Sheet Metal Worker

The Job and What's Involved

Sheet metal workers make a wide range of items using pieces of flat metal up to three millimetres thick. Examples include:

- Panels for motor vehicles and airplanes
- Electrical and electronic equipment
- Domestic appliances and furniture
- Business equipment
- Street signs
- Narrow strips for wheel rims
- Ventilation ducting
- Food preparation and pharmaceutical equipment
- Tables, trolleys and storage systems
- Stainless steel products

Sheet metal workers often work with mild steel, but may also work with other ferrous metals, such as stainless or galvanised steel, or non-ferrous metals, such as aluminium, copper, brass and pewter.

They work from engineering drawings and mark out shapes on the metal before cutting them out. Some work on benches using hand-powered tools. Increasingly, sheet metal workers use computer numerically controlled (CNC) cutting and pressing machines when producing quantities of metal sheets for mass-produced items.

In some jobs, it may be the sheet metal worker's responsibility to key instructions into the machine's computer.

Sheet metal workers also use:

  • Measuring equipment, such as spirit levels, gauges and micrometers.
  • Brake presses and guillotines.
  • Bending machines.
  • Drill presses and punches.
  • Metal expanding machines.
  • Crimping machines.
  • Laser cutters.
  • Riveting, brazing, soldering and welding equipment to assemble items.

Sheet metal workers often work as part of a team with other craft workers, such as welders and hand machinists, to produce finished products. To complete some projects, sheet metal workers may help to install work at customers' premises.

Sheet metal workers normally work standard full-time hours, Monday to Friday. This may include shifts and overtime is common. Working on a customer's premises may involve a night shift.

Sheet metal workers work alone or in small teams. They work at a bench in a factory or workshop. The work involves standing, bending and lifting. They wear protective clothing and equipment, including ear protectors, boiler suits, gloves, helmets, glasses and safety boots.

Some travel to customers' premises may be required.

The starting salary for a trained sheet metal worker is around £14,000 a year. Experienced workers may earn up to £23,000 a year. Shift work and overtime payments can increase these rates considerably. Some sheet metal workers benefit from bonus or productivity schemes.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Sheet metal workers are employed throughout the UK, but are concentrated in the more industrial areas. They are employed in a range of manufacturing industries, including:

- Engineering
- Aerospace
- Shipbuilding
- Motor vehicle
- Civil engineering
- Ventilation equipment
- White goods, such as washing machines and freezers
- Office furniture

There are also a number of small companies that specialise in sheet metal work.

The number of sheet metal workers has decreased in recent years, and there are now around 6,500. This is as a result of the decline in manufacturing, the increased use of computer-controlled manufacturing systems, and the increased relocation of production work overseas. However, there is currently a shortage of skilled workers.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and on the internet. Some recruitment is undertaken by engineering recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

Employers normally expect entrants to have GCSE's (A*-C) in English, maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications.

The Diplomas that may be relevant for this area of work are in:

- Engineering
- Construction and the built environment
- Manufacturing and product design (MPD)

Possible entry routes include:

Craft training on the job through an Apprenticeship in engineering and manufacturing technologies.

A fast-track Advanced Apprenticeship under the National Apprenticeship Scheme for Engineering Construction (NASEC) from the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB)

Studying courses at colleges of further education leading to City & Guilds (C&G), BTEC, EAL and ABC awards in relevant subjects, such as metal fabrication and welding skills, or mechanical and manufacturing engineering.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Adults can train through the National Skills Development Scheme (NSDS), through which employers recruit new staff or retrain existing staff. Developed by the ECITB, the scheme leads to craft status for unskilled and semi-skilled adults. No previous experience or academic qualifications are required, although candidates must already be in a related area of employment.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

An Apprenticeship combines training at work with part-time study at a college or, in the case of larger employers, in company training centres. Apprenticeships can lead to:

  • NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in fabrication and welding
  • BTEC National Certificate in manufacturing engineering (has options in fabrication and welding)
  • C&G (2800) Certificate in engineering Levels 1 and 2 (has options in plate work and welding)

NASEC training consists of two phases. Initial training takes place at an ECITB-approved centre, where apprentices reach NVQ Level 3. This phase lasts for 20 months. Apprentices then gain practical experience on an engineering construction site.

All NASEC learners 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

A sheet metal worker should:

  • Have practical hand skills for using tools and equipment.
  • Be able to understand technical drawings and visualise the appearance of finished products.
  • Have good concentration for cutting, welding and using tools safely.
  • Be good at numeracy.
  • Be comfortable using computer-operated machinery.
  • Be able to work without direct supervision.
  • Be very safety conscious.
  • Be able to work well as part of a team.
  • Have a good level of general fitness.
  • Have good eyesight and, for some types of work, normal colour vision.

Your Long Term Prospects

Sheet metal workers who have completed their craft training may be able to progress to engineering technician training.

It is possible to be promoted to supervisor of an engineering workshop, with responsibility for burners, welders and sheet metal workers, or to move into inspection work.

Experienced sheet metal workers can become self-employed and set up their own business.

There may be opportunities to work abroad, for both UK and international companies.

Get Further Information

Enginuity careers website: www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

Engineering Connections
Tel: 0800 917 1617
Website: www.apprentices.co.uk

Engineering Construction Industry
Training Board (ECITB)
Tel: 01923 260000
Website: www.ecitb.org.uk

Engineering Council UK
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Website: www.engc.org.uk

The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Tel: 01438 313 311
Website www.theiet.org

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies)
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167
Website: www.semta.org.uk

SummitSkills
Tel: 01908 303960
Website: www.summitskills.org.uk

The Welding Institute (TWI)
Tel: 01223 899000
Website: www.twi.co.uk

Women Into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE)
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

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