Plastic Patternmaker Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a plastic patternmaker career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming a plastic patternmaker is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Plastic Patternmaker

Plastic patternmakers spend much of their time setting up and managing machines that mold plastic patterns. Check out these pros and cons to see if being a plastic patternmaker is the right fit for you.

Pros of Being a Plastic Patternmaker
Not a lot of schooling needed for a job (entry-level jobs require a high school diploma)*
Ability to find a specialty, whether it's operating machines or setting them up*
Chance to use your hands to create high-demand products*
Can follow standard work hour schedule with opportunities for overtime*

Cons of Being a Plastic Patternmaker
Must work around heavy machinery that can be loud and dangerous*
Day-to-day work can be tiring and tedious*
Need to stand for long periods of time while working*
Pay is low compared to other careers ($41,670 mean annual wage)*
Need to be strong to carry materials and operate machines*

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

Career Info

Job Description

Plastic patternmakers work in factories and warehouses and use heavy machinery to cut and create plastic pieces or products. Jobs like this require you to understand and regularly operate machines, so you'll need to know how to adjust settings, replace parts, fix any problems and run tests to make sure everything is operating correctly. It's also common for you to wear protective gear and steel-toed boots to prevent any workplace injuries. Once you make the patterns, you may need to test them using measurements and weight.

There are many different forms of plastic patternmakers, so you may be able to develop a specialty. In some cases, you can work as a machine setter or the machine operator. You can also learn to use and manage computer-controlled machines, which reduces the need for manual labor.

Salary Stats and Job Growth

Plastic patternmakers make relatively low pay compared to other careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that metal and plastic patternmakers made a mean hourly wage of about $20 in May 2014, which amounts to a mean annual salary of approximately $41,000. There were a total of 3,770 plastic and metal patternmakers employed across the country in May 2014, with the majority working in foundries and manufacturing plants. Plastic patternmakers generally follow normal business hours, but you may be able to earn overtime pay by working after hours and on weekends.

The BLS expects that the employment of metal and plastic workers should fall by 6% between 2012 and 2022. It's decline may be caused by new machinery and technological advances that reduce the need for physical workers. Job opportunities will be favorable for computer literate patternmakers, and the BLS found that there may be openings for plastic patternmakers as the aging baby boomer population retires.

Education Requirements

You won't need to go through a lot of schooling to become a plastic patternmaker. Most jobs require a high school diploma with much of your training taking place on the job. You may be able to take part in an apprenticeship program, which means you'll be trained by an experienced patternmaker who can show you how to use machines and create the patterns.

Some community colleges or trade schools offer certificate programs, but it's generally more common to undergo training while at work. You may be able to earn a certification through a national trade organization as a way to formalize your experience, but it's generally not required to find work as a plastic patternmaker.

Job Postings from Real Employers

There are many manufacturing plants that are looking for machine operators who can work with plastic and make plastic patterns. Many employers are looking for candidates that hold a high school diploma, can work with their hands, lift heavy equipment and manage heavy machines. Check out these job openings from real employers posted in April 2012:

  • A manufacturing firm in Arizona is looking for a extrusion machine operator who specializes in plastics and can work in a production line. You'll need a high school diploma and at least one year of manufacturing experience to be considered.
  • A corporation that specializes in plastics in New Jersey seeks a quality technician that can oversee product development and make sure that materials meet quality standards. While a high school diploma is the minimum education requirement, you'll need to hold a minimum of two years of work experience.
  • A plastics firm in Wisconsin is looking to hire a finisher that can operate machinery, lift parts and make sure that products meet quality standards. You'll need at least a high school diploma. There is no work experience needed, which means you may be able to take part in on-the-job training.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

The best way to advance as a plastic patternmaker is to gain work experience and increase you skill levels within a plastics manufacturing plant. With experience, you'll be able to work with complex machinery and computer-based technology that can enhance your job opportunities. If you are interested in becoming a supervisor, you may need to earn an associate's degree or gain special certification in addition to your years of work experience.

Alternative Career Paths

Machinists

If becoming a plastic patternmaker isn't the right fit, then you may want to consider becoming a machinist. In this role, you'll use computer-generated machines to create metal instruments and tools. Just like a plastic patternmaker, you'll need to hold a high school diploma at the minimum, although there are opportunities to engage in professional training at a community college or trade school to earn certification. The job outlook for machinists is similar to plastic patternmakers as the BLS projects a 7% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020.

Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance Workers

As an industrial mechanic or maintenance worker, you'll work on production lines packaging systems and machinery. There is an expected 19% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. You'll need at least a high school diploma to find work in this industry. Because your work may be dangerous, most industrial mechanics and maintenance workers wear protective gear and are trained to closely follow safety guidelines and precautions.

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