A sheet metal worker might be employed at a metal fabrication plant or construction site, where he or she helps build and install different types of metal structures and equipment. Sheet metal workers are required to follow blueprints and use their expert knowledge to safely construct metal buildings, roofs, ventilation systems, and other important structures. A small project, such as a home heating and ventilation system, may require the skills of a single worker, while entire crews may be necessary for large construction projects.
Manufacturing and fabrication shops hire sheet metal workers to cut, bend, and shape thin pieces of metal. Some sheet metal workers in the manufacturing industry work on assembly lines, where they have very specific, repetitive tasks such as punching holes for screws or bending gutters. Many fabricators use computer programs and specialized machinery to help them perform their jobs more accurately and efficiently.
In the construction industry, sheet metal workers perform all of the jobs necessary to build large metal structures. They measure, cut, and weld metal pieces according to specifications, position them in place with cranes, forklifts, and derricks, and connect pieces together using rivets and steel screws. Sheet metal workers might be required to cut and fit insulation, or create space for doorways, windows, and skylights. In addition, workers often perform maintenance and repairs on existing structures.
To become a sheet metal worker, a person must typically have a high school diploma or GED, and demonstrate a strong work ethic and aptitude for construction. Many people choose to hone their skills at a community college or vocational school. Depending on the type of school, a future sheet metal worker may engage in up to two years of classroom and practical training, where he or she learns about safety procedures, different tools, and specialized metalwork techniques. Upon completion of a training program, a person typically begins his or her sheet metal worker career as an assistant at a construction or manufacturing company. Assistants are frequently required to retrieve and store tools, take measurements, and cut sheets while gaining practical knowledge from experienced sheet metal workers.
Another option for a beginning sheet metal worker is to assume a formal apprenticeship at a construction company. Apprenticeships typically last about four years, and involve paid, on-the-job training by professional sheet metal workers. Upon the successful completion of an apprenticeship, a new sheet metal worker becomes eligible for certification by a nationally recognized certifying board. Certification improves a worker's chances of securing a steady job in the sheet metal industry.