If you’re interested in work that includes welding, cutting, and bending metals, a career as a fabricator might have your name on it.
This versatile role allows you to explore different jobs involving engineering, architecture, and construction. Find work in various sectors from manufacturing industries to aerospace engineering to power generation. With an eye for detail and a strong sense of artistry, you might be a perfect fit.
Let’s take a closer look at how to become a metal fabricator, the pros and cons of this career, its salary range, outlook, and other essential factors you should consider.
What Does A Fabricator Do?
Metal fabricators are professionals who can fashion complex structures using metal parts, sheet metal, or prefabricated steel forms.
They may build fabricated structures from scratch individually or work with a team to produce prefabricated units that undergo assembly elsewhere. Fabricators may also create new tools or modify existing ones during their work.
A few usual roles for metal fabricators include:
- Creating sheet metal, jigs, fixtures, tools, molds, dies, gauges, patterns, and other essential parts to the production process
- Building architectural structures such as stairs, railings, and gates
- Creating smaller structures used in manufacturing, such as conveyors and robotics
- Cutting material to size using plasma or laser technology
- Welding pieces together according to specifications given by designers or other team members
- Grinding down edges to make sure they are smooth
- Assembling units from raw materials or prefabricated parts
- Performing quality control tests on completed structures to ensure that they meet safety standards and pass inspection
How To Become A Fabricator
There are many routes to becoming a metal fabricator, and no certification or degree is required. However, it helps to have formal training in a vocational school, trade school, or community college before entering this occupation.
Vocational schools offer certificates or diplomas that you can complete in as little as one year. Whereas technical colleges provide a variety of associate degrees that you can generally finish in two years or less.
If you have prior experience as an industrial mechanic, machinist, welder, tool and die maker—or another related role—you may be able to enroll in an apprenticeship program at your local community college or trade school.
Let’s take a deeper look at how to become a metal fabricator.
- Must be at least 18 years of age
- High school diploma or GED
There aren’t any specific degrees or certifications that are necessary to become a glassblower, but you will need extensive knowledge about safety procedures for working with molten glass.
Some community colleges, technical schools, and universities offer courses that can help you learn the basics. You can also go to an artist’s guild with experienced glassblowers who can teach you how to work with various types of glass.
Some employers require that you have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. While there are no formal degree programs for this occupation, completing a related training course at a vocational school or community college may better prepare you for your future work environment.
These programs can cover a range of topics including:
- Fundamental blueprint reading and math
- Understanding how stress and strain affect the materials you work with
- Methods for creating clean welds that are both strong and aesthetically pleasing to clients
- Ways to cut and shape steel and other metals
These courses typically take 9 to 18 months to complete, depending on your prior experience and the level of commitment you put into your studies.
Keep in mind that a formal education in metal fabrication is not a must for entry-level positions. Many employers prefer to see experience on a resume, along with technical skills and knowledge of metals.
In general, metal fabricators deal with steel and other metals as their primary materials. Therefore, you should have some experience working with these tools before you apply for a job as a fabricator:
- Cordless power drill
- Electric or pneumatic metal shears
- Tig welder
- Press brake
- Plasma cutter
- Oxygen and acetylene torch
- Bench grinder
If not, it’s helpful to take some classes in these areas or enter an apprenticeship before you begin your job search.
Internship or Apprenticeship
The best way to learn how to become a metal fabricator is through hands-on experience in an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships require a mix of classroom instruction and on-the-job training.
This route can be a great way to get your foot in the door while gaining invaluable work experience. The best part about an apprenticeship is that you don’t need any formal education to start—an employer will consider the skills and experience you bring to the table.
Another benefit of an apprenticeship is that you can earn as you learn. You and your employer will enter into a legal agreement outlining the responsibilities and compensation for both parties.
Testing or Certification
There are no official certifications or licenses required to become a metal fabricator. However, some employers may look more favorably on applicants with specialized credentials like:
- Fundamentals of Metal Fabrication Certificate Exam. Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International (FMA) offer this certification for those who demonstrate competency in metal fabrication.
- SMAW Arc Welding Certification. This optional test is a starting point for all metal fabricators, demonstrating proficiency in welding skills.
- OSHA 10 Construction Industry Training. You can gain basic welding skills and safety training with the OSHA 10 course, which is available online.
- NCCER Core Curriculum for Operators: Levels 1-5. This certification covers the knowledge and skills necessary to perform as an operator for mechanical equipment and piping systems.
By completing one or more of these certifications, you may increase your chances of finding work in the field and earning a higher salary.
Recommended Skills For Fabricators
Learning how to become a metal fabricator can be both rewarding and lucrative. However, it is crucial to understand that this career requires a broad set of skills and aptitudes—including:
Attention To Detail
You must meet the most rigorous standards of quality and workmanship. Metal fabricating is a highly detailed-oriented role where one small mistake can result in a complete failure of your finished product.
Fabricators need to be quick on their feet and capable of working with a variety of tools in a range of environments.
Because this career requires working with versatile metals in unique ways, thinking outside the box is essential for success.
This is a physically demanding job that can involve long hours of standing, squatting, or bending.
You should be able to make sound judgments on how materials will hold up in different situations and what machinery to use to get jobs done.
Metal fabricators typically work in a team environment where they collaborate with engineers, other fabricators, mechanics, and project managers. Being able to get along well with others is an essential trait for this role.
Pros & Cons Of Being A Fabricator
When considering becoming a metal fabricator, you should be aware of the positive and negative aspects of this job.
- Highly skilled metal fabricators are always in demand
- Flexible schedules with four 10-hour days or two 12-hour days followed by three days off
- Good pay and benefits for full-time workers
- Physically demanding and uncomfortable at times
- Tedious and boring for some people
- May have to perform dangerous tasks, such as working with chemicals and welding tools
How Much Do Fabricators Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), metal fabricators earn a median salary of $51,370 per year as of 2020. The lowest 10% earned less than $30,000 per year, while the highest 10% earned more than $87,000 per year.
Most fabricators have completed some sort of formal training, which can lead to increased earning potential. For example, those with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) backgrounds may be able to use their education to earn higher salaries than people without degrees or certifications.
With more experience under your belt—and possibly an advanced degree—you could qualify for better fabricator jobs and supervisory roles like foreman or department supervisor, which could increase your earning potential.
Fabricator Job Outlook
The BLS predicts employment opportunities for metal fabricators to grow by 4% between 2020 to 2030. This slightly slower rate is due to improved technology that can handle the repetitive tasks associated with fabricating materials.
While some existing jobs quickly become obsolete due to automation, metal fabrication remains a viable and versatile trade that should be in high demand for years to come. If you’re thinking about how to become a metal fabricator, now is the time to invest in your future.