Precision Metalworkers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Applicants for jobs in this field need to have at least a high school or vocational school education. Courses in mathematics, blueprint reading, drafting, computers, metalworking, and machine shop are very useful.

Postsecondary Training

Precision metalworkers can learn their trade either through informal on-the-job training or formal apprenticeships, which most employers prefer because of the thoroughness of the training. Lasting four to five years, apprenticeships combine a planned and supervised on-the-job training program with class work in related fields. On the job, apprentices learn how to set up and operate machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines, grinders, and jig borers. They also learn to use other mechanical equipment, gauges, and various hand tools. In addition, they receive classroom instruction in blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, tool programming, shop theory, shop mathematics, properties of various metals, and tool design. Many apprenticeship-training facilities have incorporated a set curriculum established by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). After students complete the established courses and pass performance evaluations and written exams, they receive a formal recognition of competency, a NIMS credential. This designation aids in their job search by confirming their skills and knowledge of the metalworking field.

Workers who become on-the-job trainees are initially assigned simple tasks that usually involve operating machines; later they are given increasingly more complex work. They pick up skills gradually. One drawback to this method is that it may take many years to learn all the necessary skills.

Tool and die makers or mold makers may start out as machinists. They supplement their metalworking experience with additional training, which may include layout work, shop mathematics, blueprint reading, heat-treating, and the use of precision tools, through vocational or correspondence schools.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification or licensing requirements for precision metalworkers vary depending upon employer. Some employers may require tool and die makers to be certified as journey workers, after they have completed a licensed program. State apprenticeship boards award this certification, and while it may not be required to work as a tool and die maker, it can improve employment opportunities.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Metal workers should have extensive experience reading blueprints and working with computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software. Many enter the field through apprenticeships. They need well-honed analytical and mechanical skills as well as the know-how to set up and operate sophisticated manufacturing machinery.

Precision metalworkers have mechanical aptitude and the ability to work with careful attention to detail. To ensure the absolute precision of their work, they are very methodical and continuously check measurements of the workpiece throughout the job. Workers also need to be able to work as efficiently as possible, with a minimum waste of time or materials. Good eyesight is a must, and in some jobs, workers must be able to lift moderately heavy objects.

Because they often work without close supervision, tool and die makers need to be self-motivated and organized in their work habits. In addition, they need good communication skills to help them work in cooperation with other workers.