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???).
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:
Area Access, Inc.
7131 Gateway Ct.
Manassas, VA 20109
Email Scott at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.