California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Sheet Metal Workers in California

May also be called: Field Installers; Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning Sheet Metal Installers; Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning Technicians; Sheet Metal Installers; Sheet Metal Layout Mechanics; Sheet Metal Mechanics

What Would I Do?

Sheet Metal Workers make, install, and repair a wide variety of products made from metal sheets. They also work with fiberglass and plastic materials. Sheet Metal Workers can choose one of many specialties such as industrial welding and fabrication, exterior or architectural sheet metal installation, or sign fabrication.

Most Sheet Metal Workers work for contractors who specialize in sheet metal equipment for residential, industrial, or commercial buildings. They install or maintain commercial and residential heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), as well as solar heating systems, roofing, siding, and drains. Many sheet metal parts come in standard sizes and shapes, are quickly assembled at the job site, and need little change for a proper fit. Residential sheet metal parts are inexpensive and easy to mass produce. As a result, residential Sheet Metal Workers may do only on-site installation, often using flexible duct instead of more expensive, custom parts.

In making custom components, Sheet Metal Workers first study plans, blueprints, and specifications to determine the kind and quantity of materials they will need. They locate and mark reference points and use shop mathematics to calculate angles and curves. Next, they cut the flat material and shape it into a three-dimensional form using hand and power-driven tools and fabricating machines. In an increasing number of shops, Sheet Metal Workers use computerized metalworking equipment. This enables them to experiment with different layouts to find the one that results in the least waste of material. They cut, drill, and form parts with computer-controlled saws, lasers, shears, and presses.

Before assembling pieces, Sheet Metal Workers check each part for accuracy using measuring instruments such as calipers and micrometers, and if necessary, finish pieces using hand, rotary, or squaring shears and hacksaws. After inspecting the pieces, Workers fasten seams and joints together with welds, bolts, cement, rivets, solder, specially formed sheet metal drive clips, or other connecting devices. They then take the parts to the construction site, where they further assemble the pieces as they install them. These Workers install ducts, pipes, and tubes by joining them end to end and hanging them with metal hangers secured to a ceiling or a wall. They also use hammers, punches, and drills to make parts at the work site or to alter parts made in the shop.

Some Sheet Metal Workers specialize in testing, balancing, adjusting, and servicing existing air-conditioning and ventilation systems to make sure they are functioning properly and to improve their energy efficiency. Properly installed duct systems are a key component to HVAC systems. A growing activity for Sheet Metal Workers is building "commissioning," which is a complete mechanical inspection of a building’s HVAC, water, and lighting systems.

Sheet Metal Workers who work in manufacturing plants make sheet metal parts for products such as aircraft or industrial equipment. Although some of the fabrication techniques used in large-scale manufacturing are similar to those used in smaller shops, the work may be highly automated and repetitive. Sheet Metal Workers doing such work may also be responsible for reprogramming the computer control systems of the equipment they operate.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Determine project requirements, including scope, assembly sequences, and required methods and materials, according to blueprints, drawings, and written or verbal instructions.Information Ordering
Lay out, measure, and mark dimensions and reference lines on material, such as roofing panels, according to drawings or templates, using calculators, scribes, dividers, squares, and rulers.Mathematics
Maneuver completed units into position for installation, and anchor the units.Trunk Strength
Convert blueprints into shop drawings to be followed in the construction and assembly of sheet metal products.Design
Install assemblies, such as flashing, pipes, tubes, heating and air conditioning ducts, furnace casings, rain gutters, and down spouts, in supportive frameworks.Installation
Select gauges and types of sheet metal or non-metallic material, according to product specifications.Near Vision
Drill and punch holes in metal, for screws, bolts, and rivets.Mechanical
Fasten seams and joints together with welds, bolts, cement, rivets, solder, caulks, metal drive clips, and bonds to assemble components into products or to repair sheet metal items.Building and Construction
Fabricate or alter parts at construction sites, using shears, hammers, punches, and drills.Manual Dexterity
Trim, file, grind, deburr, buff, and smooth surfaces, seams, and joints of assembled parts, using hand tools and portable power tools.Equipment Selection
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Sheet Metal Workers may work inside or outside, in a shop or at a job site. Most shops have adequate lighting, ventilation, and machinery safeguards, but may be unheated, oily, greasy, and noisy. At job sites, work may be done from high ladders and scaffolding or in confined areas. They stand for long periods and lift heavy materials and finished pieces. Those performing installation work do considerable bending, lifting, standing, climbing, and squatting, sometimes in close quarters. Those who install siding, roofs, and gutters are exposed to all kinds of weather. Sheet Metal Workers are subject to cuts from sharp metal, burns from soldering and welding, falls from ladders and scaffolds, and hearing loss from harmful noise levels. To minimize hazards, they must follow safety practices such as wearing safety glasses and not wearing jewelry or loose-fitting clothing that could easily be caught in machinery.

Sheet Metal Workers usually work a 40-hour week. Many belong to unions such as the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Sheet Metal Worker may appeal to those who enjoy working independently outdoors, performing physical activities that involve hands-on problems and solutions, working with details, and completing activities that involve little to no paperwork or working closely with others. Sheet Metal Workers should also have mechanical and mathematical aptitude and good reading skills.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2015 for Sheet Metal Workers in California was $56,090 annually, or $26.97 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2015Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$38,772$56,090$76,024
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2015 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Those who are self-employed are responsible for purchasing their own insurance and retirement plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

The largest contributors to growth in this occupation are the demand for more energy-efficient air-conditioning, heating, and ventilation systems in older structures. Job opportunities in construction should be better for individuals who have apprenticeship training or who are certified welders. In addition, 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 construction may experience periods of unemployment, particularly when construction projects end and economic conditions dampen construction activity. Nevertheless, employment of Sheet Metal Workers is less sensitive to declines in new construction than some other construction workers, such as carpenters. Maintenance of existing equipment and installation of new air-conditioning and heating systems in existing buildings continues during construction slumps, 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 work time due to bad weather than other construction workers.

Applicants for jobs in manufacturing may experience greater competition because a number of manufacturing plants that employ Sheet Metal Workers are moving to other countries and the plants that remain are becoming more automated.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Sheet Metal Workers is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Sheet Metal Workers are expected to increase by 18.5 percent, or 2,400 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Sheet Metal Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
13,00015,4002,40018.52,500
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 240 new job openings per year is expected for Sheet Metal Workers, plus an additional 250 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 480 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Sheet Metal Workers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
240250480
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Sheet Metal Workers usually follow one of the following training paths: formal apprenticeship, vocational school, community college program or certificate program, or extensive on-the-job training. Many community colleges offer manufacturing technology and machine shop certificates or degrees.

Some work for contractors who provide on-the-job training. Entry-level Workers generally start as helpers, assisting more experienced workers. Most begin by carrying metal and cleaning up debris in a metal shop while they learn about materials and tools and their uses. Later, they learn to operate machines that bend or cut metal. In time, helpers go out to the job site to learn installation. Employers may send the employee to courses at a trade or vocational school or community college to receive further formal training. Helpers may be promoted to journey level if they show the required knowledge and skills. Most Sheet Metal Workers in large-scale manufacturing firms receive on-the-job training with additional class work or in-house training as necessary. The training needed to become proficient takes less time in manufacturing than in construction.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation courses in metal shop, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, drafting, physics, and computer programming are helpful to become a Sheet Metal Worker.

Apprenticeship

Completion of a four-year apprenticeship program is the general requirement to become a Sheet Metal Worker. Apprenticeship programs, administered in each area by the local Sheet Metal Joint Apprenticeship Committee, consist of on-the-job training and at least 144 hours per year of classroom instruction. Apprenticeship programs provide comprehensive instruction in both sheet metal fabrication and installation. For more information on apprenticeship programs currently available, visit the State of California's Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Apprenticeship Standards Web site.

On the job, apprentices first receive safety training and then training in tasks that allow them to begin work immediately. They learn the basics of pattern layout and how to cut, bend, fabricate, and install sheet metal. They begin by learning to install and maintain basic ductwork and gradually advance to more difficult jobs, such as making more complex ducts, commercial kitchens, and decorative pieces. They also use materials such as fiberglass, plastics, and other nonmetallic materials. Workers often focus on a sheet metal specialty. Some specialties include commercial and residential HVAC installation and maintenance, industrial welding and fabrication, exterior or architectural sheet metal installation, testing and balancing of building systems, and sign fabrication. In the classroom, apprentices learn drafting, plan and specification reading, trigonometry and geometry applicable to layout work, welding, the use of computerized equipment, and the principles of heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems. In addition, apprentices learn the relationship between sheet metal work and other construction work.

Continuing Education

It is important for Sheet Metal Workers to keep up to date with technological changes as sheet metal shops incorporate new technological developments such as computerized layout and laser-cutting machines. Continuing education credit is required for some certifications. Training and continuing education may be obtained through unions, employers, and professional associations in the form of continuing education courses, classes, seminars, and publications.

Licensing and Certification

No license is required to work as a Sheet Metal Worker. However, self-employed contractors must obtain a sheet metal contractor’s license from the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Board. Applicants must pay the appropriate fees and pass a standard exam on law and business and an exam covering sheet metal. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Certifications related to sheet metal are offered by a wide variety of associations and unions, such as the International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry or the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International. Those who complete registered apprenticeships are certified as journey workers, which can serve as proof of their skills to employers. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Sheet Metal Workers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Building Equipment Contractors 55.5%
Architectural and Structural Metals 9.0%
Building Foundation/Exterior Contractors 8.6%
Federal Government 3.7%
Aerospace Product & Parts Manufacturing 2.7%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Candidates for training or apprenticeship programs should apply directly to employers of Sheet Metal Workers. Community colleges offer job search assistance to their graduates of degree or certificate programs in machine shop or sheet metal occupations. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Union members search for work by registering with their local hiring hall. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Sheet Metal Workers.

  • Air Conditioning Contractors
  • Aircraft
  • Building, General Contractors
  • Guided Missiles
  • Heating Contractors
  • Metal Fabricators
  • Metal Specialties
  • Ornamental and Architectural Metal Work
  • Sheet Metal Work

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Journey-level Sheet Metal Workers may advance to supervisory jobs, while others may become estimators or managers. Some complete additional training in welding to do more specialized work. Workers who perform building and system testing are able to move into construction and building inspection. A few Sheet Metal Workers go into business for themselves as contractors. Because a sheet metal contractor must have a shop with equipment to fabricate products, this type of business is more expensive to undertake than other types of construction businesses.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Sheet Metal Workers with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Coil Winders, Tapers, and FinishersProfile
Extruding and Drawing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and PlasticProfile
Grinding, Lapping, Polishing, and Buffing Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and PlasticProfile
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and InstallersGuide
Milling and Planing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and PlasticProfile
Molders, Shapers, and Casters, Except Metal and PlasticProfile
Paper Goods Machine Setters, Operators, and TendersProfile
Semiconductor ProcessorsProfile
Tool and Die MakersGuide
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and BrazersGuide

Other Sources

  • International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Industry
         www.sheetmetal-iti.org
  • National Center for Construction Education and Research
         www.nccer.org
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association
         www.smwia.org

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification47-2211
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Sheet Metal Workers47-2211.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCE
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Sheet Metal Technology/Sheetworking 480506
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Sheet Metal and Structural Metal095640