000 in 2011.

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