The Job and What's Involved

Platers/fabricators work mainly in engineering and construction.

Platers help to prepare steel or other metal plates and sections for the manufacture of items such as power station boilers, pressure vessels for chemical plants and refineries, and storage tanks for oil and other liquids. They also work in shipbuilding and in the production of structural steelwork for oil rigs, bridges and buildings. They work with various thicknesses of metal plate ranging from 5mm to over 100mm and, due to the extreme weight of some of the larger plates, they often need to use:

- Cranes and hoists
- Heavy-duty guillotines to cut the plates
- Oxyacetylene flame cutters for curves and complex shapes
- Rollers and presses to curve and bend the plates

The completed plates are then welded or bolted together to complete the finished product.

Fabricators cut and shape thin sheets of metal using hand and machine saws, metal cutters and small presses and rollers to create bends and curves. Working with stainless steel, aluminium, mild steel and sheet metal they manufacture brackets, tables, cabinets, catering equipment, control panels and items such as electrical and ventilation ducting for buildings. Some fabricators use huge presses to make mass-produced items such as car bodies.

The work of a plater/fabricator may involve:

  • Reading and interpreting engineering drawings.
  • Measuring and marking out plates and sections for cutting, shaping and drilling.
  • Operating plate cutting machines and edge preparation machines.
  • Cutting slots in metal and drilling or punching holes.
  • Using roll bending machines and presses to form and shape plates and sections.
  • Guiding cranes and hoists for moving and assembling plates.
  • Operating CNC computer-controlled and hand-controlled machines.
  • Tacking welding fabricated parts together.

Platers/fabricators either work alone or in small teams, often with other craftspeople under the supervision of a foreperson. All their work is subject to stringent quality control using a combination of MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) and ISO 9002 quality control procedures.

Platers/fabricators normally work 37 to 39 hours a week, possibly in shifts. Overtime is common and many people work longer hours.

They may work in large workshops, which can be noisy and hot, or outdoors in all weather conditions. They wear protective clothing and equipment, including ear protectors, boiler suits, gloves, helmets, safety glasses or visors and safety boots.

Platers/fabricators have to be alert to the safety risks of using welding machinery and cutting tools, and lifting and moving heavy sheets of metal.

The starting salary for trainee platers/fabricators is around £12,000 a year. Experienced workers may earn £25,000 or more.

Skilled workers using computer-controlled equipment, or those with supervisory responsibilities, may earn up to £35,000 a year.

Shift work and overtime payments may increase these salaries.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Platers and fabricators work for:

- Boiler and pressure vessel fabrication plants
- Heavy machinery manufacturing companies
- Manufacturing companies making products from sheet metal
- Platework fabrication plants
- Shipbuilding companies
- Structural steel fabrication plants

They also work for engineering and civil engineering companies involved in projects that involve large metal structures, such as oil rigs and storage tanks.

Heavy engineering and engineering construction companies carry out work across the UK but tend to be based in the north of England and in Scotland and Ireland.

Vacancies are advertised on engineering recruitment websites and on the websites of the larger engineering, building and construction companies. The engineering trade press, local newspapers and Jobcentre Plus offices may also list job opportunities.

Education and Training

Employers normally expect entrants to have GCSE's (A*-C) in English, maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

Possible entry routes include:

  • Craft training on the job through a Foundation Apprenticeship in engineering leading to NVQ Level 2 qualifications.
  • A Craft Apprenticeship in engineering construction under the ECITB Apprenticeship Scheme leading to NVQ Level 3 qualifications.
  • Studying courses at colleges of further education leading to City & Guilds Awards or BTEC Awards in related subjects, covering areas such as metal fabrication and welding skills, or mechanical and manufacturing engineering.

It is possible to obtain the Skills and Technical Certificate of Training through which employers recruit new staff or retrain existing staff. Developed by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB), the scheme leads to craft status for unskilled and semi-skilled adults.

Under the scheme, trainees progress through different units of competence until they have reached the standard both they and their employer require.

No previous experience or academic qualifications are required. However, candidates must already be in a related area of employment.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

An Apprenticeship in engineering combines training on the job with part-time study at a college or, in the case of larger employers, in company training centres.

Apprenticeships lead to:

  • NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in fabrication and welding.
  • NVQ Level 3 in fabricating of steel structures (plating).
  • BTEC First Certificate in engineering.
  • C&G Certificate in engineering construction Level 3 or a BTEC National Award in engineering.
  • Safety Passport - CCNSG (Client Contractor National Safety Group).

Engineering construction craft apprentices train in two phases. Initial training takes place at an ECITB-approved centre for one year. Apprentices then go to engineering construction sites with a sponsor company to gain practical experience for a further two years.

All apprentices complete final examinations at the end of their initial training, including the Technical Certificate, key skills and Safety Passport.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Platers and fabricators need:

  • Practical hand skills for using tools and equipment.
  • Computer skills for using computer-controlled machinery.
  • Good concentration skills for using machinery safely and accurately.
  • To be able to understand technical drawings.
  • Some mathematical ability.
  • To be able to work without direct supervision and as part of a team.
  • A good level of general fitness.
  • The ability to work at heights on construction projects.
  • To have normal eyesight and good colour vision, as colour coding is often used to mark plates.

Your Long Term Prospects

A plater or fabricator may progress to become a foreperson, technician, supervisor, manager or trainer. It is possible for those who have completed their craft training to train as engineering technicians. Some platework fabricators may also become certified as welders.

There are opportunities to work abroad for both UK and foreign companies.

Get Further Information

Engineering Connections
Tel: 0800 917 1617

Engineering Construction Industry
Training Board (ECITB),
Tel: 01923 260000

Engineering Council UK
Tel: 020 3206 0500

The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Tel: 01438 313 311

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies)
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167

Tel: 01908 303960

The Welding Institute (TWI)
Tel: 01223 899000

WISE (Women Into Science, Engineering
and Construction)
Tel: 020 3206 0408

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