Line installers and repairers (also known as line workers) install or repair electrical power systems and telecommunications cables, including fiber optics.

Duties

Electrical power-line installers and repairers typically do the following:

  • Drive work vehicles to job sites
  • Install, maintain, or repair the power lines that move electricity
  • Identify defective devices, voltage regulators, transformers, and switches
  • Inspect and test power lines and auxiliary equipment
  • String power lines between poles, towers, and buildings
  • Climb poles and transmission towers and use truck-mounted buckets to get to equipment
  • Operate power equipment when installing and repairing poles, towers, and lines
  • Follow safety standards and procedures

Telecommunications line installers and repairers typically do the following:

  • Drive work vehicles to job sites
  • Install, maintain, or repair telecommunications equipment
  • Inspect or test lines or cables
  • Lay underground cable, including fiber optic lines, directly in trenches
  • Install aerial cables, including under lakes or across rivers
  • Operate power equipment when installing and repairing poles, towers, and lines
  • Set up service for customers

Every time you turn on your lights, call someone on the phone, watch cable television, or access the Internet, you are connecting to complex networks of physical power lines and cables that provide you with electricity and connect you with the outside world. Line installers and repairers, also known as line workers or linemen, are the people who install and maintain these networks.

Line installers and repairers typically specialize, and the areas in which they specialize depend on the network and industry in which they work:

Electrical power-line installers and repairers install and maintain the power grid—the network of power lines that moves electricity from generating plants to customers. They routinely work with high-voltage electricity, which requires extreme caution. This can range from hundreds of thousands of volts for the long-distance transmission lines that make up the power grid to less than 10,000 volts for distribution lines that supply electricity to homes and businesses.

Line workers who maintain the interstate power grid work in crews that travel to locations throughout a large region to service transmission lines and towers. Workers employed by local utilities work mainly with lower voltage distribution lines, maintaining equipment such as transformers, voltage regulators, and switches. They also may work on traffic lights and street lights.

Telecommunications line installers and repairers install and maintain the lines and cables used by network communications companies. Depending on the service provided—local and long-distance telephone, cable television, or Internet—telecommunications companies use different types of cables, including fiber-optic cables. Unlike metallic cables that carry electricity, fiber-optic cables are made of glass or plastic and transmit signals using light. Working with fiber optics requires special skills, such as the ability to splice and finish off optical cables. Additionally, workers test and troubleshoot cables and networking equipment.

Because these systems are so complicated, many line workers also specialize by duty:

Line installers install new cable. They may work for construction contractors, utilities, or telecommunications companies. Workers generally start a new job by digging underground trenches or erecting utility poles and towers to carry the wires and cables. They use a variety of construction equipment, including digger derricks, which are trucks equipped with augers and cranes used to dig holes in the ground and set poles in place. Line installers also use trenchers, cable plows, and directional bore machines, which are used to cut openings in the earth to lay underground cables. Once the poles, towers, tunnels, or trenches are ready, line installers string cable along poles and towers or through tunnels and trenches.

Line repairers are employed by utilities and telecommunications companies that maintain existing power and telecommunications lines. Maintenance needs may be identified in a variety of ways, including remote monitoring, aerial inspections, and by customer reports of service outages. Line repairers often must replace aging or outdated equipment, so many of these workers have installation duties in addition to their repair duties.

When a problem is reported, line repairers must identify the cause and fix it. This usually involves diagnostic testing and repair work. To work on poles, line installers usually use bucket trucks to raise themselves to the top of the structure, although all line workers must be adept at climbing poles and towers when necessary. Workers use special safety equipment to keep them from falling when climbing utility poles and towers.

Storms and other natural disasters can cause extensive damage to power lines. When power is lost, line repairers must work quickly to restore service to customers.

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Work Environment

Line installers and repairers held about 249,400 jobs in 2012. Nearly two-thirds worked in the telecommunications and construction industries.

The industries that employed the most line installers and repairers in 2012 were as follows:

Wired telecommunications carriers 29%
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 23
Utility system construction 18
Building equipment contractors 11
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 6

The work of line installers and repairers can be physically demanding. Line installers must be comfortable working at great heights and in confined spaces. Despite the help of bucket trucks, all line workers must be able to climb utility poles and transmission towers and balance while working on them.

Their work often requires that they drive utility vehicles, travel long distances, and work outdoors.

They often must work under challenging weather conditions, including in snow, wind, rain, and extreme heat and cold, in order to keep electricity flowing.

Injuries and Illnesses

Line workers encounter serious hazards on their jobs and must follow safety procedures to minimize danger. For example, workers must wear safety equipment when entering underground manholes and test for the presence of gas before going underground.

Specifically, electric power-line workers have hazardous jobs. A worker can be electrocuted if he or she comes in contact with a live cable on a high-voltage power line. When workers engage live wires, they use electrically insulated protective devices and tools to minimize their risk.

Power lines are typically higher than telephone lines, increasing the risk of severe injury from a fall. To prevent injuries, line installers use fall-protection equipment when working on poles or towers. Safety procedures and training have significantly reduced the danger for line workers. However, the occupation is still among the most dangerous. As a result, telecommunications and electrical line workers have a rate of injuries and illnesses that is higher than the national average.

Work Schedules

Although most work full time during regular business hours, some line installers and repairers must work evenings and weekends. In emergencies or after storms and other natural disasters, workers may have to work long hours for several days in a row.

Education and Training

To become proficient, most line installers and repairers require technical instruction and long-term on-the-job training. Apprenticeships are common.

Education

Most companies require line installers and repairers to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Employers prefer candidates with basic knowledge of algebra and trigonometry. In addition, technical knowledge of electricity or electronics obtained through military service, vocational programs, or community colleges can also be helpful.

Many community colleges offer programs in telecommunications, electronics, or electricity. Some programs work with local companies to offer 1-year certificates that emphasize hands-on field work.

More advanced 2-year associate’s degree programs provide students with a broad knowledge of the technology used in telecommunications and electrical utilities. These programs offer courses in electricity, electronics, fiber optics, and microwave transmission.

Training

Electrical line installers and repairers often must complete apprenticeships or other employer training programs. These programs, which can last up to 5 years, combine on-the-job training with technical instruction and are sometimes administered jointly by the employer and the union representing the workers. For example, the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee offers apprenticeship programs in four specialty areas. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school education or equivalent
  • One year of algebra
  • Qualifying score on an aptitude test
  • Pass substance abuse screening

Line installers and repairers who work for telecommunications companies typically receive several years of on-the-job training. They also may be encouraged to attend training from equipment manufacturers, schools, unions, or industry training organizations.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not mandatory, certification for line installers and repairers is also available from several associations. For example, the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee offers certification for line installers and repairers in several specialty areas.

In addition, The Fiber Optic Association (FOA) offers two levels of fiber optic certification for telecommunications line installers and repairers.

Workers who drive company vehicles usually need a commercial driver’s license.

Advancement

Entry-level line workers generally begin with an apprenticeship, which includes both classroom training and hands-on work experience. As they learn additional skills from more experienced workers, they may advance to more complex tasks. In time, they advance to more sophisticated maintenance and repair positions in which they are responsible for increasingly large portions of the network.

After 3 to 5 years of working, qualified line workers reach the journey level. A journey-level line worker is no longer considered an apprentice and can perform most tasks without supervision. Journey-level line workers also may qualify for positions at other companies. Workers with many years of experience may become first-line supervisors or trainers.

Personality and Interests

Line installers and repairers typically have an interest in the Building Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a line installer and repairer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Line installers and repairers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Color vision. Workers who handle electrical wires and cables must be able to distinguish colors because the wires and cables are often color coded.

Mechanical skills. Line installers and repairers must have the knowledge and skills to repair or replace complex electrical and telecommunications lines and equipment. 

Physical stamina. Line installers and repairers often must climb poles and work at great heights with heavy tools and equipment. Therefore, installers and repairers should be able to work for long periods without tiring easily.

Physical strength. Line installers and repairers must be strong enough to lift heavy tools, cables, and equipment on a regular basis.

Teamwork. Because workers often rely on their fellow crew members for their safety, teamwork is critical.

Technical skills. Line installers use sophisticated diagnostic equipment on circuit breakers, switches, and transformers. They must be familiar with electrical systems and the appropriate tools needed to fix and maintain them.

Troubleshooting skills. Line installers and repairers must be able to diagnose problems in increasingly complex electrical systems and telecommunication lines.

Pay

The median annual wage for line installers and repairers was $58,210 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,340, and the top 10 percent earned more than $83,590.

The median annual wage for electrical power-line installers and repairers was $63,250 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,500, and the top 10 percent earned more than $89,020.

In May 2012, median annual wages for electrical power-line installers and repairers in the top five industries in which these installers and repairers worked were as follows:

Natural gas distribution $85,390
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution  65,690
Local government, excluding schools and hospitals  59,760
Utility system construction  55,930
Building equipment contractors  51,440

The median annual wage for telecommunications line installers and repairers was $51,410 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,620, and the top 10 percent earned more than $76,540.

In May 2012, median annual wages for telecommunications line installers and repairers in the top five industries in which these installers and repairers worked were as follows:

Other telecommunications  $65,160
Wired telecommunications carriers 61,860
Building equipment contractors  42,460
Cable and other subscription programming  37,800
Utility system construction  35,640

Although most work full time during regular business hours, some line installers may work on evenings and weekends. In emergencies or after storms and other natural disasters, workers may have to work long hours for several days in a row.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, line installers and repairers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of line installers and repairers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.

Employment of telecommunications line installers and repairers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. As the population grows and customers increasingly demand enhanced connectivity, installers will continue to build out and provide newer and faster telephone, cable, and Internet services. In addition, the growth of the Internet will require more long-distance fiber-optic lines, including interstate and undersea cables.

Employment of electrical power-line installers and repairers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be largely due to the growing population and expansion of cities. With each new housing development or office park, new electric power lines are installed and will require maintenance. In addition, the interstate power grid will continue to grow in complexity to ensure reliability.

Job Prospects

Good job opportunities are expected overall. Highly skilled workers with apprenticeship training or a 2-year associate’s degree in telecommunications, electronics, or electricity should have the best job opportunities.

Employment opportunities should be particularly good for electrical power-line installers and repairers, as many workers in this field are expected to retire.

For More Information

For information about apprenticeships or job opportunities for line installers and repairers, contact local electrical contractors, a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a local joint union-management apprenticeship committee, or the nearest office of your state employment service or apprenticeship agency. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627 or the Employment and Training Administration.

For more information about line installers and repairers, visit

American Public Power Association

Center for Energy Workforce Development

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Telecommunications Industry Association

For information about certification, visit

The Fiber Optic Association

National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee

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