Maintenance Mechanics, General Utility

Significant Points

  • Most general maintenance mechanics are trained on the job; others learn by working as helpers to other repairers or construction workers such as carpenters, electricians, or machinery repairers.
  • Despite slower-than-average employment growth resulting from advancements in machinery, job openings should be plentiful due to significant turnover in this large occupation.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Most craft workers specialize in one kind of work such as plumbing or carpentry. General maintenance mechanics, however, have skills in many different crafts. They repair and maintain machines, mechanical equipment, and buildings, and work on plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning and heating systems. They build partitions, make plaster or drywall repairs, and fix or paint roofs, windows, doors, floors, woodwork, and other parts of building structures. They also maintain and repair specialized equipment and machinery found in cafeterias, laundries, hospitals, stores, offices, and factories. Typical duties include troubleshooting and fixing faulty electrical switches, repairing air-conditioning motors, and unclogging drains. New buildings sometimes have computer-controlled systems, requiring mechanics to acquire basic computer skills. For example, new air conditioning systems often can be controlled from a central computer terminal. Additionally, light sensors can be electronically controlled to automatically turn off lights after a set amount of time.

General maintenance mechanics inspect and diagnose problems and determine the best way to correct them, often checking blueprints, repair manuals, and parts catalogs. They obtain supplies and repair parts from distributors or storerooms. They use common hand and power tools such as screwdrivers, saws, drills, wrenches, and hammers, as well as specialized equipment and electronic testing devices. They replace or fix worn or broken parts, where necessary, or make adjustments.

These mechanics also do routine preventive maintenance and ensure that machines continue to run smoothly, building systems operate efficiently, and the physical condition of buildings does not deteriorate. Following a checklist, they may inspect drives, motors, and belts, check fluid levels, replace filters, and perform other maintenance actions. Maintenance mechanics keep records of maintenance and repair work.

Mechanics in small establishments, where they are often the only maintenance worker, do all repairs except for very large or difficult jobs. In larger establishments, their duties may be limited to the general maintenance of everything in a workshop or a particular area.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

General maintenance mechanics often do several different tasks in a single day, at any number of locations. They may work inside of a single building or in several different buildings. They may have to stand for long periods, lift heavy objects, and work in uncomfortably hot or cold environments, in awkward and cramped positions, or on ladders. They are subject to electrical shock, burns, falls, cuts, and bruises. Most general maintenance workers work a 40-hour week. Some work evening, night, or weekend shifts, or are on call for emergency repairs.

Those employed in small establishments, where they may be the only maintenance worker, often operate with only limited supervision. Those working in larger establishments often are under the direct supervision of an experienced worker.

Employment [About this section]  Index

General maintenance mechanics held over 1.2 million jobs in 1998. They were employed in almost every industry. Around 35 percent worked in service industries, mainly in elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, hotels, and hospitals and nursing homes. About 16 percent worked in manufacturing industries. Others worked for wholesale and retail firms, government agencies, and real estate firms that operate office and apartment buildings.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Most general maintenance mechanics learn their skills informally on the job. They start as helpers, watching and learning from skilled maintenance workers. Helpers begin by doing simple jobs such as fixing leaky faucets and replacing light bulbs, and progress to more difficult tasks such as overhauling machinery or building walls.

Others learn their skills by working as helpers to other repair or construction workers such as carpenters, electricians, or machinery repairers. Necessary skills can also be learned in high school shop classes and postsecondary trade or vocational schools. It generally takes from 1 to 4 years of on-the-job training or school, or a combination of both, to become fully qualified, depending on the skill level required. Because a growing proportion of new buildings rely on computers to control building systems, general maintenance mechanics may need basic computer skills—how to log on to a central computer system and navigate through a series of menus. Usually companies that install computer-controlled equipment provide on-site training for general maintenance mechanics.

Graduation from high school is preferred for entry into this occupation. High school courses in mechanical drawing, electricity, woodworking, blueprint reading, science, mathematics, and computers are useful. Mechanical aptitude, ability to use shop math, and manual dexterity are important. Good health is necessary because the job involves much walking, standing, reaching, and heavy lifting. Difficult jobs require problem-solving ability, and many positions require the ability to work without direct supervision.

Many general maintenance mechanics in large organizations advance to maintenance supervisor or to one of the crafts such as electrician, heating and air-conditioning mechanic, or plumber. Within small organizations, promotion opportunities are limited.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Job openings should be plentiful. General maintenance mechanics is a large occupation with significant turnover, and many job openings should result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or stop working for other reasons.

Employment of general maintenance mechanics is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2008. Employment is related to the number of buildings—for example, office and apartment buildings, stores, schools, hospitals, hotels, and factories—and the amount of equipment needing maintenance and repair. As machinery becomes more advanced, however, the need for general mechanics diminishes.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median hourly earnings of general maintenance mechanics were $11.20 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.43 and $14.99. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.56 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.83. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of general maintenance mechanics in 1997 are shown below:

Local government, except education and hospitals $11.90
Hospitals 11.30
Real estate agents and managers 9.80
Real estate operators and lessors 9.40
Hotels and motels 8.20

Some general maintenance mechanics are members of unions, including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; and the United Automobile Workers.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Some duties of general maintenance mechanics are similar to those of carpenters, plumbers, industrial machinery repairers, electricians, and heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the State Employment Service.

O*NET Codes: 85119C & 85132 About the O*NET codes

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