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General maintenance mechanics, some times called maintenance technicians or building engineers, repair and maintain machines, mechanical equipment, and buildings, and work on plumbing, electrical, and controls They also do minor construction or carpentry work and routine preventive maintenance to keep the physical structures of businesses, schools, factories, and apartment buildings in good condition. They also maintain and repair specialized equipment and machinery found in cafeterias, laundries, hospitals, offices, and factories There are approximately 13 million general maintenance mechanics employed in the United States, working in almost every industry.
Before machines came to dominate the manufacturing of goods, craftsworkers had to learn many different kinds of skills Blacksmiths, for example, had to know about forging techniques, horseshoeing, making decorative metalwork, and many other aspects of their trade. Carriage makers had to be familiar with carpentry, metalworking, wheel-making, upholstering, and design.
The industrial revolution set in motion many new trends, how ever, including a shift toward factory-type settings with workers who specialized in specific functions. This shift occurred partly because new machine production methods required a high degree of discipline and organization. Another reason for the change was that, because the new technology was so complex, no one person could be expected to master a whole field and keep up with changes that developed in it.
In a way, today’s general maintenance mechanics recall crafts workers of the era before specialization. They are jacks-of-all-trades. Typically, they have a reasonable amount of skill in a variety of fields, including construction, electrical work, carpentry, plumbing, machining, direct digital controls, as well as other trades. They are responsible for keeping buildings and machines in good working order. To do this, they must have a broad understanding of mechanical tools and processes as well as the ability to apply their knowledge to solving problems.
General maintenance mechanics perform almost any task that may be required to maintain a building or the equipment in it. They may be called on to replace faulty electrical outlets, fix air-conditioning motors, install water lines, build partitions, patch plaster or drywall, open clogged drains, dismantle, clean, and oil machinery, paint windows, doors, and woodwork, repair institutional-size dishwashers or laundry machines, and see to many other problems. Because of the diverse nature of the responsibilities of maintenance mechanics, they have to know how to use a variety of materials and be skilled in the use of most hand tools and ordinary power tools. They also must be able to recognize when they can't handle a problem and must recommend that a specialized technician be called.
General maintenance mechanics work in many kinds of settings. Mechanics who work primarily on keeping industrial machines in good condition may be called factory maintenance workers or mill maintenance workers, while those mechanics who concentrate on the maintenance of a building’s physical structure may be called building maintenance workers and technicians.
Once a problem or defect has been identified and diagnosed, maintenance mechanics must plan the repairs. They may consult blueprints, repair manuals, and parts catalogs to determine what to do. They obtain supplies and new parts from a storeroom or order them from a distributor. They install new parts in place of worn or broken ones, using hand tools, power tools, and sometimes electronic test devices and other specialized equipment. In some situations, maintenance mechanics may fix an old part or even fabricate a new part. To do this, they may need to set up and operate machine tools, such as lathes or milling machines, and operate gas- or arc- welding equipment to join metal parts together.
One of the most important kinds of duties, general maintenance mechanics perform is routine preventive maintenance to correct defects before machinery breaks down or a building begins to deteriorate. This type of maintenance keeps small problems from turning into large, expensive ones. Mechanics often inspect machinery on a regular schedule, perhaps following a checklist that includes such items as inspecting belts, checking fluid levels, replacing filters, oiling moving parts, and so forth. They keep records of the repair work done and the inspection dates. Repair and inspection records can be important evidence of compliance with insurance requirements and government safety regulations.
New buildings often have computer-controlled systems, so mechanics who work in them must have basic computer skills. For example, newer buildings might have light sensors that are electronically controlled and automatically turn lights on and off. The maintenance mechanic has to understand how to make adjustments and repairs.
In small establishments, one mechanic may be the only person working in maintenance, and thus may be responsible for almost any kind of repair. In large establishments, however, tasks may be divided among several mechanics. For example, one mechanic may be assigned to install and set up new equipment, while another may handle preventive maintenance.
Many employers prefer to hire helpers or mechanics who are high school graduates, but a diploma is not always required. High school courses that will prepare you for this occupation include mechanical drawing, metal shop, electrical shop, woodworking, blueprint reading, general science, computer science, and applied mathematics.
Some mechanics learn their skills by working as helpers to people employed in building trades, such as electricians or carpenters. Other mechanics attend trade or vocational schools that teach many of the necessary skills. Becoming fully qualified for a mechanic’s job usually requires one to four years of on-the-job training or classroom instruction or some combination of both.
Certification or Licensing
Some certification and training programs are open to maintenance mechanics. BOMI International, for example, offers the designation of systems maintenance technician (SMT) to applicants who have completed courses in boilers, heating systems, and applied mathematics; refrigeration systems and accessories; air handling, water treatment, and plumbing systems; electrical systems and illumination; and building control systems. Technicians who have achieved SMT status can go on and become certified as systems maintenance administrators (SMAs) by taking further classes in building design and maintenance, energy management, and supervision. The Association for Facilities Engineering offers the certified plant engineer and certified plant maintenance manager designations to applicants who pass an examination and satisfy job experience requirements. While not necessarily required for employment, employees with certification may become more valuable assets to their employers and may have better chances at advancement.
General maintenance mechanics need to have good manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude. People who enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together are good candidates for this career. Since some of the work, such as reaching, squatting, and lifting, requires physical strength and stamina, reasonably good health is necessary. Mechanics also need the ability to analyze and solve problems and to work effectively on their own without constant supervision.
Shop classes can give you a good indication of your mechanical aptitude and of whether or not you would enjoy maintenance work. The best way to experience the work these mechanics do, however, is to get a summer or part-time job as a maintenance helper in a factory, apartment complex, or similar setting. If such a job is not available, you might try talking with a maintenance mechanic to get a fuller, more complete picture of his or her responsibilities.
General maintenance mechanics are employed in factories, hospitals, schools, colleges, hotels, offices, stores, malls, gas and electric companies, government agencies, and apartment buildings throughout the United States. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that there are approximately 1.3 million people in the field. Approximately 20 percent are employed in manufacturing industries. Others are employed in service industries, such as elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and nursing homes, and hotels, office and apartment buildings, government agencies, and utility companies.
General maintenance mechanics usually start as helpers to experienced mechanics and learn their skills on the job. Beginning helpers are given the simplest jobs, such as changing light bulbs or making minor drywall repairs. As general maintenance mechanics acquire skills, they are assigned more complicated work, such as trouble shooting malfunctioning machinery.
Job seekers in this field usually apply directly to potential employers. Information on job openings for mechanic’s helpers can often be found through newspaper classified ads, school career services offices, and the local offices of the state employment service. Graduates of trade or vocational schools may be able to get referrals and information from their school’s career services office. Union offices may also be a good place to learn about job opportunities.
Some general maintenance mechanics employed in large organizations may advance to supervisory positions. Another possibility is to move into one of the traditional building trades and become a craftworker, such as a plumber or electrician. In smaller organizations, opportunities for promotion are limited, although increases in pay may result from an employee’s good performance and increased value to the employer.
Earnings for general maintenance mechanics vary widely depending on skill, geographical location, and industry. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that general maintenance mechanics and repairers earned median annual salaries of $31,910 in 2006. Earnings ranged from less than $19,140 to more than $50,840.
Almost all maintenance mechanics receive a benefits package that includes health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and a retirement plan. Mechanics earn overtime pay for work in excess of 40 hours per week.
General maintenance mechanics work in almost every industry and in a wide variety of facilities. In most cases, they work a 40-hour week. Some work evening or night shifts or on weekends; they may also be on call for emergency repairs. In the course of a single day, mechanics may do a variety of tasks in different parts of a building or in several buildings, and they may encounter different conditions in each spot. Sometimes they have to work in hot or cold conditions, on ladders, in awkward or cramped positions, among noisy machines, or in other uncomfortable places. Sometimes they must lift heavy weights. On the job, they must stay aware of potential hazards such as electrical shocks, burns, falls, and cuts and bruises. By following safety regulations and using tools properly, they can keep such risks to a minimum.
The mechanic who works in a small establishment may be the only maintenance worker and is often responsible for doing his or her job with little direct supervision. Those who work in larger establishments usually report to a maintenance supervisor who assigns tasks and directs their activities.
Earnings by Specialty, 2008
Employment of general maintenance mechanics is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Although the rate of construction of new apartment and office buildings, factories, hotels, schools, and stores is expected to be slower than in the past, most of these facilities still require the services of maintenance mechanics. This is a large occupation with a high turnover rate. In addition to newly created jobs, many openings will arise as experienced mechanics transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
General maintenance mechanics who work for manufacturing companies may be subject to layoffs during bad economic times, when their employers are under pressure to cut costs. Most mechanics, however, are not usually as vulnerable to layoffs related to economic conditions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on certification, contact:
Association for Facilities Engineering
8160 Corporate Park Drive, Suite 125
Cincinnati, OH 45242-3307
This organization provides education programs for commercial property professionals, including building engineers and technicians.
1201 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20005-3999
For information on professional certifications, contact:
1521 Ritchie Highway
Arnold, MD 21012-2747
For information on general maintenance careers in building maintenance and construction, contact
Mechanical Contractors Association of America
1385 Piccard Drive
Rockville, MD 20850-4329