Elevator Installers and Repairers

Significant Points

  • Elevator installers and repairers learn the trade through years of on-the-job training, usually through a program run by their union.
  • Almost 75 percent of elevator installers and repairers are union members—a greater proportion than nearly any other occupation.
  • The combination of slow employment growth and the high pay these workers earn should continue to result in low job turnover and relatively few job openings.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Elevator installers and repairers—also called elevator constructors or elevator mechanics—assemble, install, and replace elevators, escalators, dumbwaiters, moving walkways, and similar equipment in new and old buildings. Once the equipment is in service, they maintain and repair it, as well. They are also responsible for modernizing older equipment.

To install, repair, and maintain modern elevators, which are almost all electronically controlled, elevator installers and repairers must have a thorough knowledge of electronics, electricity, and hydraulics. Many elevators today are installed with microprocessors, which are programmed to constantly analyze traffic conditions to dispatch elevators in the most efficient manner. With these computer controls, it is now possible to get the greatest amount of service with the least number of cars.

When installing a new elevator, installers and repairers begin by studying blueprints to determine the equipment needed to install rails, machines, car enclosures, motors, pumps, cylinders, and plunger foundations. Once this has been determined, they begin equipment installation. Working on scaffolding or platforms, installers bolt or weld steel rails to the walls of the shaft to guide the elevator.

Elevator installers put in electrical wires and controls by running tubing, called conduit, along a shaft’s walls from floor to floor. Once in place, mechanics pull plastic-covered electrical wires through the conduit. They then install electrical components and related devices required at each floor and at the main control panel in the machine room.

Installers bolt or weld together the steel frame of an elevator car at the bottom of the shaft, install the car’s platform, walls, and doors, and attach guide shoes and rollers to minimize the lateral motion of the car, as it travels through the shaft. They also install the outer doors and door frames at the elevator entrances on each floor.

For cabled elevators, these workers install geared or gearless machines with a traction drive wheel that guides and moves heavy steel cables connected to the elevator car and counterweight. (The counterweight moves in the opposite direction from the car and aids in its swift and smooth movement.) Elevator installers also install elevators in which a car sits on a hydraulic plunger that is driven by a pump. The plunger pushes the elevator car up from underneath, similar to a lift in an auto service station.

Installers and repairers also install escalators. They put in place the steel framework, the electrically powered stairs, and the tracks and install associated motors and electrical wiring. In addition to elevators and escalators, they also may install devices such as dumbwaiters and material lifts—which are similar to elevators in design—moving walkways, stair lifts, and wheelchair lifts.

The most highly skilled elevator installers and repairers, called "adjusters," specialize in fine-tuning all the equipment after installation. Adjusters make sure that an elevator is working according to specifications, such as stopping correctly at each floor within a specified time. Once an elevator is operating properly, it must be maintained and serviced regularly to keep it in safe working condition. Elevator maintenance mechanics generally do preventive maintenance—such as oiling and greasing moving parts, replacing worn parts, testing equipment with meters and gauges, and adjusting equipment for optimal performance. They also troubleshoot and may be called in to do emergency repairs.

A service crew usually handles major repairs—for example, replacing cables, elevator doors, or machine bearings. This may require cutting torches or rigging equipment—tools a maintenance mechanic would not normally carry. Service crews also do major modernization and alteration work, such as moving and replacing electrical motors, hydraulic pumps, and control panels.

Elevator installers and repairers usually specialize in installation, maintenance, or repair work. Maintenance and repair workers generally need more knowledge of electricity and electronics than installers do, because a large part of maintenance and repair work is troubleshooting. Similarly, construction adjusters need a thorough knowledge of electricity, electronics, and computers, to ensure that newly installed elevators operate properly.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Most elevator installers and repairers work a 40-hour week. However, maintenance and service mechanics often work overtime when repairing essential elevator equipment and are sometimes on 24-hour call. Maintenance mechanics, unlike most elevator installers, are on their own most of the day and typically service the same elevators periodically.

Elevator installers lift and carry heavy equipment and parts and may work in cramped spaces or awkward positions. Hazards include falls, electrical shock, muscle strains, and other injuries related to handling heavy equipment. Because most of their work is performed indoors in buildings under construction or in existing buildings, elevator installers and repairers lose less work time due to inclement weather than other building trades workers.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Elevator installers and repairers held about 30,000 jobs in 1998. Most were employed by special trade contractors. Others were employed by field offices of elevator manufacturers, wholesale distributors, small, local elevator maintenance and repair contractors, or by government agencies or businesses that do their own elevator maintenance and repair.

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

Most elevator installers and repairers apply for their jobs through a local of the International Union of Elevator Constructors. Applicants for trainee positions must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and pass an aptitude test. Good physical condition and mechanical aptitude also are important.

Elevator installers and repairers learn their trade in a program administered by local joint educational committees representing the employers and the union. These programs, through which the trainee learns everything from installation to repair, combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction in electrical and electronic theory, mathematics, applications of physics, and safety. In nonunion shops they may complete training programs sponsored by independent contractors.

Generally, trainees or helpers must complete a 6-month probationary period. After successful completion, they work toward becoming fully qualified mechanics within 4 to 5 years. To be classified as a fully qualified mechanic, union trainees must pass a standard mechanics examination administered by the National Elevator Industry Educational Program. Most States and cities also require elevator constructors to pass a licensing examination.

Most trainees or helpers assist experienced elevator installers and repairers. Beginners carry materials and tools, bolt rails to walls, and assemble elevator cars. Eventually, trainees learn more difficult tasks, such as wiring, which requires knowledge of local and national electrical codes.

High school courses in electricity, mathematics, and physics provide a useful background. As elevators become increasingly sophisticated, workers may find it necessary to acquire more advanced formal education—for example, in postsecondary technical school or junior college—with an emphasis on electronics. Workers with more formal education usually advance more quickly than their counterparts.

Many elevator installers and repairers also receive training to become familiar with a company’s particular equipment from their employers or through manufacturers. Retraining is very important to keep abreast of technological developments in elevator repair. In fact, union elevator constructors typically receive continual training throughout their careers, either through correspondence courses, seminars, or formal classes. Although voluntary, this training greatly improves one’s chances for promotion.

Some installers may receive further training in specialized areas and advance to mechanic-in-charge, adjuster, supervisor, or elevator inspector. Adjusters, for example, may be picked for the position because they possess particular skills or are seen to be electronically inclined. Other workers may move into management, sales, or product design jobs.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of elevator installers and repairers is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2008, but relatively few new job opportunities will be generated because the occupation is small. Replacement needs, another source of jobs, also will be relatively low. This is, in part, because a substantial amount of time is invested in specialized training that yields high earnings, so workers tend to remain in these jobs. The job outlook for new workers is largely dependent on activity in the construction industry, and opportunities may vary from year to year as conditions within the industry change. Job prospects should be best for those with postsecondary training in electronics or more advanced formal education.

Demand for elevator installers and repairers will increase as equipment ages and needs repairs and as the construction of new buildings with elevators and escalators increases. Growth also should be driven by the need to continually update and modernize old equipment, including improvements in appearance and the installation of increasingly sophisticated equipment and computerized controls. Because it’s desirable that equipment be always kept in good working condition, economic downturns will have less of an effect on employment of elevator maintenance and repair mechanics than on other occupations. The need for people to service elevators and escalators should increase, as equipment becomes more intricate and complex.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median hourly earnings of elevator installers and repairers in 1998 were $23.01. The middle 50 percent earned between $18.41 and $32.20. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14.22 and the top 10 percent earned more than $40.70.

In addition to free continuing education, elevator installers and repairers receive basic benefits enjoyed by most other workers.

The proportion of elevator installers and repairers who are union members is higher than nearly any other occupation. Almost 75 percent of elevator installers and repairers are members of a union, compared to 14 percent in all occupations, and 22 percent for other craft and repair occupations. Most elevator installers and repairers belong to the International Union of Elevator Constructors.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Elevator installers and repairers combine electrical and mechanical skills with construction skills, such as welding, rigging, measuring, and blueprint reading. Other occupations that require many of these skills are boilermaker, electrician, industrial machinery repairer, millwright, sheet metal worker, and structural and reinforcing metal workers.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

For further details about opportunities as an elevator installer and repairer, contact elevator manufacturers, elevator repair and maintenance contractors, a local of the International Union of Elevator Constructors, or the nearest local public employment service office.

An industry employing elevator installers and repairers that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Construction

For further details about opportunities as an elevator installer and repairer, contact elevator manufacturers, elevator repair and maintenance contractors, a local of the International Union of Elevator Constructors, or the nearest local public employment service office.

O*NET Codes: 85932 About the O*NET codes

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