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Line Installers and Repairers
Nature of the Work | Working Conditions | Employment | Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement | Job Outlook | Earnings | Related Occupations | Sources of Additional Information
Vast networks of wires and cables provide customers with electrical power and communications services. Networks of electrical power lines deliver electricity from generating plants to customers. Communications networks of telephone and cable television lines provide voice, video, and other communications services. These networks are constructed and maintained by line installers and repairers.
Line installers, or line erectors, install new lines by constructing utility poles, towers, and underground trenches to carry the wires and cables. Line erectors use a variety of construction equipment including digger derricks, trenchers, and cable plows. Digger derricks are trucks equipped with augers and cranes; the augers dig holes in the ground, and the cranes set utility poles in place. Trenchers and cable plows cut openings in the earth for laying underground cables.
When construction is complete, line installers string cable along the poles, towers, and trenches. For installations on poles and towers, the installers first climb or use truck-mounted buckets to reach the top of the structure. Next, they pull up cable by hand from large reels mounted on trucks. The line is then set in place and pulled so that it contains the correct amount of tension. Finally, the line installers attach the cable to the structure using handtools. When working with electrical powerlines, installers bolt or clamp insulators onto the poles before attaching the cable. Underground cable is laid directly in the trench, or strung through a conduit running through the trench.
Other installation duties include setting up service for customers and installing network equipment. To set up service, line installers string a piece of cable between the customers premises and the lines running on poles, towers, or in trenches. They place wiring in houses and check that transmission signals are strong. Line installers may also install a variety of equipment. Workers on telephone and cable television lines install amplifiers and repeaters that maintain the strength of communications transmissions. Workers on electrical powerlines install transformers, circuit breakers, switches, and other equipment to control and direct the electrical current.
In addition to installation, line installers and repairers are also responsible for maintenance of electrical, telephone, and cable television lines. The workers periodically travel in trucks, helicopters, and airplanes to visually inspect the wires and cables. Sensitive monitoring equipment can automatically detect malfunctions on the network, such as loss of current flow. When line repairers identify a problem, they travel to the location of the malfunction and repair or replace defective cables or equipment. Bad weather or natural disasters can cause extensive damage to networks. Line installers and repairers must respond quickly to these emergencies in order to restore critical utility and communications services.
Installation and repair work may require splicing, or joining together, separate pieces of cable. Each cable contains numerous individual wires; splicing the cables together requires that each wire in one piece of cable be joined to another wire in the matching piece. Line installers splice cables using small handtools, epoxy, or mechanical equipment. At each splice, they place insulation over the conductor and seal the splice with moisture proof covering.
Many communications networks now use fiber optic cables instead of conventional wire or metal cables. Fiber optic cables are made of thin strands of glass, which transmit pulses of light. These cables can carry more information at higher speeds than conventional cables. The higher transmission capacity of fiber optic cable has allowed communication networks to offer upgraded services, such as high speed Internet access.
Line installers and repairers must climb and maintain their balance while working on poles and towers. They lift equipment and work in a variety of positions such as stooping or kneeling. Their work often requires that they drive utility vehicles, travel long distances, and work outdoors under a variety of weather conditions. Many line installers and repairers work a 40-hour week; however, emergencies may require overtime work. For example, when severe weather damages electrical and communications lines, line installers and repairers may work long and irregular hours to restore service.
Line installers and repairers encounter serious hazards on their jobs and must follow safety procedures to minimize the potential danger. They wear safety equipment when entering manholes and test for the presence of gas before going underground. Electric powerline workers have the most hazardous jobs. High voltage powerlines can cause electrocution and line installers and repairers must consequently install protective devices when working with live cables. Powerlines are typically higher than telephone and cable television lines, increasing the risk of severe injury due to falls. To prevent these injuries, line installers and repairers must use personal fall protection equipment when working on poles or towers.
Line installers and repairers held about 279,000 jobs in 1998. Approximately two-thirds were telephone and cable television line installers and repairers; the remainder were electrical powerline workers. Nearly all line installers and repairers worked for telephone, cable television, electric power, or construction companies.
Line installers and repairers are trained on the job and most employers generally require only a high school diploma. However, technical knowledge of electricity and electronics obtained through vocational programs, community colleges, or experience in the Armed Forces is preferred. Prospective employees should possess a basic knowledge of math and mechanical ability. Customer service and interpersonal skills are also important. Because the work entails climbing and other physical activity, applicants should have stamina, coordination, and must be unafraid of heights. The ability to distinguish colors is necessary because wires and cables may be coded by color.
Line installers and repairers working for electric power companies generally complete formal apprenticeship or employer training programs. These are sometimes administered jointly by the employer and the union representing the workers. The unions include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Communications Workers of America, and the Utility Workers Union of America. Apprenticeship programs last several years and combine formal instruction with on-the-job training.
Line installers and repairers in telephone and cable television companies receive several years of on-the-job training. They may also attend training provided by equipment manufacturers, schools, or industry training organizations. The Society of Cable Television Engineers (SCTE) provides certification programs for line installers and repairers. Applicants for certification must be employed in the cable television industry, and attend training sessions at local SCTE chapters.
Entry-level line installers may be hired as groundmen, helpers, or tree trimmers, who clear branches from telephone and power lines. These workers may advance to positions stringing cable and performing service installations. With experience, they may advance to more sophisticated maintenance and repair positions responsible for increasingly larger portions of the network. Promotion to supervisory or training positions is also possible.
Overall employment of line installers and repairers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008. Much of this increase will result from growth in the telecommunications industry. The introduction of new technologies, such as fiber optic cable, has increased the transmission capacity of telephone and cable television networks. This higher capacity has allowed the creation of new and extremely popular services, such as high-speed Internet access. At the same time, deregulation of the telecommunications industry has reduced barriers to competition. As a result, companies from a variety of industries are installing high capacity networks in order to compete for the increasing demand for telecommunications services. Mergers among highly competitive communications and electrical power companies may result in layoffs; however, these will be offset by growth due to the expansion of telecommunications networks. Besides employment growth, many job openings will result from the need to replace the large number of older workers reaching retirement age.
Employment of telephone and cable television line installers and repairers is expected to grow faster than average. Telephone and cable television companies will create new networks and expand existing ones to provide customers with high-speed access to data, video, and graphics. Line installers and repairers will be needed not only to construct and install networks, but also to maintain the ever-growing systems of wires and cables. Businesses will install extensive private networks as they increasingly use telecommunications lines for access to suppliers and customers. Residential customers will request additional lines to their houses in order to use telephone and Internet communications simultaneously.
The distribution of electrical power has not undergone the same transformation as has occurred in telecommunications, and the need for network expansion is not as great. As a result, the overall employment of electrical powerline installers and repairers should experience little or no growth. However, job openings will arise from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation. Because electrical power companies have reduced hiring and training in recent years, opportunities should be best for workers who possess experience and training.
Median hourly earnings for electrical powerline installers and repairers were $20.48 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $16.30 and $23.90. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.54 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33.32. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of electrical powerline installers and repairers in 1997 are shown below.
Median hourly earnings for telephone and cable television line installers and repairers were $15.75 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.97 and $21.42. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.85 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.54. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of telephone and cable television line installers and repairers in 1997 are shown below.
Most line installers and repairers belong to unions, principally the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Utility Workers Union of America. For these workers, union contracts set wage rates, wage increases, and the time needed to advance from one step to the next.
Related skilled craft positions include broadcast and sound technicians; electricians; and telecommunications equipment mechanics, installers, and repairers.
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For more details about employment opportunities, contact the telephone, cable television, or electrical power company in your community. For general information on line installer and repairer jobs, write to:
For general information on line installers and repairers and other power plant occupations, write to:
For information on training and certification programs in the cable industry, contact:
Last Updated: March 30, 2000
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