Although most sheet metal workers learn their trade through formal apprenticeships, some learn informally on the job or in technical colleges. Formal apprenticeships are more likely in construction.
Most sheet metal workers learn their trade through 4- or 5-year apprenticeships. Each year, apprentices must have at least 1,700 to 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training and a minimum of 246 hours of related technical instruction. Apprentices learn construction basics such as blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices.
After completing an apprenticeship program, sheet metal workers are considered to be journey workers, qualifying them to do tasks on their own.
Apprenticeship programs are offered by unions and businesses. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are reaching the age of 18 and having a high school diploma or the equivalent.
Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly after finishing high school or getting their GED, some start out as with a job as helper before entering an apprenticeship.
Those interested in becoming a sheet metal worker should take high school classes in English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing and blueprint reading, and general shop.
Many technical colleges have programs that teach welding and metalworking. These programs help provide the basic knowledge that many sheet metal workers need to do their job.
Some manufacturers work through local technical schools to develop training programs specific to their factories.
Although not required, sheet metal workers can obtain certifications for several of the tasks that they perform. For example, some sheet metal workers gain certification in welding from the American Welding Society. In addition, the Sheet Metal Institute offers certification in building information modeling, welding, testing and balancing, and other related skills.
Computer skills. Designing and cutting sheet metal often requires the use of computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs and building information modeling (BIM) systems.
Customer-service skills. Because many sheet metal workers install ducts in customers’ homes, workers should be polite and courteous.
Manual dexterity. Sheet metal workers need good eye–hand coordination to make precise cuts and bends in metal pieces.
Mechanical skills. Sheet metal workers use saws, lasers, shears, and presses to do their job. As a result, they should have good mechanical skills.
Physical strength. Sheet metal workers must be able to lift and move ductwork that is often heavy and cumbersome.
Spatial relationships. Ductwork for heating and air-conditioning is often large and bulky. Workers must be able to visualize and install large pieces of ductwork within small spaces.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition