Engineering Patternmaker

The work of patternmakers in the metal and engineering industry involves the manufacture of durable patterns from materials such as wood, plastics, fibreglass or metal. These patterns are the starting point for a chain of activities leading to the manufacture of castings for products such as pumps and bearings.

Patternmakers work from drawings; they select and mark material to the shape and size and cut and saw it.  After the material has been finished off, it is assembled into the pattern or model, which is used by moulders to form moulds for castings.

Their tasks in more detail are to set up and operate machine tools, such as milling machines, lathes, drill presses and grinders, in order to machine castings or patterns.  They read and interpret blueprints so drawings of parts to be cast or patterns to be made, then compute dimensions and plan operational sequences.  They need to program computerised numerical control machine tools, design and create templates, patterns or coreboxes according to work orders, sample parts or mock-ups. They construct platforms, fixtures and jigs for holding and placing patterns, then assemble pattern sections, using hand tools, bolts, screws, rivets, glue and/or welding equipment, and repair and rework templates and patterns.  

Patternmakers lay out and draw or scribe patterns onto material, using compasses, protractors, rulers, scribes or other instruments.  They mark identification numbers or symbols onto patterns or templates, and clean and finish the patterns or templates, using emery cloths, files, scrapers and power grinders.  They apply plastic-impregnated fabrics or coats of sealing wax or lacquer to patterns that will be used to produce plastic, and paint or lacquer patterns.

Patternmakers work mostly indoors and use equipment such as woodworking, sawing and sanding machines, so that working conditions can be somewhat noisy. Patternmakers are on their feet most of the day.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Grade 9 Certificate
some employers prefer higher qualifications

What to Study

There are 3 ways to qualify as a registered artisan:

1. An apprenticeship is a fixed contract between company and apprentice, ranging in duration from between 18 months and 4 years. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test leading to professional certification.

2. A learnership is a structured learning programme ranging from about a year to 3 years. A learnership comprises theoretical and practical training. Practical training is conducted on site (on the premises of the organisation). This has the advantage that the learner gets experience whilst training.

3. TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) Colleges offer theoretical training to prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.

All learners are required to complete a practical internship under the supervision of an experienced artisan. As an alternative to doing the full qualification, a learner can apply to do a skills programme at a TVET College. Skills programmes are short practical hands-on courses.

For more information about qualifications and skills programmes, contact your nearest TVET College. TVET Colleges are accredited and funded by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) such as MerSETA or ChietaSETA. They also receive bursary funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the NCV programme.


  • foundries or pattern shops in the metal industry
  • boat, motorcar, aircraft and various industries

Further Information

The Steel & Engineering Industries Federation
of South Africa (SEIFSA)
P O Box 1338
Johannesburg, 2000
Tel: (011) 298-9400 Fax: (011) 298-9500

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)
Private Bag X 691
Bruma, 2026
Tel: (011) 607-9500 Fax: (011) 622-9295

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a metal foundry
  • arrange to speak to a patternmaker in the metal and engineering industry about this type of career
  • contact the Department of Labour about learnership possibilities in your area

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