In the world of industrial construction, manufacturing, transportation and utility projects, structural metal fabricators and fitters serve an important function in putting together the large scale metal pieces which connect pipes, buildings and other commercial grade structures together for use. These heavy construction and production professionals use a variety of hand tools, welding equipment and heavy equipment to modify, cut, shape and connect metal together on a large scale. From the pipes that run under roadways to commercial building assembly to maritime vessel maintenance, structural metal fabricators and fitters are the workers who make sure any and all metal pieces fit together perfectly so that things operate smoothly for the rest of the nation.
- Structural metal fabricators and fitters most often work in teams, so excellent communication and teamwork skills are a must.
- As a whole, employment opportunities for structural metal fabricators and fitters are expected to remain steady for the next decade.
- Workers most often have a high school diploma or the equivalency of a GED, plus some vocational education in production or welding to get entry-level work as fabricators and fitters.
- Career opportunities will be plentiful in the high technology sector and in the manufacturing sector when the economy recovers.
- Work is very physical and requires excellent reading and math skills, as well as the ability to stay focused for long periods of time.
Work Environment for Structural Fabricators and Fitters
Most structural fabricators and fitters work a standard 40-hour week, but may work in rotating shifts when production or project demands require second- or third-shift work hours. Many fabricators and fitters work inside large factory or production environments, while many others work outdoors in the elements, aboard large vessels or on heavy road and construction projects. Work experiences may vary by individual, but most often the work involves large scale projects that require working as part of a team. Structural fabricators and fitters wear protective clothing such as fire retardant uniforms, eye goggles, steel toe boots, gloves and hard hats while working on projects. The work is very physically demanding and requires standing, lifting, bending, holding and carrying very heavy loads and equipment.
Education, Training and Licensing
It is a general rule of thumb that employers seek out candidates for metal fabricators and fitters who have achieved at least a high school diploma or GED, in addition to obtaining a certification in basic welding from a vocational school or college. This is necessary because much of the work involved includes fabricating and positioning pieces of metal together using welding tools. Students, who wish to obtain employment as structural fabricators and fitters, should get into a program during their senior year of high school or immediately following graduation for the best chance of gaining this experience quickly.
In most cases, entry-level fabricators and fitters will receive on-the-job training that is an informal apprenticeship program. New workers spend time observing and working under the close supervision of more seasoned metal workers until they have learned the skills needed to perform this work safely and efficiently. This training takes place over the course of several years and requires periodic testing to advance to higher levels of work, particularly those that involve welding techniques.
Work involves the manipulation of many different types of metal materials such as sheet metal, copper and iron pipes, steel pieces and more. Structural metal fabricators and fitters learn how to handle each type of metal, what techniques work the best and how to handle the work as part of a team. Over time, as skills increase, metal fabricators and fitters get to work on projects either on site or in the manufacturing environment. They must maintain high levels of safety at all times to remain employed.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
As of the most recent figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 96,870 structural fabricator and fitter jobs, according to information published in May 2009.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow 2.1% from 2008 to 2018, which is about the average for all occupations. This steady growth results from a continual need for metal fabricators and fitters who work on commercial and military contracts for a large number of private and public companies worldwide. In addition, since the work is very physically demanding, it forces senior workers to retire and provides more opportunities for entry-level fabricators and fitters to find work. Most recent BLS reports indicate that the average annual wage for structural fabricators and fitters was $35,080 as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned approximately $33,890. While the lowest 10% of structural fabricators and fitters earned an annual income at or below $22,420, the top 10% earned approximately $49,880 per year, making this a lucrative career for those not afraid of hard physical labor.