Can You Fix Things? Try Elevator Repair

If you have a knack for repairs and you’ve been thinking about a career change, you might want to look into elevator repair…seriously! Every contraption known to man eventually needs repair or replacement, virtually guaranteeing there will always be work available for the repairmen of the world. But the best opportunities are in fixing the equipment we don’t commonly think about, maybe because not nearly as many people ever enter the fields.

For starters, a college degree is not required for elevator repair. I did a web search for “elevator repair schools” and “elevator repair programs” and came up with nothing each time. But I managed to interview Larry McMahon, an  Elevator Repair Specialist in the New York/New Jersey region, and came up with a wealth of information.

How Do You Get Into Elevator Repair?

According to Larry,  on-the-job training is the only way into the field, and with so few people aware that the field even exists, the line at the door isn’t all that long. So who gets in and what qualifications are needed? Larry didn’t grow up wanting to be in elevator repair, so his early career life took some turns that didn’t exactly look as if his future would land him where it did (sound familiar???).

Can You Fix Things? Try Elevator Repair
Can You Fix Things? Try Elevator Repair
He took auto repair courses in high school, planning to become a mechanic. He never did become a mechanic, but spent several years working in plumbing and heating with various employers. While neither the auto repair courses nor the plumbing experience trained him in any direct way for elevator repair, they did provide a background in basic repair and troubleshooting, as well as the knowledge of tools and what they can do—all solid foundations.

So how did Larry get in? “I just applied for the job. It sounded interesting, but I had no referrals inside or outside the company I applied at, and even had no background in anything electrical—which is pretty basic. It looked like a long shot. But they called me in, and here I am many years later. I started as a helper, which is where everyone starts, but now I’m one of the guys doing the hiring.”

And what does he look for in candidates for hire? “There is no one type of person we look for. Some of the people who seem most qualified don’t make it, and others who seem completely unqualified up front work beautifully. A background in anything related to mechanics or electrical is a big plus. But apart from that we look at attitude and willingness to learn. A person can learn mechanics and any other skill, but attitude and willingness to learn are something you have to walk in the door with.”

As to advance preparation he recommends taking a course or two in either auto mechanics or electrical. Electrical is especially important because it develops an understanding of circuitry.

Apprenticing can take several years, but the pay and benefits are solid in the meantime. It can be done in two to three years if you’re really motivated. Before being turned loose, you will need to pass a test to be an elevator mechanic. You have to be sponsored by an employer to do this, and you can take courses while you work.

Larry advises that working for a smaller, non-union firm that will give you more exposure to the various aspects of the business and enable you to learn faster than if you start at a bigger company.

Because elevators are technology based, and technology is in a constant state of change, training is an ongoing process. The training is typically provided and paid for by the elevator manufacturing companies.

Why Elevator Repair?

Money is always a big motivator, and the pay in elevator repair is well above average, and even above what most people earn in college norm occupations.

While pay varies somewhat from one region of the country to another, in Larry’s neck of the woods, helpers (entry level) earn about $16 per hour, while experienced mechanics can go up to $37 per hour. Benefits are very generous and there’s as much overtime as you want to work. Heavily experienced, well traveled repairmen can make even more.

Some jobs are unionized, others aren’t, and there isn’t much variation in pay between the two. Work in skyscrapers typically is handled through union shops, but non-union shops tend to take on a wider variety of jobs, which is why the training and experience are more comprehensive and offer higher pay and greater employment security in the long run.

But beyond money are plenty of intangible benefits. As Larry puts it, “Elevator repair skills are transferable—your skills will be in demand where ever there are elevators. The work is full of challenges and never boring! You’re always learning, and companies tend to hire and promote from within.”

The Affect of the Economy on Elevator Repair

How much affect the economy is having on elevator repair depends on what part of the business you’re involved in, but in general the field tends to be recession resistant.

There are four basic areas: maintenance, modernization (or “mods”), new construction and repair. Maintenance is responsible for keeping elevators operating on an ongoing basis, which includes periodic servicing and troubleshooting; mods handle replacements and upgrades; new construction installs systems in new buildings; repair fixes what’s broken.

The maintenance and repair areas are in constant demand, and are unaffected by the state of the economy. Mods and new construction tend to pay better, especially during economic booms, but suffer when the economy sinks.

Still, Larry stresses that an elevator repairman who has any level of talent can move up quickly. There are hundreds of companies in the business who are always on the lookout for good people. The key is to learn and grow and not be afraid to take on the tough assignments.

What are the Stresses?

Larry advises that elevator repair isn’t a career for the faint of heart. You will be working in elevator shafts, which carries an obvious element of danger (a good head and mature attitude are also considered valuable attributes!).

“You never know what the problems will be on any job, so you’ll need to be flexible and patient. Not only are problems demanding, but so are customers. An elevator building is typically filled with people who need to get somewhere and the pressure to make that happen quickly can add to the stress of challenging repair issues.”

Elevator Repair Openings Available in the Middle Atlantic Region

In response to the original publishing of this article, we received an email from Scott Hobson of Area Access, Inc., a company that provides elevator repair, as well as related services. Area Access is a company currently looking to hire people for elevator repair. Headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, with offices in Richmond and Norfolk, they cover Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Eastern North Carolina.

Scott founded the company in 1983, right out of college. “I sold my drums and my hot rod and moved from mid-Michigan to N. VA just outside Wash DC. I’m an old timer in this business. The business grew and evolved taking on stairway lifts, commercial wheelchair lifts and home elevators. We’re now one of America’s largest accessibility companies.”

They install several lines of home and light commercial Access elevators, vertical and inclined wheelchair lifts, and stair lifts for both straight and curved-rail applications. They’ve worked on projects like the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Stands, the US Institute of Peace, FBI Headquarters, King’s Dominion Amusement Park, and the Jiffy Lube Live Concert Complex.

Scott says that they’re hiring! “We’re busy, growing and offer great benefits. Some of the wages you see online are union-full mechanic levels. To be realistic, if you have mechanical ability and no experience, you’re probably in the $13-$18 per hour range. If you have experience with elevators, wheelchair lifts or even stairlifts, it would be higher.”

While jobs are hard to get in so many fields, the elevator repair field is wide open. “My biggest problem in the business is finding mechanics,” says Scott. “I don’t expect to find licensed guys, but just people with mechanical skills, tools and a drivers’ license. This problem is shared by many of my friends in the trade all over America.”

If you’d like to take on a career that’s truly different, and you think that you have the qualifications, you can contact Scott at any of the following – and tell him you read this post on OutOfYourRut.com:

Scott Hobson
Area Access, Inc.
7131 Gateway Ct.
Manassas, VA 20109
Phone: (703)396-4949
Email Scott at: hob573@gmail.com
Website: www.areaaccess.com

I realize that our current eco-cultural orientation is toward “new careers” in healthcare, education, government and IT. But not everyone is cut out to go into those fields, or even remotely wants to. And sometimes the best opportunities are in the least likely places – simply because the herd is heading in another direction. If you want  to do something different, something really challenging, I hope you’ll consider elevator repair. It’s one field that will never be off-shored, or replaced by computer software, and that means plenty  in the increasingly uncertain job market we’re gradually moving into.

( Photo by Penningtron )

22 Responses to Can You Fix Things? Try Elevator Repair

  1. I have been looking looking around for this kind of information. Will you post some more in future? I’ll be grateful if you will.

    comment by KonstantinMiller
    Monday, July 06, 2009 @ 8:48:50 PM
    http://www.google.com

  2. My father was in the elevator trade for over 30 years, and my brother has now entered the field as well.

    My father was maintenance/repair. The biggest drawback for him in this job was the “on call” aspect. When an elevator breaks, it has to be fixed, even at 3 am. He wasn’t always on call, these duties were split among 3 or four other mechanics. A younger coworker of his took a lot of the calls and I recall him earning over $100,000 in a year – this was back in the 90’s. Not bad pay if you’re willing to put in the time!

    The rest of the job seemed pretty sweet to me – company vehicle, very flexible hours (it seemed like he was home for a few hours for lunch every afternoon), and you were seen as a fairly “important” person in the hierarchy of blue collar workers.

    My father is an extremely mechanically adept person, and his skills were in high demand. He got fed up with his longtime company and quit his job on a Friday, and was working for a competitor on the Monday after.

    My brother is in construction as he finishes his apprenticeship. He is working a ton of overtime and pulling in some serious money.

    I took a different route (I’m a highschool teacher) but I would enter that field in a heartbeat if my circumstances changed.
    comment by Dave
    Wednesday, July 22, 2009 @ 7:50:51 AM

  3. Dave & Marci–This seems to be an overlooked & underappreciated career field. I was really surprised by what I discovered by interviewing Larry, and by some news items about it that came in around the same time.

    So many young people in particular are worried over how they’ll afford and manage a college education, but their are great careers, like elevator repair, that are showing real promise, especially in an otherwise weak job market.
    comment by Kevin (admin)
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 @ 12:21:21 PM

  4. OK guy Im looking for that elevator position. I too can fix just about anything and Im looking for an elevator job. Do you have any leeds.

    Thanks
    Michael

  5. Hi Laura–It can be hard on the body, so I would imagine it’s something that you’d want to be retired from in your 60s. Climbing in and out of elevator shafts is a regular practice, and there is an element of danger involved.

  6. Hi, I was an auto mechanic and then went in to remodeling for the last 10 years. I want out so bad. I can fix things that most people wont attempt, I’m strong in and out. I live in a small city in N.C. how can I find a elevator repair company to apprentice for, I’m 33 with two kids and feel like there’s not a single chance in hell, I’ll find a way to keep supporting my family even though I would do anything.

  7. Hi Scott–There are companies all around the country that service elevators and you can check with them. A few things to keep in mind…this article was written nearly 3 years ago and the market has changed. Since there’s far less new construction particularly of commercial buildings that require elevators, the market has shrunk. This is especially true for newcomers because they most commonly enter on the new construction/installation side.

    Another issue is geography. For obvious reasons, elevator repair is centered in large metropolitan areas because they have large numbers of elevator buildings. Unless you live in a large metropolitan area, you may have to relocate. Some cities are better than others too. New York City, because of the overwhelming number of elevator buildings, tends to be the prime market. Older cities too, because of the higher repair and replacement issues.

    Don’t give up even if you hear a bunch of No’s. You have an excellent background and you’re at a prime age.

  8. im 39 and mechanically incline. i went to scholl for automotive technician.ever since i can remember, maybe at 6 yrs. anything my parents bought, i would skip school and take it apart and put it back together. im not the brightest color in the box, but i love working with my hands. im not affraid of heights. my last job was working on dredges. i ran a boat and a crew. i got layied off 5 months ago and its very hard to supply for my family. i have been doing research on elevator jobs and thats what i want to do till i cant climb nomore. i will learn what ever it takes to do this job.i do not have the time or resorces to go to school. but if a company helps me out, i will make them proud.i have 17yrs.on dredges and 5 on pipelines. 4 working with radioactive material. I want to climb and get to know what makes elevators tick. I Pray to God someone will read what i just wrote and be my angel to put me at the right place.(956)263-8462

  9. if anybody knows of companies that might take me in i would greatly appriciated. i have a sick mother so i would prefer in texas in the meantime. i live in south texas but will relocate anywhere in tx. for now like i said. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.God Bless You!!! Saul Moreno(956)263-8462 is my number u can text or call me……. saulestebanmoreno77@gmail.com is my email i dont own a computer im using my phone Thanks!!!!

  10. Hi, my name is Jim Krajick. I was just curious if there was maybe a reliable website or source for finding Elevator Mechanic helper jobs (specifically in PA if possible). I’m a younger guy (24) with kids and a wife and plenty of mechanical experience. I want to be an Elevator Mechanic but I’m having trouble finding work as a helper. Help please!

  11. Hi Jim – Best way is to look it up on the web, entering the name of your city + “elevator repair jobs”. It will depend on where you live of course. If you live near a large city, like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, there will be more opportunities than if you live in a small town where there aren’t many elevator buildings. My understanding is that there are now fewer jobs even in the big cities because construction of new elevator buildings is much slower than it’s been in past economic recoveries, if that’s what we’re even actually in. The elevator mechanics who used to work on the installation side have migrated over to maintenance, reducing the number of jobs there.

  12. Unfortunately I have already have/continue to try that. I live in Hanover,Pa so I assume my best bet would be Harrisburg,Pa or south to Baltimore, MD unless York,Pa had work which I doubt. I was hoping that maybe there was a website or source out there specifically geared toward elevator work or people interested in an apprenticeship in elevator mechanics. When I search all I get is maintenance mechanic jobs and things of that sort…sometimes an occasional elevator inspector job but nothing that I’m looking for. Will keep trying :/

  13. Hi Jim – Unfortunately it sounds as if the prospects for elevator repair/maintenance in your area are soft, so you may have to consider going in a different direction. That trade is strongest by far in the large cities that have a high concentration of elevator buildings. If you can find something in Baltimore you might consider moving to that area since there will be more opportunities there, particularly if you’re close enough to the DC side. It is of course an “on the road” business where you’re constantly going to the client’s facilities to do the work. That means living close to the client base is a necessity. But don’t make a move unless you have a job lined up. That area is wicked expensive!

  14. With enrollment being a couple of months away I was curious about what I might be able to do in the meantime to better my chances when I enroll. For some background I am 24 years old, have been a pump mechanic for 4 years, when I was in high school I took related courses like electronics, technical drawing, etc. also a big note in my mind is that I’m married with 2 kids so even though I’m young, I work hard, im focused and I have no lack of motivation to succeed. anything I could do to better my chances I’ll do.

  15. Lots of luck to you Jim! The fact that you are married and have children already works in your favor. You will do great I’m sure. Please keep us updated on your progress.

  16. Wow now I’m especially interested! My wife was suppose to be having our 3rd ( and final child)…… Turns out she is pregnant with twins. Does anyone have any idea about how long on average after you pass your interview and aptitude exam it takes to get the call and get started?

  17. Hi Jim – You might try a web search that question. It really depends on the number of open jobs in your area. In a strong market, it could happen right away. But every market is different.

  18. Hi Kevin. I did know that elevator repair was a good, high-paying job and in demand. God only knows how I knew that, but it doesn’t matter. My husband is another man who can look at anything mechanical, and the first thing he does is take it apart in his mind to see how it works. Then he literally wants to do it, even if it’s not broken. He said there is a shortage of men, and even women, who have this kind of thinking or even want to do this kind of work. As you said, there will always be work for people who can fix things. We can’t find employees anymore who want to work with their hands, let alone have a decent work ethic. It’s as rare as the dodo bird. I encourage anyone with this skill to look into elevator repair. Not every good paying job needs a college degree that comes with years of student loan debt. Great article, Kevin.

  19. Hi Bev – I blame the education establishment for the lack of skilled workers. Not to get up on my soap box, but their whole “mission” is to keep students in the school system and moving up to the next education level. There’s no emphasis on the skilled trades, entrepreneurship or even toward a strong work ethic. Get your education, and you’ll have everything you need, is the mentality. Meanwhile, fewer students are working their way through school the way it was common when I was in high school and college. We’re creating what a book I read many years ago referred to as a “marginal elite” – a generation of highly credentialled individuals, who see themselves as elite, but have few real world skills.

    OK, I’m climbing down off my soap box…

    You’ve also raised an excellent point about student loan debt. The middle- and lower middle classes still haven’t grasped the reality that they can no longer afford to send their kids to college and are dooming them with massive student debt to prepare them for a job market that existed 20 years ago. If you go into the trades, you’ll win by default because you don’t have that crushing debt following you into adulthood.

    A reality based outlook, a solid work ethic, transferrable job skills and good money management are what people need to learn. But that’s not what they’re being taught. I feel sorry for this entire generation, though I know some who have figured it out early and are thriving.

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