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Sheet Metal Workers - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
It is important for experienced sheet metal workers to keep abreast of new technological developments, such as the use of computerized layout and laser-cutting machines. In addition, new software, called B.I.M., which stands for “building information modeling,” allows contractors, architects, and engineers to coordinate their efforts and increase efficiency at worksites.

Certifications in one of the specialties also can be beneficial to workers. Certifications related to sheet metal specialties are offered by a wide variety of associations, several of which are listed in the sources of additional information at the end of this statement.

Sheet metal workers in construction may advance to supervisory jobs. Some of these workers take additional training in welding and do more specialized work. Workers who perform building and system testing are able to move into construction and building inspection. Others go into the contracting business for themselves. Because a sheet metal contractor must have a shop with equipment to fabricate products, this type of contracting business is more expensive to start than other types of construction contracting.

Sheet metal workers in manufacturing may advance to positions as supervisors or quality inspectors. Some of these workers may move into other management positions.

Sheet metal workers held about 170,700 jobs in 2008. About 63 percent of all sheet metal workers were in the construction industry, including 46 percent who worked for plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors; most of the rest in construction worked for roofing contractors and for building finishing contractors. Some worked for general contractors engaged in residential and commercial building and for other special trade contractors.

About 23 percent of all sheet metal workers were in manufacturing industries, such as the fabricated metal products, machinery, and aerospace products and parts industries. Some sheet metal workers work for the Federal Government.

Compared with workers in most construction craft occupations, relatively few sheet metal workers are self-employed.

Job Outlook
Slower than average employment growth is projected. Job opportunities should be best for individuals who have apprenticeship training or who are certified welders. Applicants for jobs in manufacturing will experience competition.

Job Growth
Employment of sheet metal workers is expected to increase by 6 percent between 2008 and 2018, slower than the average for all occupations. This change reflects anticipated growth in the number of industrial, commercial, and residential structures to be built over the decade. In addition, it reflects the need to install energy-efficient air-conditioning, heating, and ventilation systems in older buildings and to perform other types of renovation and maintenance work on these systems. Also, the popularity of decorative sheet metal products and increased architectural restoration are expected to add to the demand for sheet metal workers.

Sheet metal workers in manufacturing, however, are expected to experience a moderate decline in employment as the industry becomes more automated and some of the work is done in other countries.

Job opportunities are expected to be good for sheet metal workers in the construction industry, reflecting both employment growth and openings arising each year as experienced sheet metal workers leave the occupation. Opportunities should be particularly good for individuals who have apprenticeship training or who are certified welders. Applicants for jobs in manufacturing will experience competition.

Sheet metal workers in construction may experience periods of unemployment, particularly when construction projects end and economic conditions dampen construction activity. However, because maintenance of existing equipment makes up a large part of the work done by sheet metal workers, they are less affected by construction downturns than are some other construction occupations. Installation of new air-conditioning and heating systems in existing buildings is expected to continue as individuals and businesses adopt more energy-efficient equipment to cut utility bills. In addition, a large proportion of sheet metal installation and maintenance is done indoors, so sheet metal workers usually lose less worktime because of bad weather than do other construction workers.

In May 2008, median hourly wages of sheet metal workers were $19.37. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.39 and $27.03. The lowest 10 percent of all sheet metal workers earned less than $11.43, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $35.36.

Apprentices normally start at about 40 to 50 percent of the rate paid to experienced workers. As apprentices acquire more skills, they receive periodic pay increases, until their pay approaches that of experienced workers.

About 32 percent of all sheet metal workers belong to a union. Union workers in some areas receive supplemental wages from the union when they are laid off or experience shortened workweeks.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Architectural Sheet Metal

An Architectural Sheet Metal program teaches a student how to work with metal and translucent sheets, insulation, ventialtors, gutters, skylights, metal doors, etc.. A student in the Architectural Sheet Metal program will become well versed in welding, understanding blue prints, field erection, and ...more

Sheet Metal

The Sheet Metal Program will teach a student how to assemble, install and service an extensive range of heating, air conditioning, roofing, restaurant, and hospital equipment. The program will show a student how to install ducts, pipes, gutters, cabinets, flashings and supporting devices.

The ...more