Telecommunications Equipment Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers

Significant Points

  • Growing demand for sophisticated telecommunications equipment will be offset by improved equipment reliability, resulting in average employment growth.
  • Opportunities should be best for applicants with electronics training and computer skills.
  • Weekend and holiday hours are common; repairers may be on call around the clock, in case of emergencies.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Telephones and radios depend on a variety of equipment to transmit communications signals. Electronic switches route telephone signals to their destinations. Switchboards direct telephone calls within a single location or organization. Radio transmitters and receivers relay signals from wireless phones and radios to their destinations. Newer telecommunications equipment is computerized and can communicate a variety of information, including data, graphics, and video. The workers who set up and maintain this sophisticated equipment are telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers.

Central office installers set up switches, cables, and other equipment in telephone central offices. These locations are the hubs of a telephone network—they contain the switches that route telephone calls to their destinations. PBX installers set up private branch exchange (PBX) switchboards. This equipment relays incoming, outgoing, and interoffice calls for a single location or organization. To install switches and switchboards, installers first connect the equipment to power lines and communications cables and install frames and supports. They test the connections to insure that adequate power is available and that the communication links function. They also install equipment such as power systems, alarms, and telephone sets. New switches and switchboards are computerized; workers install software or may program the equipment to provide specific features. For example, as a cost-cutting feature, an installer may program a PBX switchboard to route calls over different lines at different times of the day. However, other workers, such as network technicians or telecommunications specialists, rather than installers generally handle complex programming. (The work of other computer specialists is described in the Handbook statement on computer systems analysts, engineers and scientists.) Finally, the installer performs tests to verify that the newly installed equipment functions properly.

The increasing reliability of telephone switches and switchboards has simplified maintenance. New telephone switches are self-monitoring and alert repairers to malfunctions. Some switches allow repairers to diagnose and correct problems from remote locations. When faced with a malfunction, the repairer may refer to manufacturers’ manuals that provide maintenance instructions. PBX repairers determine if the problem is located within the PBX system, or if it originates in the telephone lines maintained by the local phone company. To fix the equipment, repairers may use small hand tools, including pliers and screwdrivers to replace defective components, such as circuit boards, fuses, or wiring. They may also install updated software or programs that maintain existing software.

Radio mechanics install and maintain radio transmitting and receiving equipment. This includes stationary equipment mounted on transmission towers and mobile equipment, such as radio communications systems in service and emergency vehicles. Newer radio equipment is also self-monitoring and may alert mechanics to potential malfunctions. When malfunctions occur, these mechanics examine equipment for damaged components and loose or broken wires. They use electrical measuring instruments to monitor signal strength, transmission capacity, interference, and signal delay. Additionally, they use hand tools to replace defective components and parts and adjust equipment, so it performs within required specifications.

Station installers and repairers—known commonly as telephone installers and repairers—install and repair telephone wiring and equipment on customers’ premises. They install telephone service by connecting customers’ telephone wires to outside service lines. These lines run on telephone poles or in underground conduits; the installer may climb poles or ladders, to make the connections. Once the telephone is connected, the line is tested, to insure that it receives a dial tone. When a maintenance problem occurs, repairers test the customers’ lines, to determine if the problem is located in the customers’ premises or in the outside service lines. When on-site procedures fail to resolve installation or maintenance problems, repairers may request support from their technical service center.

Other telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers include workers who install and maintain telegraphic equipment and workers who connect wires from telephone lines to distributing frames in telephone company central offices.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers generally work in clean, well-lighted, air-conditioned surroundings, such as a telephone company’s central office, a customer’s PBX location, or an electronic repair shop or service center. Telephone installers and repairers work on rooftops, ladders, and telephone poles. Radio mechanics may maintain equipment located on the tops of transmissions towers. While working outdoors, these workers are subject to a variety of weather conditions.

Nearly all telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers work full time. Many work regular business hours, to meet the demand for repair services during the workday. Schedules are more irregular at companies that need repair services 24 hours a day or where installation and maintenance must take place after business hours. At these locations, mechanics work a variety of shifts including weekend and holiday hours. Repairers may be on call around the clock, in case of emergencies and may have to work overtime.

The work of most repairers involves lifting, reaching, stooping, crouching, and crawling. Adherence to safety precautions is important to guard against work hazards. These hazards include falls, minor burns, electrical shock, and contact with hazardous materials.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers held about 125,000 jobs in 1998. Most worked for telephone communications companies. Many radio mechanics worked in electrical repair shops. The distribution of employment by occupation was as follows.

Central office and PBX installers and repairers 44,000
Station installers and repairers, telephone 24,000
Radio mechanics 7,000
All other telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers 49,000

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

Most employers seek applicants with post secondary training in electronics; familiarity with computers is also important. Training sources include 2- and 4-year college programs in electronics or communications, trade schools, and training provided by equipment and software manufacturers. Military experience with communications equipment is highly valued by many employers.

Newly hired mechanics usually receive some training from their employers. This may include formal classroom training in electronics, communications systems, or software and informal, hands-on training with communications equipment. Large companies may send mechanics to outside training sessions, to keep these employees informed of new equipment and service procedures. As networks have become more sophisticated—often including equipment from a variety of companies—the knowledge needed for installation and maintenance also has increased.

Mechanics must be able to distinguish colors, because wires are color-coded; they must also be able to hear distinctions in the various tones on a telephone system. For positions that require climbing poles and towers, workers must be in good physical shape. Repairers who handle assignments alone at a customer site must be able to work without close supervision. For workers who frequently contact customers, a pleasant personality, neat appearance, and good communications skills are also important.

Experienced mechanics with advanced training may become specialists or troubleshooters who help other repairers diagnose difficult problems, or work with engineers in designing equipment and developing maintenance procedures. Because of their familiarity with equipment, repairers are particularly well qualified to become manufacturers’ sales workers. Workers with leadership ability also may become maintenance supervisors or service managers. Some experienced workers open their own repair services or shops or become wholesalers or retailers of electronic equipment.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008. Growth will be driven by the increasing demand for sophisticated telecommunications equipment. Although the need for installation work will grow as companies seek to upgrade their telecommunications networks, the need for maintenance work should decline, because of increasingly reliable self-monitoring and self-diagnosing equipment. Opportunities should be best for applicants with electronics training and computer skills.

Projected employment growth varies by occupation. Employment of central office and PBX installers and repairers is expected to grow faster than average, as the growing popularity of the Internet continues to place new demand on telecommunications networks. Conventional switches designed to handle voice communications will need to be replaced and upgraded with equipment that can communicate more complex information, such as data, videos, and graphics. Switches that can quickly relay both voice and data communications will become a necessity. Whereas increased reliability and automation of switching equipment will constrain employment growth, these effects will be offset by the strong demand for installation and upgrading of switching equipment.

Despite some demand for mechanics in the rapidly growing wireless telecommunication sector to build networks of receivers, transmitters, and other equipment, the employment of radio mechanics is projected todecline. The replacement of two-way radio systems by wireless systems, especially in service vehicles, has eliminated the need in many companies for on-site radio mechanics. The increased reliability of wireless equipment and the use of self-monitoring systems will continue to lessen this need.

Employment of station installers and repairers is also expected to decline. Pre-wired buildings and the increasing reliability of telephone equipment will decrease the need for installation and maintenance of customers’ telephones. The popularity of the Internet may increase employment over the next few years, as additional households request the installation of second telephone lines. However, this should be offset by the deployment of new technologies, such as digital subscriber lines, which allow simultaneous voice and data communications, and wireless telecommunications services, which do not require installation.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

In 1998, median hourly earnings of central office and PBX installers and repairers were $21.00. The middle 50 percent earned between $18.09 and $23.52. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $13.92, whereas the top 10 percent earned more than $25.79. Median hourly earnings in the telephone communications industry were $20.40 in 1997.

Median hourly earnings of radio mechanics in 1998 were $14.71. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.21 and $18.73. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $9.09, whereas the top 10 percent earned more than $23.21.

Median hourly earnings of station installers and repairers in 1998 were $19.06. The middle 50 percent earned between $15.80 and $22.17. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $11.55, whereas the top 10 percent earned more than $24.07. Median hourly earnings were $18.90 in the telephone communications industry in 1997.

Central office installers, central office technicians, PBX installers, and telephone installers and repairers represented by the Communications Workers of America earned between $283 and $996 a week in 1998.

Telephone installers and repairers, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, earned between $12.60 and $22.50 an hour in 1999. Equipment installer technicians represented by the same union earned between $16.70 and $24.80 an hour in 1999.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Related occupations that work with electronic equipment include broadcast and sound technicians; computer, automated teller, and office machine repairers; electronic home entertainment equipment repairers; and electronics repairers, commercial and industrial equipment. Electronics engineering technicians may also repair electronic equipment, as part of their duties.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For information on career opportunities, contact:

  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Telecommunications Department, 1125 15th St. NW., Room 807, Washington, DC 20005.
  • Communications Workers of America, 501 3rd St. NW., Washington, DC 20001. Internet: http://www.cwa-union.org

For information on the telephone communications industry, contact:

  • United States Telecom Association, 1401 H St. NW., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005-2164. Internet: http://www.usta.org
O*NET Codes: 85502, 85505, 85508, 85514, 85599A, 85599B, 85599C, & 85726 About the O*NET codes

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