The job: Elevator technician
The role: The role of an elevator technician is to design, build, install, maintain, repair, modernize and ensure compliance of safety standards for elevators.
"We have maintenance technicians who have a route and service elevators on that route, we have technicians who do service work – the bigger and heavier work that requires two men to do – and we have technicians that do elevator modernizations," said Phil Staite, vice-president of Markham-based independent elevator maintenance company Quality Allied Elevator. "There's also technicians who build brand-new elevators in new buildings, so for elevator technicians there's different areas to specialize in once you become a mechanic."
Education: After completing high school or an equivalency exam, elevator technicians must register for an apprenticeship program with a trades school or college and find an elevator company willing to provide the apprenticeship.
"Then there's a four-year apprenticeship in the field, and 720 hours of theory that have to be taken," Mr. Staite said.
The Canadian Elevator Technician Education Program regulates course work and apprenticeships in Canada. After the apprenticeship and classroom period, each student must complete an exam with the CEIEP in order to graduate to the designation of journeyman/mechanic.
"Every province has its own authority, and it's different in each province," Mr. Staite said of the examination process.
Salary: In a heavily unionized trade, salaries are relatively standard countrywide.
During the apprenticeship term, elevator mechanics typically earn $18 to $27 per hour. Salaries increase sharply once students graduate to a journeyman/mechanic designation.
"At the present time, it's pretty close to $50 an hour for a licensed mechanic, and then if you're doing maintenance, maintenance mechanics go on call, so there could also be overtime on top of that for nights and weekends," Mr. Staite said.
As such, it is not uncommon for elevator technicians to earn six figures in their first year as fully licensed mechanics, though Mr. Staite added that salaries can remain stagnant throughout the remainder of their career.
Challenges: Elevator technicians have a very physically demanding job, which is perhaps why the industry is heavily male-dominated.
"It depends on what you do," Mr. Staite said. "Some parts of it are really physical, so if you're lifting elevator rails and you have a 20- or 30-storey building, I tell you you'll be pretty sore doing that."
Furthermore, while there are safety measures in place, the career does present an element of danger one would not find at a desk job.
"All of the companies do a lot of safety training, and if the safety training is followed, it's not dangerous," Mr. Staite said. "If shortcuts are taken, like in any occupation, that's when people can get hurt."
Why they do it: Aside from a higher-than-average salary, elevator technicians enjoy solving problems and working with their hands.
"Sometimes you have a challenge when there's a problem with an elevator that is difficult to find, trying to find the problem when they're not working properly," said Mr. Staite, who likens the work to solving puzzles. "I think once the problem is solved and corrected, there's satisfaction there."
Misconceptions: Mr. Staite said popular media have given people a false conception of how elevators work.
"A lot of people watch too many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and believe that the elevator is dangling on one cable, and that's not the case. The safety factors on elevators is at least tenfold," he said. "If they were stuck, the safest place would be is in the elevator."
Mr. Staite added that cable elevators are also built with counterweights that weigh more than the elevator at full capacity. "Elevators don't fall like they show in the movies; they actually go up," he said.
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