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Nature of the Work
* Line installers and cable splicer jobs do not require education beyond high school, but provide substantial on-the-job training that leads to relatively high earnings.
* Employment is expected to increase moderately, but competition is expected for jobs.
* Line installers and cable splicer work outdoors in all weather; when severe weather damages cables, they may be called out on short notice and work long hours until service is restored.
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 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 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 earthquakes 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 calls. Most usually work a 40-hour week, but unexpected circumstances may create a need for overtime work. 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 locations,and 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 they use when splicing cables.
Electric power line workers have the most hazardous jobs. They typically work 20 to 40 feet above ground level because electric cable is always strung above telephone and cable television lines.In addition to this danger, the voltages in electric power lines are lethal.
Line installers and cable splicers held about 309,000 jobs in 1996. 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 are usually 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 such as 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 there are few prerequisite skills, training is largely provided on the job, and earnings are above average, applicants should outnumber available job openings. Besides employment growth, many job openings will result from the need to replace the large number of older workers reaching retirement age. Job prospects will be best in telephone companies, particularly for those who combine knowledge of line installation, fiber optic and copper cable splicing, and repair of many types of equipment.
Overall employment of line installers and cable splicers is expected to grow about as fast as the average through the year 2006. Technological advances will result in divergent trends within this occupation. Technological change is expected to have little impact on electrical power line installers, and their employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations to meet the growing demand for electricity and the need to maintain existing lines. Employment of telephone and cable television line installers and repairers, however, is projected to grow about as fast as the average, in line with the growth in telephone and cable television usage. If, as expected, telephone companies expand their services to provide cable TV, electronic publishing, and other telecommunication services, they will have to modernize their networks by laying fiber-optic cables that dramatically expand the electronic pipeline that reaches each home. Line installers and cable splicers will be needed to lay the new larger capacity cables.
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 1996, line installers and repairers who worked full time earned a median weekly wage of $703. The middle 50 percent earned between $498 and $892. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $351; the top 10 percent earned more than $1,072 a week.
Line installers and cable splicers employed by AT&T and the Bell Operating Companies and represented by the Communications Workers of America earned between $279 and $962 a week in 1996. Because of low job turnover in these occupations, many workers earn salaries near the top of the pay scale.
According to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, average hourly wages in 1997 for line installers and cable splicers were between $17.81 and $19.35.
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 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 job 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, Department of Apprenticeships, Benefits, and Employment, 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, Telecommunications Department, 1125 15th. St. NW., Room 807, Washington, DC 20005.
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