There are over 2 million assemblers and fabricators working in the United States; of these, over 75% work in manufacturing. Job growth projections suggest that over the next ten years this industry will experience little change.
For the majority of assemblers and fabricators, a high school diploma or GED test is all that is required. To advance to higher-level assembly work requires further training, as well as work experience.
- Assemblers and fabricators gather pieces needed for a finished product and put those pieces together. Assemblers and fabricators work on products of every kind, including children’s toys, shoes, electronics, furniture, vehicles, appliances, medical equipment, and more. In recent decades, rapid technological changes have resulted in radical changes in manufacturing. Computerized control of machines, robots, motion control devices, and tools designed to sense everything from numbers to size, shape, and quality have transformed the industry.
- Assemblers’ tasks can be simple or highly complex. While untrained assemblers might simply count out a number of items, fabricators who have the skill to assemble complicated products must be able to read blueprints and schematics, use power tools to shape and adjust forms to fit, and align elements correctly.
- Assemblers must constantly be on the lookout for components that are warped, cracked, or otherwise unacceptable. So-called “lean” manufacturing systems using teams to produce a product from start to finish are becoming the norm, while traditional assembly line methods are falling by the wayside. Team members rotate through a range of tasks instead of learning only one particular area or skill. Productivity is improved, absent workers are covered, and workers feel a greater commitment to the product. However, lean manufacturing does involve some specialization. For example, electronic equipment assemblers are specially trained to put together motors, computers, and other electronics.
- Assemblers use a wide range of tools, depending upon what task has been assigned. Soldering irons, rivet guns, tapers, coil winders, rulers, and so on are used when electronic products are being produced.
- Machine assemblers build or rebuild equipment used in vehicles, construction and mining, generators, and more. Aircraft, vehicles built for space travel, and missiles—along with all necessary gear—are produced by aircraft structure, rigging, and systems assemblers. Structural metal fabricators work with structural metal components and help weld parts together. Fiberglass fabricators create boat decks, hulls, and other fiberglass products. Timing device assemblers and calibrators put together or adjust timing devices that must be precisely aligned.
- Assemblers and fabricators contribute to a product at the design end. Components that will reduce assemblers’ efficiency because they are difficult to install are reported to design engineers. Experienced assemblers who consult with designers on prototypes must know how to interpret engineering specifications that are written, drawn, or presented as computer models.
Manufacturing plants vary by industry. In recent years, factories have become safer, cleaner, and more efficient in many cases. Physically dangerous or challenging work has largely been automated. Many factories are clean, well lit, and ventilated to remove harmful fumes. Factories that produce electronics must also be dust-free. Many factories are extremely noisy. Exposure to fiberglass, chemicals and other toxic materials can be greatly reduced by following standard safety procedures. Most assemblers work 40 hours per week, although there may be times when overtime is required. Some types of plants operate around the clock, and fabricators may have an evening or night shift.
Entry-level assemblers and fabricators need only a high school diploma. To advance, on-the-job training or classroom instruction is required. Assembler jobs requiring a greater degree of skill may call for an associate’s degree.
Employers look for fabricators who can read and follow instructions, display manual dexterity, and can quickly learn the steps involved in complex tasks. Certain assembly jobs may require physical strength and stamina. Those who work on a team must be clear communicators and good listeners. Factories where electronic parts are made will not hire colorblind workers.
While most assemblers and fabricators do not need to be certified, some who work in specialized areas do. For example, those who work with electrical and electronic parts must be certified in soldering.
Through experience, assemblers and fabricators will graduate to positions requiring more skill and responsibility. Some may be promoted to product repairers who fix completed units that inspectors have marked as defective. Assemblers also can move up into quality control or supervisory positions. Experienced fabricators might join research and development teams and contribute to the design of prototypes or test new models.
Median hourly pay for team assemblers is around $13.00, while those with a high level of experience and training can earn closer to $20. Median hourly pay for electrical and electronic equipment assemblers is about $1 more than that of team assemblers. Median hourly pay for other assemblers and fabricators ranges from approximately $22 per hour for aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers to approximately $14 per hour for other areas. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the United Steelworkers of America represent many assemblers and fabricators.