Metal Patternmaker Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a metal patternmaker career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a metal patternmaker is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Metal Patternmaker

Manufacturing firms turn to metal patternmakers to construct and shape forms, which are eventually used by other workers to produce objects we use every day. Find out the pros and cons of being a metal patternmaker and decide if it's the right career for you.

PROS of the Metal Patternmaker Career
A degree isn't required for this career*
On-the-job training is usually provided through an apprenticeship*
Union positions generally pay more than non-union jobs**
A good career for those who like to work with their hands**

CONS of the Metal Patternmaker Career
Slower-than-average job growth (6% from 2012-2022)*
Becoming a skilled patternmaker can take 4-5 years**
Stamina needed to lift heavy items and endure heat from machines**
Risk of injury from high-powered machinery*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Delta College.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Metal patternmakers construct patterns that are used in the process of manufacturing various products. As a metal patternmaker, your daily work could include reviewing blueprints, laying out patterns, creating patterns using machines and tools and assembling patterns. Patternmakers work in industries that generate products from toasters to cars to items used in the aerospace industry.

Since metal patternmakers are employed in factories with dangerous tools and machines, you need to be vigilant about safety policies in place to protect you from injury. This generally involves wearing safety glasses, steel-toed boots and earplugs. The rooms where patternmakers work can often become dusty and hot.

Salary and Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that the number of metal patternmaker positions was expected to increase by six percent from 2012-2022. The anticipated decrease is a result of companies manufacturing products overseas, as well as manufacturing processes becoming more automated. However, experienced metal patternmakers should have the best job prospects.

In May 2014, the average pay for patternmakers, both metal and plastic, was about $20 per hour, according to the BLS. Workers in the aerospace industry earned the highest mean hourly wage of about $25 an hour.

As a contracted apprentice, you might expect to earn about 50% of the pay of a skilled patternmaker, according to a report on patternmaking careers by Delta College in Michigan. Your pay could increase by about five percent every six months until you're a skilled patternmaker.

Education Requirements

Formal education is not required to become a metal patternmaker; however, many patternmakers become proficient through contracted apprenticeships at a factory or foundry. Some associate's degree programs in patternmaking also exist, which you can often complete in conjunction with an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship Programs

You can find apprenticeship programs through many community colleges or technical schools, as well as some metalworking associations. During an apprenticeship, you are generally under contract for a certain period of time; apprenticeships can take 4-5 years to complete. During the program, you can receive job training on tools, machines and processes used in metal patternmaking; depending on the program, you might also take coursework in math, metallurgy, blueprints, design and safety.

Available Certifications

Certifications in patternmaking are optional, but can give you an edge in finding a job or advancing your career. The National Institute for Metalworking Skills has over 50 credentials in metalworking, including machining, metal forming and stamping. The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International offers certification in sheet metal operation.

Useful Skills

Since metal patternmaking is a very technical trade, it's important that you have good math, mechanical and problem-solving abilities. Some other skills that can help you do this job include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Aptitude for using computerized machines
  • Strength to work machines and lift heavy materials
  • Stamina for physical labor and working in hot patternmaker rooms

Jobs Posted by Real Employers

Most companies want to hire workers who have experience with various materials, such as metal, wood and plastic. In general, you should be able to use patternmaking machinery and know how to read blueprints and drawings. Below are samples of job postings from March 2012:

  • A patternmaking company outside of Cleveland, Ohio, sought an experienced patternmaker to work with computer numerical control (CNC) vertical machinery, drills, lathes and saws, and 3-D CAD and CAM (computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing) software. Candidates needed to be able to read blueprints and turn them into CAD models, as well as work with metals and plastics. The person hired should have been capable of working with clients to develop design plans.
  • A U.S. Army location in Illinois looked to hire a civilian patternmaker to work with metal and wood patterns. The job involved creating castings from blueprints and sketches; making patterns from iron, steel, lead, copper and aluminum; and constructing full-sized wood models.
  • An agency in Texas advertised for steel industry patternmaker apprenticeships. Candidates needed to be able to read blueprints and make patterns of wood, which are used to create metal pieces for use in industrial manufacturing. Knowing how to use CNC machines could give the candidate an edge.

Standing Out from the Crowd

Metal patternmaking is a highly competitive occupation, since job growth was predicted to decline. Experience and being proficient in patternmaking off multiple materials are the most important criteria for this job. Earning certifications and having computer skills could also be helpful.

Other Careers to Consider

Tool and Die Maker

Toolmakers construct tools used to form metal materials; die makers create forms made of metal that are used for molding composite materials, such as plastics and ceramics. In this occupation, you need to be familiar with how to use design software. Tool and die makers generally learn their skills through an apprenticeship program. The BLS reported that job growth was anticipated to increase seven percent from 2010-2020, while the mean wage for tool and die makers was about $23 an hour in May 2011.

Structural Metal Fabricator and Fitter

Along the manufacturing process, structural metal fabricators and fitters are used to put together metal structures and products. They learn the skills welding and riveting pieces together on the job. During the 2010-2020 decade, job opportunities for metal fabricators and fitters were expected to increase at a slower-than-average five percent, according to the BLS. In May 2011, structural metal fabricators and fitters received an average wage of approximately $18 per hour.

Industrial Machinery Mechanic

The field of industrial machinery mechanics is one of the few manufacturing careers that was expected to see about average growth, around 19% from 2010-2020, reported the BLS. Industrial machinery mechanics perform testing, cleaning, calibrating and performance checks on equipment such as that used in welding, hydraulic lifts and auto assembly lines. You can receive training in this field through associate's degree and certificate programs at many community colleges and technical schools. In May 2011, the BLS reported that these workers earned an average hourly wage of about $23.

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