Precision Metalworker: Educational Requirements & Career Info

Training in precision metalworking typically takes place through an apprenticeship. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for metalworking graduates.

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With a high school diploma applicants can begin a career in precision metalwork. Certificate and degree programs are available, and may be preferred by some employers.

Essential Information

Precision metalworkers fabricate metal parts, products, equipment and tools for industry employees and consumers. They typically learn their trade through training programs and apprenticeships, although some degree programs are available. A number of career specialties exist in the field of precision metalworking.

Career Titles Sheet Metal Worker Machinist Tool and Die Makers
Education Requirements Apprenticeship is common; certificate and degree programs available Apprenticeship is common; certificate and degree programs available Apprenticeship is common; certificate and degree programs available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 7% 10% -13%
Median Salary (2015)* $45,750 $40,550 $50,290

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

The traditional career path for precision metalworkers was to begin training as an apprentice, then advance to the position of journeyman and finally to become a master craftsman. While these titles are no longer universally used, they still represent the typical progression followed in this field.

Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Some apprenticeships are union-sponsored. These are typically paid positions that last up to five years. Some require the apprentice to work full time during the day and attend classes at night. Course subjects may include blueprint reading, drafting, precision measurement, shop equipment operation, computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining and computer-aided design (CAD). Employer-sponsored and non-sponsored apprenticeship programs are also available.

Training is also available at vocational schools and community colleges that culminate in a certificate or associate's degree. Graduates from these programs typically are hired at the apprentice level.

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Career Options

Though their specific duties differ, a commonality among all types of precision metal workers is that they transform raw metal material into finished goods. Learn more about a few common positions below.

Sheet Metal Worker

These workers bend, shape and join metal sheets into such products as duct systems, stainless steel restaurant equipment and structural siding. They work from plans and drawings and may use computer-controlled saws, shears and presses.

Machinist

Machinists are precision metalworkers who operate large equipment, such as lathes, mills and grinders, to fabricate metal parts. The equipment they use may be CNC. Machinists work from written blueprints or electronic specifications.

Toolmaker

Toolmakers are highly specialized machinists who fabricate complex tools, fixtures and parts that are used in manufacturing operations. They work from electronic specifications and use CNC equipment to produce parts according to strict measurements. Some use CAD software or sensors to ensure parts meet design specifications.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment was expected to grow by 7% for sheet metal workers and 10% for machinists from 2014-2024. Job prospects for tool and die makers are expected to decline by -13% during that same period. (www.bls.gov). The BLS also stated that the median salary was $45,750 for sheet metal workers, $42,110 for machinists, and $50,290 for tool and die makers as of May 2015.

Although postsecondary education is not required, applicants who have completed a certificate or associate's degree will be able to demonstrate knowledge relevant to their field. On-the-job training through an apprenticeship is crucial, and secondary school students can begin preparing for a career in precision metalwork by taking shop classes and completing an internship.

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