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Elevator installers and repairers, also called elevator constructors or elevator mechanics, are skilled crafts workers who assemble, install, and repair elevators, escalators, dumbwaiters, and similar equipment. They may also be responsible for modernizing this equipment Approximately 22,000 elevator installers and repairers are employed in the United States.
The use of mechanical devices for lifting loads dates back at least to the time of the ancient Romans, who used plat forms attached to pulleys in constructing buildings. In the 17th century, a crude passenger elevator known as the “flying chair” was invented. These early elevators were operated by human, animal, or waterpower.
By the early 19th century, steam was used to power machines that raised elevators. For about the first half of the century, elevators were almost always used for lifting freight. This was because the hemp ropes that supported and hauled the elevators were not strong enough to be safe for passenger use. In 1852, Elisha G. Otis designed and installed the first elevator with a safety device that prevented it from falling if the rope broke. Five years later, Otis’s first safety elevator for carrying passengers was put into use in a store in New York City, and it was immediately declared a success.
Steam-powered elevators were used until the 1880s, when elevators powered by electricity were introduced. Subsequent design changes brought a series of improvements such as push-button operation, taller shafts, and faster speeds, so that the elevators could be used even in skyscrapers, and power doors and automatic operation, which made elevators more economical than they had been when human operators were necessary. Today’s elevators often are con trolled electronically and may be capable of moving up and down at 2,000 feet per minute.
Jesse W. Reno invented the escalator, or moving stairway, in 1891. Early escalators, like modern ones, were electrically powered and resembled an inclined endless belt held in position by two tracks. Moving sidewalks and ramps are based on the same principle.
Almost as long as these machines have been in use in buildings to move people and their belongings, there has been a need for workers who specialize in assembling, installing, and maintaining them.
Elevator installers and repairers may service and update old equipment that has been in operation for many years. Or they may work on new systems, which may be equipped with state micro processors capable of monitoring a whole elevator system and automatically operating it with maximum possible efficiency. Installing and repairing elevators requires a good understanding of electricity, electronics, and hydraulics.
Installers begin their work by examining plans and blueprints that describe the equipment to be installed. They need to determine the layout of the components, including the framework, guide rails, motors, pumps, cylinders, plunger foundations, and electrical connections. Once the layout is clear, they install the guide rails (for guiding the elevator as it moves up and down) on the walls of the shaft. Then they run electrical wiring in the shaft between floors and install controls and other devices on each floor and at a central control panel. They assemble the parts of the car at the bottom of the shaft. They bolt or weld together the steel frame and attach walls, doors, and parts that keep the car from moving from side to side as it travels up and down the shaft. They also install the entrance doors and doorframes on each floor.
Installers set up and connect the equipment that moves the cars. In cable elevator systems, steel cables are attached to each car and , at their other end, to a large counterweight. Hoisting machinery, often located at the top of the shaft, moves the cables around a pulley, thus moving the elevator car up or down and the counterweight in the opposite direction. In hydraulic systems, the car rests on a hydraulic cylinder that's raised and lowered by a pump, thus moving the elevator car up and down like an automobile on a lift. New technology also is being developed to run elevators without cables, using magnetic fields instead. Regardless of the type of elevator involved, after the various parts of the elevator system are in place, the elevator installers test the operation of the system and make any necessary adjustments so that the installation meets building and safety code requirements.
In hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and other institutions where food is prepared, elevator installers may work on dumbwaiters, which are small elevators for transporting food and dishes from one part of a building to another. They may also work on escalators, installing wiring, motors, controls, the stairs, the framework for the stairs, and the tracks that keep the stairs in position. Increasingly, installers are working on APMs, or automated people movers, the sort of “moving sidewalks” you might see at an airport.
After elevator and escalator equipment is installed, it needs regular adjustment and maintenance to ensure that the system continues to function in a safe, reliable manner. Elevator repairers routinely inspect the equipment, perform safety tests using meters and gauges, clean parts that are prone to getting dirty, make adjustments, replace worn components, and lubricate bearings and other moving parts.
Repairers also do minor emergency repairs, such as replacing defective parts. Finding the cause of malfunctions often involves troubleshooting. For this reason, repairers need a strong mechanical aptitude. In addition, repairers may work as part of crews that do major repair and modernization work on older equipment.
Elevator installers and repairers use a variety of hand tools, power tools, welding equipment, and electrical testing devices such as digital multimeters, logic probes, and oscilloscopes.
Employers prefer to hire high school graduates who are at least 18 years of age and in good physical condition. Mechanical aptitude, an interest in machines, and some technical training related to the field are other important qualifications. While you are in high school, therefore, take such classes as machine shop, electronics, and blueprint reading. Mathematics classes will teach you to work with numbers, and applied physics courses will give you a basis for understanding the workings of this equipment. Also, take English classes to enhance your verbal and writing skills. In this work, you will be interacting with a variety of people and communication skills will be a necessity.
Union elevator installers and repairers receive their training through the National Elevator Industry (NEI) Educational Program, administered on a local level by committees made up of local employers who belong to the National Elevator Industry Inc., and local branches of the International Union of Elevator Constructors. The programs consist of on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced workers, together with classroom instruction in related subjects. In the work portion of the program, trainees begin with the simplest tasks and gradually progress to more difficult activities. In the classroom, they learn about installation procedures, basic electrical theory, electronics, and job safety.
Union trainees spend their first six months in the industry in a probationary status. Those who complete the period successfully go on to become elevator constructor helpers. After an additional four to five years of required field and classroom education, they become eligible to take a validated mechanic exam. Upon passing this exam, workers become fully qualified journeyman installers and repairers. They may be able to advance more quickly if they already have a good technical background, acquired by taking courses at a postsecondary technical school or junior college.
Certification or Licensing
Certification through the NEI Educational Program’s training curriculum is required of new workers in this field. The National Association of Elevator Contractors offers the following voluntary certifications certified elevator technician and certified accessibility and private residence lift technician. Additionally, most states and municipalities require that elevator installers and repairers pass a licensing examination. This is not true of all areas at this time, but the trend toward mandatory licensure is growing.
Elevator installers and repairers must be in good physical shape because this job will periodically require them to carry heavy equipment or tools and work in small areas or in awkward positions. Elevator installers and repairers should also enjoy learning. To be successful in this field, they must constantly update their knowledge regarding new technologies, and continuing education through seminars, workshops, or correspondence courses is a must. Elevator installers and repairers need good hand-eye coordination. These workers should not be afraid of heights or confined areas, since some of their work may take place in elevator shafts. Also, because elevator installers and repairers frequently work with electrical wiring and wires are typically color-coded based on their function, they need to have accurate color vision.
While union membership is not necessarily a requirement for employment, most elevator installers and repairers are members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors.
High school courses such as electrical shop, machine shop, and blue print reading can give you a hands-on sense of tasks that are similar to everyday activities of elevator installers and repairers. A part-time or summer job as a helper at a commercial building site may pro vide you with the opportunity to observe the conditions that these workers encounter on the job. If you or your guidance counselor can arrange for a tour of an elevator manufacturing firm, this experience will allow you to see how the equipment is built. One of the best ways to learn about the work may be to talk to a professional recommended by local representatives of the International Union of Elevator Constructors.
Approximately 22,000 elevator installers and repairers are employed in the United States, and contractors specializing in work with elevators employ the majority. Other elevator installers and repairers work for one of the more than 60 large elevator manufacturers such as Otis Elevator Company or ThyssenKrupp Elevator, for government agencies, or for small, local elevator maintenance contractors. Some larger institutions (such as hospitals, which run 24 hours a day) employ their own elevator maintenance and repair crews.
If you are seeking information about trainee positions in this field, you can contact the National Elevator Industry Educational Program or the International Union of Elevator Constructors for brochures. The local office of your state’s employment service may also be a source of information and job leads.
When an installer/repairer has completed the approximately five-year training program, met any local licensure requirements, and success fully passed a validated mechanic’s exam, he or she is considered fully qualified—a journeyman. After gaining further experience, installers and repairers who work for elevator contracting firms may be promoted to positions such as mechanic-in-charge or supervisor, coordinating the work done by other installers. Other advanced positions include adjusters, highly skilled professionals who check equipment after installation and fine-tune it to specifications, and estimators, who figure the costs for supplies and labor for work before it's done. Those who work for an elevator manufacturer may move into sales positions, jobs related to product design, or management. Other experienced workers become inspectors employed by the government to inspect elevators and escalators to ensure that they comply with specifications and safety codes.
Earnings depend on a variety of factors, such as experience and geo graphical location. Workers who are not fully qualified journeymen earn less than full-time professionals; for example, probationary workers start at about 50 percent of the full wage, and trainees earn about 70 percent of full wage. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median hourly wage for fully qualified elevator installers and repairers was $30.59 in 2006. This hourly wage translates into a yearly income of approximately $63,320 for full-time work. The department also reported that the lowest paid 10 percent of installers and repairers made about $17.79 per hour (approximately $36,990 annually), while the highest paid 10 percent earned more than $42.14 per hour (approximately $87,660 annually). In addition to regular wages, union elevator installers and repairers receive other benefits, including health insurance, pension plans, paid holidays and vacations, and some tuition-free courses in subjects related to their work. A recent change in the union contract called for the institution of a 401(k) retirement program.
The standard workweek for elevator installers and repairers is 40 hours. Some workers put in overtime hours (for which they are paid extra), and some repairers are on call for 24-hour periods to respond to emergency situations. Most repair work is done indoors, so little time is lost because of bad weather. It frequently is necessary to lift heavy equipment and parts and to work in very hot or cold, cramped, or awkward places.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment for elevator installers and repairers will grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. Few new jobs are expected, however, because this occupation is so small. There will also be little need for replacement workers—the turnover in this field is relatively low because the extensive training people go through to gain these jobs results in high wages, which prompts workers to remain in the field. In addition, job outlook is somewhat dependent on the construction industry, particularly for new workers. Because installation of elevators is part of the interior work in new buildings, elevator installers are employed to work on sites about a year after construction begins, so job availability in this field lags behind boom periods in the construction industry by about a year. Slowdowns in the building industry will eventually catch up to elevator installers, again lagging by about a year as installers complete previously assigned jobs Due to the growing elderly population in the United States, professionals will also be needed to install and service stair lifts and elevators in homes.
Changes in the union contract that increased the retirement age for elevator installers and repairers brought many older workers back into the workforce in 1998. The NET Educational Program expects that new openings will become available in future years as these older workers retire. In addition, as the technology in the industry becomes more complex, employers will increasingly seek workers who are technically well trained.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on benefits, scholarships, and job opportunities, contact
International Union of Elevator Constructors
7154 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046-2132
For industry news and information on certification and continuing education, contact
National Association of Elevator Contractors
1298 Welibrook Circle, Suite A
Conyers, GA 30012-8031
For education, scholarship, and career information aimed at women in the construction industry, contact:
National Association of Women in Construction
327 South Adams Street
Fort Worth, TX 76104-1002
For industry information, contact:
National Elevator Industry
1677 County Route 64
PO Box 838
Salem, NY 12865-0838
For information on training in the elevator industry, contact
National Elevator Industry Educational Program
11 Larsen Way
Attleboro Falls, MA 02763-1068