Were you the type of kid who took things apart and put them back together? Did you make things out of cardboard, plastic, and metal off-cuts? Do you dream of a job where you make things you can be proud of? If any of these apply, how about a career in metal fabrication?
Few youngsters grow up dreaming that they’ll be a pipefitter, fabricator, or welder, but fabrication is a good career. It offers the satisfaction of making things that last and will make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a chance to work with advanced technology like robots and CNC machine tools. Most importantly, it’s a field where you get to think creatively, solve problems, and collaborate with other people like you.
Wanted: Skilled Hands and Inquiring Minds
For several years industry experts have warned of a skills shortage. Not enough young people are going into manufacturing and fabrication to replace those that are retiring. Plus, a growing economy, until 2020 anyway, has meant even more work with fewer people to do it.
Now it’s fair to say that we’ve seen a bump in the road of late, but the outlook hasn’t really changed. In their Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects steady growth in careers like welding and sheet metalworking. The U.S. Department of Labor expects job opportunities in fabrication to grow up to 22% in the next decade. What’s driving this growth? An expanding economy, advancing technology, and a large cohort of workers approaching retirement age.
This is all to say, there are opportunities in fabrication for those who want more from a career than endless email and TPS reports. If you have a creative side, enjoy thinking on your feet and like working with your hands, the fabrication industry has a lot to offer.
Metal Fabrication Careers
Fabrication shops vary a lot. They have different types of machinery and do different types of fabrication. Some will use different terms for the same or similar jobs. However, here’s a list of jobs you’ll find in many larger shops like ours.
- Metal Fabricator – uses a variety of tools to cut, bend and form metal, usually metal sheets, to the shapes needed. Must be able to read engineering drawings and visualize objects in three dimensions.
- Machinist – operates a metal cutting machine like a lathe or milling machine. Needs to read engineering drawings. May be responsible for setting up each job on the machine.
- Press Operator – runs a press brake or punch press. Must be able to produce quality work quickly.
- CNC Machine Operator – runs a machine like a laser, water jet, or plasma cutter. Must understand how the machine is programmed and how to maximize the volume of work that comes off it.
- Welder – preps and sets up pieces in fixtures as needed, may also make the fixture, uses MIG TIG or resistance welding as required to join pieces, may do post-weld clean-up too.
- Robot Programmer – typically an engineering role, this person understands robots, knows how to use programming software, and may have welding experience.
- CNC Machine Programmer – often performed by an engineer, this person produces the programs that CNC machines use.
- CAD Engineer or Designer – takes initial concepts and sketches and turns them into drawings the team can use out on the shop floor.
- Estimator – determines what it will take to produce each project or job. This person usually has a lot of fabrication experience.
Types of Careers in Metal Fabrication
The more you know about the varied careers available in metal fabrication, the more likely you are to find one that appeals. Those interested in technology may enjoy CAD (Computer-Aided Design.) If you appreciate seeing a job well-done, explore the many opportunities in welding, including laser welding.
Creative types often enjoy the satisfaction of becoming a fabricator. If you are good at figuring things out, engineering may be for you. If working with your hands is your thing, consider becoming a machinist. Those with perfectionist qualities may fit well in quality control.
Most positions require good communication and math skills. We know that can sound discouraging to some people who’d be a good fit for fabrication, so here’s an explanation of what we mean.
The Role of Good Communication in Metal Fabrication
There are many layers of communication in the metal fabrication industry and the ability to communicate clearly is critical. For example, there are communications between:
- Sales and clients
- Clients and Engineering
- Engineering and management
- Engineering and Production
Many projects are handled by teams. Expectations and instructions must be clear from project acquisition to final delivery and acceptance. Drawings need to be precise and clearly understood. If you are the type of person who communicates well, you have a skill our industry needs.
Math in Metal Fabrication
You may be better at math than you think. Many people who are skilled at mathematics, for example, have a talent for solving puzzles and figuring things out. We’re talking about dealing with numbers and practical problem-solving, not the dry equations that seemed like a foreign language in High School!
Math and measuring are critical in metal fabrication, especially at Wiley Metal, where we make parts that must work with pieces made elsewhere. Drawings must be followed exactly and measurements must be precise. Even a small error can lead to costly delays and waste. The expression “Measure twice, cut once” may have first been spoken on a metal fabrication shop floor!
Skills and Qualifications Needed for a Fabrication Career
Career paths in metal fabrication are extremely varied. Entry-level jobs may require only a GED or high school diploma. Welding will involve the completion of classes at a trade school and certifications. Jobs in engineering will take a college degree. Unlike some professions though, fabrication is still a field where people can work their way up from entry-level positions.
Do you know of someone who might be interested in a career in metal fabrication? Please feel free to share this article. If you are interested in exploring a career at Wiley Metal, we invite you to review our current employment opportunities.