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Appliance service technicians install and service many kinds of electrical and gas appliances, such as washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, ranges, and vacuum cleaners. Some repairers specialize in one type of appliance, such as air conditioners, while others work with a variety of appliances, both large and small, used in homes and business establishments. There are approximately 50,000 appliance service technicians employed in the United States.
Although some small home appliances, including irons and coffee makers, were patented before the 20th century began, only a few types were in general use before the end of World War I. Around that time, however, more efficient and inexpensive electric motors were developed, which made appliances more affordable to the public. In addition, electric and gas utility companies began extending their services into all parts of the nation. As a result, many new laborsaving appliances began to appear on the market. Eventually, consumers began to rely increasingly on a wide variety of machines to make everyday tasks easier and more pleasant, both at home and at work. Soon, many kinds of equipment, such as washing machines and kitchen ranges, were considered an essential part of middle-class life.
Since the end of World War II, there has been a tremendous growth in the use and production of home appliances. The increasing use of appliances has created the need for qualified people to install, repair, and service them. Today’s service technicians need a different mix of knowledge and skills than was needed by the appliance repairers of years ago, however, because today’s appliances often involve complex electronic parts. The use of electronic components is advantageous to consumers because the electronic appliances are more reliable. However, the fact that modern appliances need fewer repairs means that the demand for appliance technicians is no longer growing as fast as the use of new appliances.
Appliance technicians use a variety of methods and test equipment to figure out what repairs are needed. They inspect machines for frayed electrical cords, cracked hoses, and broken connections; listen for loud vibrations or grinding noises; sniff for fumes or overheated materials; look for fluid leaks; and watch and feel other moving parts to determine if they are jammed or too tight. They may find the cause of trouble by using special test equipment made for particular appliances or standard testing devices such as voltmeters and ammeters. They must be able to combine all their observations into a diagnosis of the problem before they can repair the appliance.
Technicians often need to disassemble the appliance and examine its inner components. To do this, they often use ordinary hand tools like screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. They may need to follow instructions in service manuals and troubleshooting guides. To understand electrical circuitry, they may consult wiring diagrams or schematics.
After the problem has been determined, the technician must correct it. This may involve replacing or repairing defective parts, such as belts, switches, motors, circuit boards, or gears. The technician also cleans, lubricates, and adjusts the parts so that they function as well and as smoothly as possible.
Those who service gas appliances may replace pipes, valves, thermostats, and indicator devices. In installing gas appliances, they may need to measure, cut, and connect the pipes to gas feeder lines and to do simple carpentry work such as cutting holes in floors to allow pipes to pass through.
Technicians who make service calls to homes and businesses must often answer customers’ questions and deal with their complaints.
They may explain to customers how to use the appliance and advise them about proper care. These technicians are often responsible for ordering parts from catalogs and recording the time spent, the parts used, and whether a warranty applies to the repair job. They may need to estimate the cost of repairs, collect payment for their work, and sell new or used appliances. Many technicians who make service calls drive light trucks or automobiles equipped with two-way radios or cellular phones so that as soon as they finish one job, they can be dispatched to another.
Many appliance service technicians repair all different kinds of appliances; there are also those who specialize in one particular kind or one brand of appliances. Window air-conditioning unit installers and technicians, for example, work only with portable window units, while domestic air-conditioning technicians work with both window and central systems in homes.
Household appliance installers specialize in installing major household appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, clothes dryers, kitchen ranges, and ovens; household appliance technicians maintain and repair these units.
Small electrical appliance technicians repair portable household electrical appliances such as toasters, coffee makers, lamps, hair dryers, fans, food processors, dehumidifiers, and irons. Customers usually bring these types of appliances to service centers to have them repaired.
Gas appliance technicians install, repair, and clean gas appliances such as ranges or stoves, heaters, and gas furnaces. They also advise customers on the safe, efficient, and economical use of gas.
Appliance technicians usually must be high school graduates with some knowledge of electricity (especially wiring diagrams) and , if possible, electronics. If you are interested in this field, you should take as many shop classes as possible to gain a familiarity with machines and tools. Electrical shop is particularly helpful because of the increasing use of electronic components in appliances. Mathematics and physics are good choices to build knowledge of mechanical principles. Computer classes will also be useful.
Prospective technicians are sometimes hired as helpers and acquire most of their skills through on-the-job experience. Some employers assign such helpers to accompany experienced technicians when they are sent to do repairs in customers’ homes and businesses. The trainees observe and assist in diagnosing and correcting problems with appliances. Other employers assign helpers to work in the company’s service center where they learn how to rebuild used appliances and make simple repairs. At the end of six to 12 months, they usually know enough to make most repairs on their own, and they may be sent on unsupervised service calls.
An additional one to two years of experience is often required for trainees to become fully qualified. Trainees may attend service schools sponsored by appliance manufacturers and study service manuals to familiarize themselves with appliances, particularly new models. Reading manuals and attending courses is a continuing part of any technician’s job.
Many technicians train at public or private technical and vocational schools that provide formal classroom training and laboratory experience in the service and repair of appliances. The length of these programs varies, although most last between one and two years. Correspondence courses that teach basic appliance repair are also available. Although formal training in the skills needed for appliance repair can be a great advantage for job applicants, newly graduated technicians should expect additional on-the-job training to acquaint them with the particular work done in their new employer’s service center.
Certification or Licensing
In some states, appliance technicians may need to be licensed or registered. Licenses are granted to applicants who meet certain standards of education, training, and experience and who pass an examination. Since 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required certification for all technicians who work with appliances containing refrigerants known as chlorofluorocarbons. Since these refrigerants can be harmful to the environment, technicians must be educated and tested on their handling in order to achieve certification to work with them.
The National Appliance Service Technician Certification Program (NASTeC) offers certification on four levels: refrigeration and air conditioning; cooking; laundry and dishwashing; and universal technician (all three specialties). To earn NASTeC certification, candidates must pass a basic skills exam and at least one of the three specialty exams. Technicians who pass all four exams are certified as NASTeC universal technicians.
The Professional Service Association (PSA) also offers certification to appliance repairers. The PSA offers the following certifications to technicians who pass an examination: certified master technician, certified technician, certified service manager, and certified consumer specialist. Certification is valid for four years, at which time technicians must apply for recertification and pass another examination. Certified technicians who complete at least 15 credit hours of continuing education annually during the four years don't need to retake the examination to gain recertification. Additionally, the certified graduate technician designation is available to vocational school graduates who have completed their training. After working for two years as an appliance service technician, holders of this designation can seek to upgrade to the master technician designation.
The North American Retail Dealers Association offers a certification program for those who recover refrigerant from appliances categorized as “Type I” by the EPA. These include refrigerators and freezers designed for home use, room air conditioners including window models, packaged terminal air conditioners, packaged terminal heat pumps, dehumidifiers, under-the-counter icemakers, vending machines, and drinking water coolers. Contact the association for more information on certification requirements.
Technicians must possess not only the skills and mechanical aptitude necessary to repair appliances but also skills in consumer relations. They must be able to deal courteously with all types of people and be able to convince their customers that the products they repair will continue to give satisfactory service for some time to come. Technicians must work effectively with little supervision, since they often spend their days alone, going from job to job. It is necessary that they be accurate and careful in their repair work, as their customers rely on them to correct problems properly.
You can explore the field by talking to employees of local appliance service centers and dealerships. These employees may know about part-time or summer jobs that will enable you to observe and assist with repair work. You can also judge interest and aptitude for this work by taking shop courses, especially electrical shop, and assembling electronic equipment from kits.
Currently, about 50,000 appliance service technicians are employed throughout the United States in service centers, appliance manufacturers, retail dealerships, and utility companies. They may also be self-employed in independent repair shops or work at companies that service specific types of appliances, such as coin-operated laundry equipment and dry-cleaning machines.
One way of entering this occupation is to become a helper in a ser vice center where the employer provides on-the-job training to qualified workers. To find a helper’s job, prospective technicians should apply directly to local service centers or appliance dealerships. They also can watch area newspaper classified ads for entry-level jobs in appliance service and repair. For those who have graduated from a technical or vocational pro gram, their schools’ career services offices may also prove helpful.
Advancement possibilities for appliance service technicians depend primarily on their place of employment. In a small service center of three to five people, advancement to a supervisory position will likely be slow, because the owner usually performs most of the supervisory and administrative tasks. However, pay incentives do exist in smaller service centers that encourage technicians to assume a greater share of the management load. Technicians working for large retailers, factory service centers, or gas or electric utility companies may be able to progress to supervisor, assistant service manager, or service manager.
Another advancement route leads to teaching at a factory ser vice training school. A technician who knows the factory’s product, works with proficiency, and speaks effectively to groups can conduct classes to train other technicians. Technical and vocational schools that offer courses in appliance repair work may also hire experienced repairers to teach classes.
Some service technicians aspire to opening an independent repair business or service center. This step usually requires knowledge of business management and marketing and a significant investment in tools, parts, vehicles, and other equipment.
Some technicians who work for appliance manufacturers move into positions where they write service manuals, sell appliances, or act as manufacturers’ service representatives to independent service centers.
The earnings of appliance technicians vary widely according to geo graphic location, type of equipment serviced, workers’ skills and experience, and other factors. In 2006, the median annual salary for home appliance technicians was about $33,860, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. At the low end of the salary scale, some technicians earned less than $19,490. Technicians at the high end of the pay scale earned $53,750 or more per year. Trainees are usually paid less than technicians who have completed their training period. Employees of gas utility companies and other large companies generally command higher hourly wages than those who work for service centers. Some service centers, however, offer incentives for technicians to increase their productivity. Some of these incentive plans are very lucrative and can allow a proficient worker to add considerably to his or her salary.
Opportunities for overtime pay are most favorable for repairers of major appliances, such as refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines. In addition to regular pay, many workers receive paid vacations and sick leave, health insurance, and other benefits such as employer contributions to retirement pension plans.
Appliance technicians generally work a standard 40-hour week, although some work evenings and weekends. Repairers who work on cooling equipment, such as refrigerators and air conditioners, may need to put in extra hours during hot weather. In general, there is little seasonal fluctuation of employment in this occupation, since repairs on appliances are needed at all times of the year and the work is done indoors.
Technicians encounter a variety of working conditions depending on the kinds of appliances they install or repair. Those who fix small appliances work indoors at a bench and seldom have to handle heavy objects. Their workplaces are generally well lighted, properly ventilated, and equipped with the necessary tools.
Repairers who work on major appliances must deal with a variety of situations. They normally do their work on site, so they may spend several hours each day driving from one job to the next. To do repairs, they may have to work in small or dirty spaces or in other uncomfortable conditions. They may have to crawl, bend, stoop, crouch, or lie down to carry out some repairs, and they may have to move heavy items. Because they work in a variety of environments, they may encounter unpleasant situations, such as dirt, odors, or pest infestation.
In any appliance repair work, technicians must follow good safety procedures, especially when handling potentially dangerous tools, gas, and electric currents.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that through 2014 the total number of repairers is expected to grow more slowly than the aver age for all occupations. Although Americans will certainly continue buying and using more appliances, today’s machines are often made with electronic components that require fewer repairs than their non-electronic counterparts. Thus, the dependability of the technology built into these new appliances will restrain growth in the repair field. Most openings that arise will be due to workers leaving their jobs who must be replaced. However, the employment outlook will remain good, with job openings outnumbering job seekers, since relatively few people wish to enter this industry. Opportunities are expected to be better for wage and salary workers than self-employed technicians who service appliances in peoples’ homes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on the National Appliance Service Technician Certification Program, contact
International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians
3608 Pershing Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76107-4527
For industry information, contact
National Appliance Service Association
PO Box 2514
Kokomo, IN 46904-2514
For information on the Refrigerant Recovery Certification Test Program, contact:
North American Retail Dealers Association
4700 West Lake Avenue
Glenview, IL 60025-1468
For information on a career as an appliance service technician and certification, contact:
Professional Service Association
71 Columbia Street
Cohoes, NY 12047-2939