Career and Job Highlights
Workers in this area, who are variously called elevator installers, constructors, repairers, or mechanics, are involved putting elevators, dumbwaiters, escalators, moving sidewalks, and other equipment in structures. After they’ve installed the equipment their work consists of performing maintenance and repair work too. They might also update equipment as it becomes broken-down or outdated.
This work requires a comprehensive knowledge of electrical systems, physics, and electronics as most of this equipment uses computerized or electronic controls. Many of these use microprocessors which gather information and assess flow of foot traffic to see how the equipment can be used the most effectively.
Installation of a new elevator starts with detailed specifications. Installers read these and then plan placement of rails, mechanisms, spaces for cars, cylinders, hydraulic pumps, and foundations. Next installers begin actually putting in equipment. They spend a lot of their time on scaffolds or stands inside the shafts where they secure rails made out of steel to the sides of shaft for the elevator to run along.
The next step is to work on the electrical system. They begin by installing conduit, a special type of tubing, on the sides of the shaft from one floor to the next. After the conduit is positioned, installers thread wires through it and put in other electrical parts like control panels on every floor and a master control panel for the whole building.
Next, installers fuse together the steel frame of an elevator car, and then assemble the rest of the car’s floor, walls, and door panels. After the car is put together they secure guiding shoes and wheels to sides of the car to ensure a smooth ride. They finish by installing the frames and doors at the entrances to the elevators on each floor.
Some elevators use cables. These elevators involve a machine, some types of which use gears and some types of which do not, and require a traction drive wheel that controls the thick steel cables that run from the elevator car to the counterweight. The counterweight balances the weight of elevator car which lessens the amount of weight the motor has to lift. Other elevators use hydraulic power. These elevators rest on a plunger that is powered by a heavy pump, which operates on the same principle as your car jack.
Some workers are involved in the installation of escalators. They position the steel frame, the individual steps, the tracks, and the various parts of machinery and electronics. Workers might also work with other equipment like industrial elevators, moving sidewalks, dumbwaiters, and equipment for making structures handicapped accessible.
Experienced elevated installers and repairers can become adjusters who make final adjustments to the equipment after it has been installed. They ensure that all the equipment is working smoothly and as planned. After it is up and running, elevators require periodic maintenance like oiling, replacing parts, and checking for potential problems. Workers then take preventative measures and may be called in when problems do occur.
Most major repairs like installing new cables or doors are done by a service team. Major repairs often require heavy equipment like blowtorches or rigging that an average installer doesn’t have. Service teams might also do remodeling work on older buildings like installing new machinery or pumps.
Generally elevator installers and maintainers work normal hours, though this may not always be case. For instance they may have to work overtime to make repairs in busy establishments. Some repairers may be on call around the clock even if they only work a normal eight hours. Installers usually work in teams, but maintainers usually work alone. They usually have a few elevators on their rotation that they consistently maintain, check, and repair over long periods of time.
This work can be hazardous. Workers need to transport heavy material and equipment, and may have to work in confined spaces like shafts. They risk injury from falling, electrical shock, and muscle injuries. Since most work is completed inside, workload is less dependent on weather conditions than in other occupations in the construction industry.
Career Training and Job Qualifications
The majority of workers in this field start out by finding a job through their regional chapter of the International Union of Elevator Constructors. Individuals looking to be apprentices need to be eighteen or older, be a high school graduate or have an equivalent degree, be physically fit, and have a passing grade on a skills assessment.
Most apprenticeship programs are run by regional administrators from both employers and the union. The apprentice gains a very comprehensive education in all areas of installation, maintenance, and repair. The programs consist of both practical training and coursework in reading blueprints, electrical theory, math, physics, safety guidelines, and simple first aid. Some establishments, like independent contractors, that are not union-run may offer training programs.
The first six months of an apprentice’s training is a trial period where the apprentice is under close supervision. If the apprentice gets through that time they have four years in which to become qualified. This qualification requires a passing grade from a test given by the National Elevator Industry Education Program. Prospective elevator installers and repairers may also need to be certified by their local state or town. The National Association of Elevator Contractors offers the designation of Certified Elevator Technician to workers both in and out of the union.
Usually apprentices start out as helpers to professionals. They are given simple tasks like transporting materials and equipment, securing rails, and putting together elevator parts. As they learn they will learn how to do the electrical aspects of the job and other complex tasks.
Potential elevator technicians can maximize their employability by having prior experience. This might come from high school classes in shop, math, or physics. Also, new technology is making this industry more complex and so workers might want to gain additional education by taking classes in electronics at a vocational school or junior college. The more education you have, the better the job prospects.
Many employers offer training to elevator technicians in new techniques or technological innovations. Manufacturers might offer training as well so technicians can know all about their individual product. Oftentimes unions offer correspondence training courses as well and encourage their members to be as knowledgeable and as up-to-date as possible. Continuing education can greatly enhance opportunities for advancement.
Advancement could mean becoming an adjustor. Or a worker might be given extra responsibility as a supervisor or mechanic-in-charge. Some workers move away from technical work to become a salesperson, inspector, or design new products.
Job and Employment Opportunities
This is an occupation of limited size and analysts don’t expect a lot of job growth. The vast majority of elevator technicians are members of a union and have invested a lot in their education and so there isn’t very high turnover. Relatively high earnings and good health and retirement benefits are further inducements for workers to stay in this occupation. Prospective workers can maximize their opportunities by earning qualifications in electronics.
Job growth is projected to be about average in coming years. Most new jobs will be created by increasing commercial construction like department stores and office buildings that are multi-story. Other jobs will be created as old equipment needs to be replaced by newer models or as stores or companies want a new look. Equipment will also have to be updated with computerized controls.
Since it is always imperative that elevators are safe and operational, this occupation will not be as susceptible to fluctuations in the economy as other occupations in the construction industry.
Historical Earnings Information
Elevator technicians are paid hourly. The majority of workers earned between $20.10/h and $31.70/h in 2002 with a median of $26.00/h. The lowest tenth on the pay scale made under $14.60/h and the highest tenth made over $36.80/h. Earnings for various special trade contractors had a median of $26.60/h. Salaries are supplemented by good health and retirement benefits and free continuing education programs.
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