Current Affairs: Electrical Equipment Installers and Repairers

by Henry Fields

October 1, 2018

With the rise of automation and the growing role of electronics in factories, facilities, and vehicles, electro-mechanical systems play an increasingly important part in our daily lives. Although many of us don’t interact with those systems directly, we definitely notice when they aren’t working. Keeping electrical systems in working condition is where electrical and electronic equipment mechanics, installers and repairers (or electrical mechanics for short) come in.

Electrical mechanics work in a wide variety of settings to make sure electrical equipment is installed and functioning correctly, and repair it if something is going wrong. Job growth, pay, and work environment vary substantially based on the type of work performed, something we’ll explore in depth in this article.

Job Activities

Electrical mechanics are generally different from a licensed electrician in that they repair, diagnose, or set up electrical systems. While electricians often implement or plan a new electrical system (for example, working on a construction site where they are responsible for ensuring a new house’s wiring meets building codes), the focus of an electrical mechanic’s work is usually to make sure an electro-mechanical system functions as it should and apply interventions when it’s not.

That work could take place in an office, retail or wholesale establishment, manufacturing facility, or utility station. Data on electrical mechanics are available at the occupational level, encompassing five specialties:

  • Commercial and industrial equipment mechanics work in manufacturing and other sectors and focus on maintaining equipment such as industrial controls, transmitters, and antennas.
  • Transportation equipment repairers work on mobile electronics equipment including sonar and surveillance systems on non-automobile means of transportation like trains and boats. They largely work for the manufacturers of that equipment or government agencies.
  • Electric motor, power tool, and related mechanics is a diverse field working in the manufacturing and repair and maintenance industries (among others) installing and repairing items such as electric motors, wiring, or switches.
  • Powerhouse, substation, and relay repairers work on the systems involved in power generation, primarily for utilities companies.
  • Motor vehicles repairers work on electronic systems in cars, including sound, security, or navigation systems.
Education and Training

Before we talk about what makes the roles distinct, let’s talk about what they have in common. Electrical mechanics generally require some post-secondary non-degree training for entry. In some instances an associate’s degree is a competitive advantage but it is not always required.

Working in any of these roles requires familiarity and comfort working with electrical systems. Skills that will prepare workers well for employment can be developed through educational programs that provide hands-on training, as well as classes that cover the basics of alternating and direct current. Many of Oregon’s community colleges offer relevant education programs based on your interests. In addition, most employers expect to train their electrical mechanics to work on the specific types of equipment that they use on the job, often under the guidance of experienced technicians.

Skills like problem awareness, mechanical aptitude, and manual dexterity will serve electrical mechanics of all stripes well. Employers of electrical mechanics look for employees with good skills in critical thinking, troubleshooting, and quality control and a strong basis in reading technical information and applying mathematical and engineering ideas.

Growth Projection

The growth outlook for each of these occupations is not projected to follow the same path. Specifically, projected growth of each type of electrical mechanic tracks with the growth of the industry they are most prevalent in, as well as technological factors specific to each.
Commercial and industrial equipment electrical mechanics, the largest subgroup, will grow a moderate amount as manufacturing is projected to continue its ongoing recovery from the recession.

Transportation equipment electrical mechanics will grow more slowly, due in part to the expected slow growth in federal government employment.

Electric motor, power tool and related repairers is projected to grow the fastest among subspecialties, and is spread out among several industries, including manufacturing, construction, and repair.

Powerhouse, substation and relay electrical mechanics will grow quite slowly, largely due to the expected slow growth in the utilities industry, where the vast majority are employed.

Motor vehicles electrical mechanics are already the smallest of the occupations and are projected to shrink in absolute numbers over 10 years, although not nearly as much as is projected at the national level. The main cause is that auto manufacturers are increasingly installing higher quality electrical systems to begin with, and the installation of aftermarket products is decreasing.

The projected change in each occupation varies, with one occupation declining 2 percent and the others growing at rates that range up to a high of 12 percent. However, one thing is true among all of these occupations: a significant amount of opportunity will be available due to the need to replace workers who leave the occupation through retirements and transfers.

Wages and Work Environment

The earnings of different kinds of electrical mechanics vary in Oregon as well. However, a majority of electrical mechanics are paid above the average for all occupations in the state, some quite a bit more.
  The occupations that deal with highly technical or sensitive electrical systems tend to be the highest paying. An example in the graph: the small field of powerhouse, substation and relay electrical mechanics is very high paying, much like other utility workers critical to maintaining the electrical grid, such as electrical power-line installers and repairers.

The work environment for an electrical mechanic depends on the employer and job duties being performed. Powerhouse substation mechanics are likely to work outside or travel to different job sites in remote areas. Commercial and industrial equipment mechanics, on the other hand, may work entirely within a single manufacturing plant. However, all types of electrical mechanics may be expected to lift heavy equipment and work in awkward positions.

For more information on occupation specific job trends, work environments, or national level statistics, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Conclusion

Electrical and electronic equipment installers and repairers are less well known than larger trade occupations such as electricians, but across a wide range of industries they can be crucial to sustaining people’s businesses, livelihood, and comfort. If electrical systems and electronics are interesting to you, careers in electrical equipment installation, maintenance and repair deserve a close look.

 


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