Assembly line workers use tools, machines and manual labor to put together parts and finished products. Both assemblers and fabricators held about 1.6 million jobs in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most work in manufacturing plants, with duties and working conditions varying by employer. Some jobs expose workers to potentially harmful chemicals or fumes, however safe working conditions are mandated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Education and Training
The minimum qualification for assembly line workers is a high school degree or equivalent. Most workers receive on-the-job training, attending employer-sponsored programs. An associate degree in machine operation is required for more skilled positions involving electrical, electronic or aircraft components. Sheet metal operators need to get certified through the Fabricators and Manufacturer’s Association International, which involves passing an examination demonstrating skills and knowledge in this area. The Association Connecting Electronics Industries provides education and a variety of certifications for those working in electronics.
Assembly line workers have to be able to see small details and differentiate colors among wires and electrical products. They have to have dexterity to be able to grasp, manipulate or assemble parts. Math skills help them operate equipment and use computers in their work. Because they might use computers and mechanized controls, they must have mechanical skills. Physical strength and stamina helps them stand on their feet for long periods, lift heavy components, and bend or climb ladders. They should be able to decipher technical manuals and schematics to properly assemble intricate components.
Assembly line workers read schematics and blueprints to assemble finished products or perform intermediate assembly of the parts that make up finished products. They use hand tools or machines to fasten, adjust or assemble components. Some line workers conduct quality-control checks, selecting products randomly and testing them for defects. They work closely with designers and engineers to develop new products or refine existing ones. While some jobs continue to require manual work, others involve using robots, computers or motion-control devices.
Salary and Outlook
The BLS reports a median annual wage of $28,360 for assembly workers as of May 2010. While the lowest 10 percent earned $18,290 per year, the highest 10 percent earned $47,960 per year. Assembly workers typically work 40-hour-per-week shift positions plus overtime. Factors such as years of experience, type of employer, geographic location and unionization influence salaries for assembly line workers. Due to factors such as downsizing, relocation of jobs out of the U.S. and automation, job growth for assembly workers is predicted at 5 percent between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14 percent for all other occupations.