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Vast networks of wires and cables transmit the electric power produced in generating plants to individual customers, connect telephone central offices to customers' telephones and switchboards, and extend cable television to residential and commercial customers. These networks are constructed and maintained by line installers and cable splicers and their helpers.
To install new electric power or telephone lines, line installers or line erectors install poles and terminals, erect towers, and place wires and cables. They usually use power equipment to dig holes and set poles. Line installers climb the poles or use truck-mounted buckets (aerial work platforms) and use handtools to attach the cables. When working with electric power lines, installers bolt or clamp insulators onto the pole before attaching the cable. They may also install transformers, circuit breakers, switches, or other equipment. To bury underground cable, they use trenchers, plows, and other power equipment.
Line installers also lay cable television lines underground or hang them on poles with telephone and utility wires. These lines transmit broadcast signals from microwave towers to customers' homes. Installers place wiring in the house, connect the customers' television sets to it, and check that the television signal is strong.
After telephone line installers place cables in position, cable splicers, also referred to as cable splicing technicians, complete the line connections. (Electric power line workers install and splice the cables simultaneously.) Splicers connect individual wires or fibers within the cable and rearrange wires when lines have to be changed. They first read and interpret service orders and circuit diagrams to determine splicing specifications. Splices are then made by joining wires and cables with small handtools, epoxy, or mechanical equipment. At each splice, they place insulation over the conductor, and seal the splice with some type of moisture proof covering. They may fill the cable sheathing on critical transmission routes with compressed air so that leaks in the sheathing can be monitored and repaired. Splicers work on poles, aerial ladders and platforms, in manholes, or in basements of large buildings.
Fiber optic cables are being used to replace worn or obsolete copper cables. These tiny hair-thin strands of glass are able to carry more signals per cable because they transmit pulses of light instead of electricity. Splices of fiber optic cables are completed in a van positioned near the splice point. These vans house workshops that contain all the necessary equipment, such as machines that heat the glass fibers so they can be joined.
Line installers and cable splicers also maintain and repair telephone, power, and cable television lines. They periodically make sure lines are clear of tree limbs or other obstructions that could cause problems and check insulation on cables and other equipment on line poles. When bad weather or earth quakes break wires or cables, knock poles down, or cause underground ducts to collapse, they make emergency repairs.
Because telephone, electric, and television cables are strung from utility poles or are underground, line installers and cable splicers must climb and lift or work in stooped and cramped positions. They usually work outdoors in all kinds of weather and are subject to 24-hour call. Most usually work a 40-hour week, but, for example, when severe weather damages transmission and distribution lines, they may work long and irregular hours to restore service. At times, they may travel to distant locationsand occasionally stay for a lengthy period to help restore damaged facilities or build new ones.
Line installers and cable splicers face many situations in which safety procedures must be followed. They wear safety equipment when entering manholes and test for the presence of gas before going underground. They may be exposed to hazardous chemicals from the solvents and plugging compounds that they use when splicing cables. Electric power line workers have the most hazardous jobs. They typically work at higher elevations because the electric cable is always above telephone and cable television lines. Moreover, the voltages in electric power lines are lethal.
Line installers and cable splicers held about 302,000 jobs in 1994. More than half were telephone and cable television line installers and repairers. Nearly all worked for telephone, cable television companies, or electric power companies, or for construction companies specializing in power line, telephone, and cable television construction.
Line installers are often hired as helpers or ground workers. Most employers prefer high school graduates. Many employers test applicants for basic verbal, arithmetic, and abstract reasoning skills. Some employers test for physical ability such as balance, coordination, and strength and mechanical aptitude. Because the work entails a lot of climbing, applicants should have stamina and must be unafraid of heights. Knowledge of basic electricity and training in installing telephone systems obtained in the Armed Forces or vocational education programs may be helpful. The ability to distinguish colors is necessary because wires and cables usually are coded by color. Motivation, self-discipline, and the ability to work as part of a team are needed to work efficiently and safely.
Line installers and cable splicers in electric companies and construction firms specializing in cable installation generally complete a formal apprenticeship program. These are administered jointly by the employer and the union representing the workers, either the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or the Communications Workers of America. These programs last several years and combine formal instruction with on-the-job training. Workers in telephone companies generally receive several years of informal on-the-job training, in some cases learning other skills like telephone installation and repair. They may also attend training provided by equipment manufacturers.
A growing number of employers are using computer-assisted instruction, video cassettes, movies, or "programmed" workbooks. Some training facilities are equipped with poles, cable-supporting clamps, and other fixtures, to simulate working conditions as closely as possible. Trainees learn to work on poles while keeping their hands free. In one exercise, for example, they play catch with a basketball while on the poles.
Formal training includes instruction in electrical codes, blueprint reading, and basic electrical theory. Afterwards trainees learn on the job and work with a crew of experienced line installers under a line supervisor. Line installers and cable splicers receive training throughout their careers to qualify for more difficult assignments and to keep up with technological changes.
Since deregulation of the telephone industry, many telephone companies have reduced the scope of their training programs in order to reduce their costs and to remain competitive. Increasingly, workers are responsible for their own training, which is provided by community colleges and postsecondary vocational schools.
For installers in the telephone industry, advancement may come about through promotion to splicer. Splicers can advance to engineering assistants or may move into other kinds of work, such as sales. Promotion to a supervisory position also is possible. In the electric industry, promotion is usually to a supervisory position.
Job seekers are expected to face competition. Because prerequisite skills and training are minimal, and earnings are above average, applicants outnumber available job openings. Employment growth is not expected to provide many opportunities; most will result from the need to replace the larger than average number of older workers reaching retirement age. Job prospects will be best for electrical line workers employed by electric utilities and construction firms because the effects of new technology are expected to be less than for telephone line workers. In telephone companies, those who combine knowledge of line installation, fiber optic or copper cable splicing, and repair of many types of equipment should enjoy better prospects.
Overall employment of line installers and cable splicers is expected to show little or no growth through the year 2005. Technological advances will result in divergent trends within this occupation. Employment of electrical power line installers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations as the demand for electricity grows and the need to maintain existing lines continues. Employment of telephone and cable television line installers and repairers, however, is expected to decline despite growth in telephone and cable television usage. Layoffs of telephone line workers have already occurred, due to increased efficiency being built into telephone systems. New ways of transmitting informationsatellites, microwave towers, and underground fiber optic cable, for exampleare not as vulnerable to adverse weather conditions as aerial wires, and fewer workers are needed to maintain them. Fiber optic cables will continue to replace copper cables, and this will generate short-term demand for installers. Also, some will be needed to install the infrastructure for the new telecommunications system. Telephone, cable, and even utility companies are converting more of their networks to fiber optics which makes it possible to carry voice, data, and video signals over the same lines to a wide range of customers. Over the longer term, however, employment will fall as the conversion to fiber optics is completed and as maintenance requirements are reduced. Improved splicing techniques as well as new power tools and equipment also will continue to improve the efficiency of cable splicers. Finally, most areas of the country that can economically be served by cable television have already been wired, and fewer installers will be needed.
Pay rates for line installers and cable splicers vary greatly across the country and depend on length of service; specific information may be obtained from local telephone, electric power, and cable television companies. It generally takes about 5 years to go from the bottom to the top of the pay scale. In 1994, line installers and repairers who worked full time earned a median weekly wage of $712. The middle 50 percent earned between $501 and $887. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $337; the top 10 percent earned more than $1,089 a week.
Line installers and cable splicers employed by AT&T and the Bell Operating Companies and represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers earned between $469 and $1,063 a week in 1994. Because of low job turnover in these occupations, many workers earn salaries near the top of the pay scale.
Most line installers and cable splicers belong to unions, principally the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. For these workers, union contracts set wage rates, wage increases, and the time needed to advance from one step to the next. These contracts require extra pay for overtime and for all work on Sundays and holidays. Most contracts provide for additional pay for night work. Time in service determines the length of paid vacations. Depending on the locality, there are 9 to 12 holidays a year.
Workers in other skilled crafts and trades who work with tools and machines include communications equipment mechanics, biomedical equipment technicians, telephone installers and repairers, electricians, and sound technicians.
For more details about employment opportunities, contact the telephone or electric power company in your community or local offices of the unions that represent these workers. For general information on line installer and cable splicer jobs, write to:
Communications Workers of America, 501 3rd St. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
For additional information on the telephone industry and career opportunities contact:
United States Telephone Association,1401 H St. NW., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005-2136.
For information on employment and training contact:
Utility Workers Union of America, 815 16th. St. NW, Washington, DC 20006.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 1125 15th. St. NW, Room 807, Washington, DC 20005.
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