There are approximately 285,000 line installers and repairers working in the United States. Job growth predictions indicate that over the next ten years almost no change in the number of jobs will occur. However, retiring workers will create many employment opportunities. Line installers and repairers, also called linemen, install, maintain, and repair electrical, cable, and networking lines. Many line workers specialize, as line systems can be very complex.
Electrical power line installers and repairers are responsible for multistate power grids. Telecommunications line workers focus on cable television, telephone, internet, fiber optics, and other networks. Supervisors and some highly experienced line workers have the necessary skills for either type of line work.
Electrical power line installers and repairers install, inspect, and repair power lines and towers that transport electricity from where it is generated to customers. High voltage electricity of ten thousand to several hundred thousand volts travels through a complex network of metallic lines. Crews responsible for installing, inspecting, and repairing these power lines work as teams. Each team is assigned a geographical area. Local utility companies also hire line workers who are responsible for distribution lines that carry lower voltage, transformers, voltage regulators, and switches. Utility company line workers also maintain and repair traffic and streetlights. In addition to installing telecommunications lines and cables, telecommunications linemen also inspect and repair lines. Telecommunications linemen work with fiber optic cables that transmit light signals. Splicing and terminating techniques are not the same as for metal cables. Telecommunications linemen must be specially trained, as these fiber optic cables are composed of glass or plastic.
Installers, whether electrical or telecommunication specialists, must first prepare trenches for underground cables or put up poles and towers for above ground transport. Bulldozers, cranes, and utility trucks with augers might be used to prepare the ground for poles. Trenchers, cable plows, and borers split the ground for underground cables. When the supporting structures are in, the installer lays the cable.
Utility and telecommunications companies assign line repairers the work of inspecting, maintaining, and repairing lines that are already up and functioning. Lines might be monitored remotely, from a small aircraft, or because customers have notified the company about an outage. Aboveground repairs are often made from bucket trucks that offer a secure platform. Line repairers may be required to put in overtime hours immediately after a rain, hail, or snowstorm, flood, tornado, or another weather extreme.
Line installing and repairing is physically challenging work. Linemen must, on occasion, work from great heights, and at other times, in very limited spaces where twisted or uncomfortable positions must be held for long periods. Line repairers must have the strength to climb poles and maintain balance while working. Sometimes getting to work involves traveling a long distance. In addition to working outside in all types of weather, line installers and repairers must deal with potential hazards on a daily basis. Wearing protective clothing, such as hard hats, and following safety procedures can be a matter of life and death. Electrical lines must be neutralized before they are safe; otherwise, a worker could be electrocuted. Insulated tools provide some additional security. Those working high in the air must use protective devices to avoid falls.
Line installers and repairers might be trained while on the job or as part of a formal apprenticeship program, either of which can take several years to complete. A background in algebra and trigonometry will help linemen problem-solve logistical problems. They must possess good reading ability to understand written instructions in manuals. New employees may not be required to possess a depth of knowledge about electricity; however, those that have this knowledge through vocational experience, community college course, or military experience will be at an advantage. Line installers and repairers are not required to be licensed.
Entry-level employees are in training, learning fundamental, simple tasks. When simple tasks have been mastered, they might be promoted to stringing cable for installations, and from there, up the ladder to increasingly complex maintenance and repair work. Journey level is reached when the line worker has worked steadily for five years. The next level of promotion might be to first-line supervisor or trainer.
Line installers and repairers are paid at the high end of all types of jobs that do not require college or certification. The median annual salary for electrical power line installers and repairers is over $55,000. Those at the bottom of the pay scale earn about $32,000, while those in the top 10 percent in terms of pay earn over $78,000.
The Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Utility Workers Union of America represent a sizable number of line workers; these unions establish salary and pay increases over time, as well as a range of benefits for their members.