What Does a Sheet Metal Worker Do? (With Salary and Duties)

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 30, 2022

Knowing what a sheet metal worker does can improve your career prospects in the field. Regardless of your current background and specialization, knowing what a sheet metal worker's professional responsibilities are can help you understand the skills and preparation you need for the role. Learning how to become a sheet metal worker can be a valuable career move, but it requires study and determination. In this article, we discuss what a sheet metal worker is, what they do, how to become one, the skills required for the job, as well as the average salary and projected career prospects.

What is a sheet metal worker?

A sheet metal worker is a professional who makes, installs and reconditions sheet metal products, such as various elements that are part of the heating, cooling and ventilation systems, as well as roofing and drainage systems. Most sheet metal workers are either self-employed, work directly for companies that produce sheet metal or are employed by companies that handle heating, air-conditioning and roofing jobs.

Related: 12 Types of Welding Jobs

What does a sheet metal worker do?

Sheet metal workers can specialize in a single aspect of sheet metal work, like fabrication, maintenance or installation, but usually have knowledge and experience in all three. Those who work in factories, however, typically perform a single repetitive task, lacking the knowledge and skill to move on to more complex roles.

Depending on their exact specialty, sheet metal workers have work duties that may include:

  • Manufacturing and installing various sheet metal products, such as air and heat ducts, sheet metal buildings and roofs

  • Measuring, marking and laying out sheets of metal for specific jobs

  • Operating various computerized tools that precisely cut, bend or straighten the metal sheets

  • Polishing metal areas like rough surfaces or the seams and joints between two sheets of metals

  • Welding different sheets of metal together

  • Reading and applying work specifications

The exact work duties of sheet metal workers depend on their exact specialization:

  • Installation sheet metal workers: They are typically tasked with installing sheet metal products, like heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts, metal roofs, gutters and others.

  • Fabrication sheet metal workers: They are also called precision sheet metal workers and they are the ones who actually make the metal sheets, in different shapes and sizes depending on their destination. Some metal sheet factories are completely computerized and the metal sheet workers operating there need to learn how to program the software that regulates the sheet metal production and cutting.

  • Maintenance sheet metal workers: They repair previously installed heating, ventilation and air conditioning units by repairing various leaks and breaks, as well as removing any accumulated moisture and dust

  • Testing and balancing sheet metal workers: They make sure that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units are working properly by measuring their airflow and adjusting the metal sheets accordingly.

Related: 20 of the Highest Paying Jobs for GED Holders

How to become a sheet metal worker

Consider these steps if you want to pursue a career as a sheet metal worker:

1. Graduate from high school

Most sheet metal workers have a high school diploma or an equivalent. The most important classes are usually algebra and geometry, as well as vocational-educational courses like mechanical drawing, welding and blueprint reading. Some sheet metal manufacturers sign partnerships with local technical schools to create special programs that teach students basic welding and sheet metal fabrication skills, preparing them for careers in the field.

2. Join a sheet metal worker apprenticeship

After graduating high school, the next step towards a career as a sheet metal worker is joining a four or five-year apprenticeship program. Such programs include both classroom participation and practical on-the-job training, under the supervision of a senior sheet metal worker. Those who work as apprentices usually receive hourly pay, which increases as the apprentice advances.

A typical apprenticeship program includes between 1,700 and 2,000 hours of practical training and between 144 and 320 hours of theoretical courses. Those who complete the apprenticeship gain crucial sheet metal working skills, such as knowing how to read blueprints, what building code requirements are, as well as first aid and safety practices.

Related: How To Find an Apprenticeship Program

3. Get your license and certifications

Some states require specific licenses for sheet metal workers. Even if that is not a specific requirement, there are other certifications that can help increase an aspiring sheet metal worker's reputation, such as a welding certificate from the American Welding Society or a certification in precision sheet metal work from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International.

4. Look for jobs as a sheet metal worker

Although many metal sheet workers continue working for the companies where they completed their on-the-job training as apprentices, you can also prospect the job market for other professional opportunities. Job boards and networking with people in the heating, cooling and air conditioning industry are usually the most effective ways to find jobs in the field.

Skills for metal sheet workers

These are usually the most important skills for a successful career as a metal sheet worker:

  • Mechanical skills: Most metal sheet work involves working with various tools, such as saws, shears, pressers and lasers. Operating and maintaining this kind of equipment requires strong mechanical skills.

  • Dexterity: Precisely and safely cutting pieces of metal requires good motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

  • Computer skills: Modern sheet metal working is heavily reliant on computer technology, meaning that sheet metal workers need to know how to use computer software to design products and cut sheets of metal.

  • Mathematical skills: Given the complex shapes of metal sheets created for various installations, metal sheet workers need to be able to calculate exact sizes and angles for the sheets to fit.

  • Strength and stamina: Many sheet metal workers work in factories and have to spend many hours standing up and lifting heavy pieces of metal and equipment.

Related: 22 Common Job Titles in Construction

Sheet metal worker salary and job outlook

According to Indeed Salaries, the average yearly wage for a sheet metal worker in the U.S. is $64,027 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics mentions that there are currently 137,700 active sheet metal workers in the country, but the job outlook for the next decade only indicates a 1% job number increase, which is below the national average.

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