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How many of us pause to consider the skilled hands that spent hours putting together our prized plasma TVs or MacBook Pros? The nimble fingers belong to fabricators – diligent men and women tasked with assembling products and the parts that go into them. Aside from using their hands, these workers also rely on tools and machinery to make engines, computers, aircrafts, toys, electronic devices and other products. Dan Davis, editor-in-chief of thefabricator.com, says it’s the thrill of thinking critically in a specified window of time that excites fabricators most. “Based on conversations with metal fabricators, I would say the most rewarding part of the job is the ability to work with your hands and solve problems,” he says. “They listen to customers and figure out how to make a metal part work for a particular application. Every day represents new jobs and new challenges. They aren’t stuck behind a desk.” Fabricators might work in the ship and boat building industry, but the majority of them are employed in the architectural and structural metals product manufacturing industries. Unlike industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers, fabricators typically don’t maintain and repair equipment or machinery; their chief job is to assemble and build.
Davis says layoffs in the fabrication field aren’t as common today as they have been in the past. “Nowadays, it’s not as high as it might have been in the 1990s when layoffs in manufacturing companies made all of the headlines,” he says. “A lot of baby boomers are retiring, so companies are looking to fill the ranks.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected employment growth between 2012 and 2022 hovers around 7.7 percent, which is slower than the average rate for all occupations.
The median fabricator earned $35,750 in 2012. The highest earners made about $53,080, while the lowest-paid earned $24,550 in that same year. The top-three metropolitan areas that compensate fabricators best include Eau Claire, Wis., Leominster, Mass., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Fabricators best gain experience through on-the-job training – a move strongly urged by Davis. He also says the best way to break into the fabricator profession is to pursue the right courses. “In high school, this might involve industrial technology and drafting courses. In community college, this is likely to involve metal fabricating and welding classes,” he says. “At the college level, mechanical engineers and general industrial technology graduates can find work in metal fabricating facilities.”
While a high school diploma or its equivalent is sufficient to work for most fabrication companies, some employers may require an associate’s degree. Entry-level fabricators receive on-the-job training that might involve employer-sponsored technical instruction. Some employers might require their workers to take that a step further, mandating specialized training or an associate’s degree. Jobs involving electrical, electronic and aircraft and motor-vehicle products might require more formal learning at technical schools. Certifications are not required generally, but they can bolster a fabricator’s résumé and give him or her a leg-up in the job hunt. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International offers the Precision Sheet Metal Operator Certification, and the Association Connecting Electronics Industries offers certifications in soldering.
Mechanical skills and physical strength aren’t the only qualities necessary for excelling in the fabricator field. Dexterity, solid mathematical skills and stamina are also musts. “The more special skills a fabricator has, the more valuable he or she is to an employer,” Davis says. Knocking on doors can also help prospective fabricators get their foot in the door, according to Davis. “Approach a local shop and see if they need help. Many of them will consider employing younger people who are also going to school,” he says. “The average age of folks in manufacturing is in the 50s, so these companies are looking for new blood. It’s just a matter of knocking on the right door.”
|Upward Mobility||fair Average|
|Stress Level||poor Above Average|
|Flexibility||poor Below Average|
Last updated by Harriet Edleson.