What Does a Sheet Metal Worker Do? Job Prospects and Skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A sheet metal worker is a skilled craftsperson who designs, fabricates, and installs sheet metal products. This highly-skilled job requires mathematical precision, physical strength, and dexterity. If you're considering becoming a metal sheet worker, learning about what they do and how to become one can help you determine if it's the right career choice for you.

In this article, we answer the question, “What does a sheet metal worker do?”, explore different areas of specialization in this field, explain how to become one, and list some skills you can develop to excel in this role.

What does a sheet metal worker do?

Before answering the question, "What does a sheet metal worker do?" it's crucial to understand who is a sheet metal worker. A sheet metal worker is a skilled professional who fabricates, installs, and refurbishes sheet metal products. Such professionals are typically self-employed, work directly for sheet metal manufacturing companies, or work for companies that provide heating, air conditioning, and roofing services. Such professionals perform various tasks, depending on their area of work and expertise. Some of the job roles and responsibilities may include:

  • Read engineering and architectural drawings, sketches, and work specifications

  • Layout, measure, and mark sheet metal per drawings or templates

  • Create sheet metal patterns using a computer-aided design and drafting (CAD) software package

  • Bend, punch, drill, shape, or straighten sheet metal using light metalworking machines such as shears, brakes, punches, drill presses, and computer numerical control (CNC) equipment

  • Cut sheet metal using computerized laser or plasma cutting equipment

  • Prepare the work area for rigging and lifting

  • Use riveting, welding, soldering, and similar equipment to assemble and join sheet metal components to manufacture products such as exhaust hoods, ventilation shafts, eaves troughs, partition frames, material handling systems, roof decking, air and heat ducts, and sheet metal buildings

  • Install sheet metal products as per the manufacturer's specifications and local building codes

  • Grind and buff seams, joints, and rough surfaces

  • Inspect the quality of the product and its installation to ensure compliance with specifications

Areas of specialization in sheet metal work

The four primary areas of specialization in sheet metal work include fabrication, maintenance, installation, and product testing. Sheet metal professionals often specialize in one or more aspects of the trade, but typically have some knowledge and experience in all four. Their specific job duties vary according to their expertise. Here are some of the key roles and responsibilities of sheet metal professionals as per their area of specialization:

  • Fabrication sheet metal workers: also known as precision sheet metal workers, they fabricate metal sheets in various shapes and sizes depending on their final destination either by hand or computerized software that controls sheet metal production and cutting.

  • Maintenance sheet metal workers: fix originally installed heating, ventilation, and air conditioning components by correcting leaks and breaks and extracting accumulated moisture and dust.

  • Sheet metal installation workers: install sheet metal products such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning vents, metal roofs, and sewer lines.

  • Testing and balancing sheet metal workers: ensure that the heating, ventilation systems, and air conditioning units are functioning correctly by evaluating airflow and tweaking the metal sheets accordingly.

How to become a sheet metal worker

Sheet metal workers typically begin learning their trade through an apprentice program. You can consider the following steps if you wish to pursue a career in sheet metal fabrication:

1. Complete high school

Most sheet metal workers hold a high school diploma or GED. You can focus on algebra and geometry classes in high school to prepare for a career as a sheet metal worker. Courses in blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, and welding are also beneficial if they're available as well. Some technical schools offer welding and metalworking classes as elective courses. These programs help provide you with the basic welding and sheet metal fabrication knowledge and experience necessary to excel in your role. Often, certain manufacturers partner with local technical schools to develop factory-specific training programs.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

2. Join a sheet metal worker apprenticeship

Many sheet metal workers receive their training through four- or five-year apprenticeships that include paid on-the-job training and related technical instruction. With these apprenticeships, you learn the fundamentals of construction, including blueprint reading, relevant math, building code requirements, safety, and first aid procedures. They may include welding instruction in the training. Some workers begin their careers as assistants before pursuing apprenticeships.

These programs combine classroom instruction with hands-on training under the supervision of a senior sheet metal worker. Apprentices typically earn an hourly wage, which increases as you advance through the program and gain more skills and experience. A typical apprenticeship program comprises 1,700 to 2,000 hours of practical training and 144 to 320 hours of theoretical instruction. Unions and businesses often sponsor such apprenticeship programs. After completing an apprenticeship program, you become a journeyperson and are qualified to perform tasks independently.

Related: What Is an Apprenticeship?

3. Fulfil the requirements

You may require a specialized licenses to practice in certain provinces. Minimum requirements for the job include:

  • Secondary school completion

  • Successful completion of a three-to-five-year apprenticeship program or a combination of over four years of trade expertise and some sheet metal working courses taken in high school, college, or through on-the-job training to qualify for trade certification

Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta require trade certification, while all other provinces and territories offer it voluntarily. A qualified sheet metal worker may also obtain a Red Seal endorsement upon successfully passing the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

4. Look for jobs as a sheet metal worker

Many metal sheet workers find employment in the companies where they received their apprenticeship training. You can also search the job market for other job opportunities. Researching job boards and networking with individuals in the sheet metal industry are some of the most effective methods for finding work in the field.

Related: How to Find Movie Extra Jobs (With Tips and Steps)

Skills to develop to be a sheet metal worker

Sheet metal workers require a variety of skills, depending on their specialty. Employers of sheet metal workers may look for the following skills in candidates:

Mechanical skills

Sheet metal workers require strong mechanical abilities to operate a variety of sheet metal tools safely and accurately. When chopping sheet metal, they use saws, shears, snips, and lasers. They use mechanical or automatic presses to stamp sheet metal and manipulate it with lathes, drills, and turning lathes. A skilled sheet metal worker is confident in their ability to operate and maintain these tools. They use strong technical knowledge to explain blueprints and technical drawings accurately.

Dexterity

Sheet metal workers require excellent manual dexterity to cut sheet metal precisely and efficiently. This skill enables them to work safely with sheet metal tools. They can also benefit from fine motor skills and good hand-eye coordination to use their tools while cutting metal sheets effectively.

Computer literacy

Numerous modern sheet metal factories operate using computer technology. They design projects, manage production, and cut sheet metal to specified sizes and shapes using computer software. They can gain experience by learning how to use computer-aided design applications, programming, and operating various machinery.

Mathematics

Sheet metal work often involves materials of various shapes and sizes. Mathematical abilities, such as a good knowledge of algebra and geometry, can aid sheet metal workers in determining the proper dimensions and angles for their components. Sheet metal professionals who perform precise calculations can help reduce waste by cutting accurate components.

Physical fitness

Sheet metal workers may want to have a healthy, physically fit body can enable them to complete their shifts efficiently. This is because most of their job involves physical labour, their stamina allows them to stand for the duration of their shift or work in confined spaces for extended periods. They may also require adequate physical strength to enable them to lift and operate heavy machinery that they use to cut sheet metal.

Occupational health and safety knowledge

It's critical for sheet metal workers to understand how to conduct themselves safely while performing their duties. They may want to exercise caution when using tools and are aware of how to work safely in hazardous conditions, such as heights and rough weather. They're aware of the importance of protective clothing and appropriately wear welding helmets, overalls, and safety boots. Sheet metal workers also have a thorough understanding of industry standards and safety procedures.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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