Metal fabrication is the process of manufacturing sheet metal and then molding it into a shape for a specific purpose. As metal components are used in buildings everywhere, jobs in the metal fabrication industry are plentiful. Plenty of blue-collar jobs for iron and sheet metal workers and many white-collar jobs for engineers and commodities traders are available and pay quite well.
One of the most sought-after commodities in the world is iron ore. When smelted and refined correctly, it becomes the metal that underpins all of the buildings and factories in our midst. Iron ore is so important that one American employee working for Rio Tinto in China was arrested and held for years in prison. The reason? The company got on China’s bad side during an intense negotiation regarding the price of iron ore.
China now produces and consumes the most metal in the world, but as other countries develop their cities and infrastructure, they will also consume more metal. Therefore, regardless of where you are, metal fabrication is going to be here for the foreseeable future. In the United States, great career paths exist for those interested in shaping, engineering, and trading metal through the metal fabrication industry.
Jobs in the metal fabrications industry
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.45 million jobs in what they call the “Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing” category. As we touch and use metal in our daily lives, there are many different types of jobs available. If you like to work with your hands, you could make good money as a boilermaker or sheet metal worker. If you’re looking for more of a white-collar desk job, you’ll find that some design and business career paths require engineering or other college degrees. The highest salaries go to those who manage the flow of commodities and lock in the price of natural materials such as iron ore.
Here is a breakdown of some of the best-paying jobs in the metal fabrication industry.
Average salary: $82,568
Top earners: $119,500
“Boilermakers” is a term given to the parties responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing the boiler and pipe systems typically used for heating. A boilermaker will learn the skills to craft various boiler systems through an apprenticeship program.
A boilermaker doesn’t need to work at a metal fabrication company; instead, they can be responsible for creating a system for others to use. A boilermaker at a factory will be responsible for welding, fitting tubes, and maintaining the integrity of the boiler system.
Sheet metal worker
Average salary: $53,440
Top earners: $74,920
Sheet metal workers are the heart and soul of the metal fabrication industry. They are the ones who craft sheet metal into a final product. They are sometimes referred to as sheet metal mechanics. They either operate a machine or, in some cases, do their work by hand. Molding sheet metal is a very particular skill; if you have an aptitude for it, it might make sense to enter the industry.
For instance, if you were good at your pottery class in high school, you might be exceptionally good at shaping sheet metal. Sheet metal workers can work in a metal fabrication factory or a factory in another area like the auto industry. They are also needed on various construction sites and public works projects.
Average salary: $55,604
Top earners: $127,000
Ironworkers take the fabricated metal product and install/erect it in buildings. Ironworkers can also be responsible for the demolition of existing metal structures. Ironworking is an arduous and physically demanding task. Thus, those who are both physically fit and naturally strong will do well in this industry. However, as the job can also be dangerous, it pays well for an entry-level position in the metal fabrication industry.
Average salary: $32,984
Top earners: $47,500
Once the iron ore has been smelted and formed into sheet metal, it will also need to be assembled into something larger. In this case, the person responsible for assembling the metal is the metal fabricator or assembler of sheet metal products.
Imagine an intricate metal scaffolding with various metal components. In most cases, this scaffolding won’t be made of one piece of metal but a collection of many pieces of metal that need to be fitted together. Most of the time, metal fabrication assemblers will work in a metal manufacturing plant and not a factory associated with another business.
Average salary: $109,000
Top earners: $174,000
Metallurgical engineers are the engineers behind the science of extracting metal from iron ore and outlining how to turn it into products. They are the brains behind what the sheet metal workers eventually end up creating.
A metallurgical engineering job is likely to require skills in both chemistry and engineering. This is because a metallurgical engineer needs to understand the properties of the chemicals involved in shaping metal and how they can be safely fabricated, shaped, and welded.
Average salary: $82,982
Top earners: $155,818
Factories have many intricate connecting parts essential for the manufacturing process. A qualified industrial engineer will design the general layout and installation of these parts. In short, an industrial engineer makes sure everything fits together. Industrial machinery can be difficult to create and maintain, and thus industrial engineers are always in need.
If you don’t have an engineering degree but like putting puzzles together, you might have an aptitude for engineering. Industrial engineering positions are always in demand and pay well.
Business development manager
Average salary: $115,000
Top earners: $220,000
A business development manager in the metal fabrication industry will work with clients to create orders of fabricated metal. Remember, the metal fabrication industry has a lot of business-to-business transactions. They are selling metal components and fabricated metal parts to be used by various parties.
For example, a good BD manager in this industry would create relationships with construction companies and auto manufacturers in a region. They can then negotiate long-term business deals that create recurring income for the business in the form of repeat customer orders every month or quarter.
Iron ore commodities trader
Average salary: $175,000
Top earners: $1,000,000
Metal comes from iron ore, so having a supply of iron ore is of utmost importance in the metal fabrication industry. This is where an experienced commodities trader can step in. A commodities trader must lock in prices by trading commodities futures and dealing with “spot prices,” as well as be an expert at forecasting demand and possible price increases or decreases.
Many commodities traders have iron ore as part of their portfolio, along with other popular commodities. Loïc Dufour, CEO of LDM Solutions, a commodities trading and manufacturing brokerage firm, is one of them. “Iron ore is part of what we do, but we have also done other commodities as well as manufacturing, and we even brokered all of the COVID tests to the government of small European countries back in 2020,” he notes. “Iron ore deals are huge and can sometimes take months, but there are always demands, particularly from Asia.”
Want to explore your options for investing in commodities? These brokerages can help.
Is manufacturing on its way back to the U.S.?
Every politician over the last few decades has talked about on-shoring or bringing back jobs, like those in metal manufacturing, to the U.S. Is this the case recently? According to Nathan Brunner, CEO of a job search engine Salarship, maybe not as much as you would think.
“Since the COVID crisis, the number of job openings in the manufacturing sector has almost doubled. However, the manufacturing sector will never come back as the backbone of the U.S. economy,” he says. “Even with the recent insourcing trends, our database indicates that only 9% of all U.S. job postings are posted by companies classified as Manufacturing by the NAICS. Due to the development of programmable manufacturing robots, manufacturing jobs are expected to decrease over the next decade.”
Is metal fabrication a good career path?
Metal fabrication can be an excellent career path as metal is always in need. Although 3D printing combined with advances in AI could create competition in the industry, it can also act as a tool one can leverage in the metal fabrication process. One benefit of the metal fabrication industry is that it has well-paying blue-collar jobs that could turn into lucrative careers.
What are three career opportunities in metalworking?
Three of the best career opportunities in metalworking are sheet metal workers, industrial engineers, and iron ore commodities traders. Becoming an iron ore commodities trader is difficult, but it is the highest paying of all these career paths.
Where do sheet metal workers make the most money?
According to U.S. News & World Report, sheet metal workers in Fairbanks, Alaska, make the most money. They make over $109,000 annually.
Is metal fabrication hard?
The art of metal fabrication is not easy, but with technology and experience, we have perfected it to a point. However, some jobs within the metal fabrication industry are easier than others. For instance, an ironworker is one of the most physically taxing jobs on the planet, and thus they get paid more than most other blue-collar workers.
Are metal fabricators in demand?
Yes, metal fabricators will be in demand as long as the world continues to use and consume metal. Although technology on the horizon could have an effect on the industry, metal fabricators will always be in demand on some level.
- Metal fabrication is the process of manufacturing sheet metal and then molding it into a shape for a specific purpose.
- Metal is derived from iron ore, which is a commodity that is in high demand for building, especially in Asia.
- There are a variety of well-paying jobs, both blue-collar and white-collar, available in the industry.
- Ironworkers are some of the highest-paid hands-on workers, with a top salary of $127,000. Commodities traders can make well over $100,000 per year, with some making up to $1 million.
View Article Sources
- Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- NAICS Codes & Understanding Industry Classification Systems – U.S. Census Bureau
- Boilermakers – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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