What is a Sheet Metal Worker?

Also known as: Sheet Metal Installer, Sheet Metal Fabricator, Sheet Metal Apprentice, HVAC Sheet Metal Installer, Journeyman Sheetmetal Worker, Sheet Metal Mechanic.

A sheet metal worker is a skilled tradesman who creates, installs, and repairs sheet metal products. Most commonly these products include elements of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, although sheet metal workers also fabricate and repair products for drainage and roofing applications. Some sheet metal workers are skilled tradesmen, while others work on assembly lines performing less skilled tasks of metal assembly.

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What does a Sheet Metal Worker do?

Sheet metal workers are typically employed at construction sites, in metal shops, or at manufacturing plants. They can specialize in fabrication, installation, or maintenance, though most are skilled in all three areas. Sheet metal workers employed by a factory, however, are traditionally unskilled, performing only one repetitive task. All sheet metal workers make use of specialized equipment where they cut, form, or weld sheets of metal to create useful products for both commercial and industrial applications.

In order to fabricate sheet metal, the worker must first create or study given plans, blueprints and specifications. They determine what processes, equipment, and type of metal will be needed to create the product or part. They then measure and cut the materials according to specifications laid out in the plans. Measuring is done with tapes, rulers, or stamping equipment. Saws, plasma cutters, and drills are then used to create the precise cuts. Sometimes sheet metal workers perform this work by hand; in other cases, they use computer-controlled equipment to perform detailed and accurate work. After the metal is cut, workers bend the metal if necessary. Before assembly, workers use calipers, micrometers, and other measuring equipment to ensure accuracy. When all pieces of the part or product are ready, they are joined together with screws, rivets, bolts, or welds.

At construction sites, sheet metal workers install the products created in the factory or sheet metal shop. If the product is in pieces, workers perform further assembly work, joining ducts, seams and tubes. The pieces are joined end-to-end, and then lifted or dropped into place. The worker must then secure the pieces with metal hangers and brackets. Often, they are required to make adjustments or alterations at the site. They use tools like punches, drills, hammers, and welding equipment to make alterations and ensure equipment is installed safely, functionally, and correctly. In some cases, pieces are fabricated on-site, then installed and welded, interlocked, or bolted in place.

Many sheet metal workers specialize in maintenance. They service existing roofing, air-conditioning, ventilation, and heating systems to ensure they are energy-efficient and work properly. If repair is necessary, sheet metal workers use hammers, drills, and other equipment to fix the product, and then test and adjust the system to ensure it functions correctly. Workers who specialize in maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are often called HVAC technicians.

How to become a Sheet Metal Worker

The minimum requirement for most sheet metal working jobs is a high school diploma or equivalent. High school students often begin relevant training in the metal shop, blueprint reading, and mechanical drafting or drawing classes. After high school, prospective metal workers can learn the trade through on-the-job experience or through an apprenticeship.

Learning on-the-job often takes longer than an apprenticeship, and at first involves many jobs unrelated to sheet metal working. Workers may clean up debris and perform general shop or construction maintenance for many months before moving up to basic metal-working tasks. Trainees in these positions often take technical school courses after work to improve their opportunity for progress.

Apprenticeship programs typically last five years, though students who display heightened competency often complete the program in four years or less. During the apprenticeship, students engage in both on-the-job training with a skilled metal worker as well as classroom instruction. They learn all technical aspects of the trade, including how to operate complicated computer equipment and what types of metal are best for a particular application. Apprenticeship programs are offered by local chapters of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association or the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association.

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Further Reading

  • What Does A Sheet Metal Worker Do?

    The Sheet Metal trade is one of the most varied and diversified of all the skilled trades.

  • A Day In The Life Of A Sheet Metal Worker

    Sheet Metal Workers have a very challenging but highly rewarding occupation. The job requires physical strength and accuracy. The course offered in this industry is known as Engineering-Fabrication Trade. Anyone thinking about starting a career as a Sheet Metal Worker/ Engineering-Fabrication Trade should look into the apprenticeship training involved.

  • Sheet Metal Workers Standing Strong

    The products sheet metal workers make possible – HVAC systems, airplanes, elevators, skyscrapers, etc. – are all around us, but most Americans have no idea how dangerous and challenging the life of a sheet metal worker can be.

  • Using Essential Skills: On The Job With A Sheet Metal Worker

    Are you starting an apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker or are you thinking about a career in this trade? Pursuing a career as a sheet metal worker requires strong essential skills such as reading, document use, numeracy and critical thinking.

  • What Does A Sheet Metal Worker Do?

    Sheet metal workers fabricate, assemble, install and repair sheet metal products.

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