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Skilled Labor & Trade Schools and Programs
Information about Skilled Labor & Trades Programs
There are many jobs that required skilled labor and trade school education. Listed below are three of the areas that require skills and training before seeking employment: electricians, heating/air conditioning and refrigeration technicians, and construction equipment operators.
Electricians bring electricity into homes, businesses, and factories. They install and maintain the wiring, fuses, and other components through which electricity flows. Many electricians also install and maintain electrical machines in factories.
Electricians connect all types of wires to circuit breakers, transformers, outlets, or other components. They join the wires in boxes with various specially designed connectors. Electricians generally focus on either construction or maintenance, although many do both. Electricians specializing in construction primarily install wiring systems into factories, businesses, and new homes. Electricians specializing in maintenance work fix and upgrade existing electrical systems and repair electrical equipment.
Electricians in large factories usually do maintenance work that is more complex. They may repair motors, transformers, generators, and electronic controllers on machine tools and industrial robots. Electricians also advise management whether continued operation of equipment could be hazardous.
Heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration technicians install, maintain, and repair such systems. Because heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems often are referred to as HVACR systems, these workers also may be called HVACR technicians.
Heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems consist of many mechanical, electrical, and electronic components, such as motors, compressors, pumps, fans, ducts, pipes, thermostats, and switches. In central forced air heating systems, for example, a furnace heats air, which is then distributed via a system of metal or fiberglass ducts. Technicians must be able to maintain, diagnose, and correct problems throughout the entire system. To do this, they adjust system controls to recommended settings and test the performance of the system using special tools and test equipment.
Technicians often specialize in either installation or maintenance and repair, although they are trained to do both. They also may specialize in doing heating work or air-conditioning or refrigeration work. Some specialize in one type of equipment, such as, hydronics (water-based heating systems), solar panels, or commercial refrigeration. Some technicians also sell service contracts to their clients. Service contracts provide for regular maintenance of the heating and cooling systems, and they help to reduce the seasonal fluctuations of this type of work.
Refrigeration mechanics install, service, and repair industrial and commercial refrigerating systems and a variety of refrigeration equipment. They follow blueprints, design specifications, and manufacturers’ instructions to install motors, compressors, condensing units, evaporators, piping, and other components. They connect this equipment to the ductwork, refrigerant lines, and electrical power source. After making the connections, they charge the system with refrigerant, check it for proper operation and leaks, and program control systems.
Construction Equipment Operators
Construction equipment operators use machinery to move construction materials, earth, and other heavy materials at construction sites and mines. They operate equipment that clears and grades land to prepare it for construction of roads, buildings, and bridges. They use machines to dig trenches to lay or repair sewer and other pipelines and hoist heavy construction materials. They may even work offshore constructing oil rigs. Construction equipment operators also operate machinery that spreads asphalt and concrete on roads and other structures.
Education Needed for Skilled Labor Jobs
Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship programs. These programs combine paid on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Joint training committees made up of local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association; individual electrical contracting companies; or local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors Association usually sponsor apprenticeship programs.
Because of the comprehensive training received, those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both maintenance and construction work. Apprenticeship programs usually last four years. Each year includes at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. In the classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and electrical safety and first aid practices. They also may receive specialized training in soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and cranes and elevators.
Some people start their classroom training before seeking an apprenticeship. A number of public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies offer training to become an electrician. Employers often hire students who complete these programs and usually start them at a more advanced level than those without this electrical training. A few people become electricians by first working as helpers—assisting electricians by setting up job sites, gathering materials, and doing other nonelectrical work—before entering an apprenticeship program. All apprentices need a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D.).
Most States and localities require electricians to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary from State to State, electricians usually must pass an examination that tests their knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electric and building codes.
Because of the increasing sophistication of heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems, employers prefer to hire those who have completed technical school training or a formal apprenticeship. Many secondary and postsecondary technical and trade schools, junior and community colleges, and the U.S. Armed Forces offer 6-month to 2-year programs in heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration. Students study theory of temperature control, equipment design and construction, and electronics. They also learn the basics of installation, maintenance, and repair. Three accrediting agencies have set academic standards for HVACR programs. These accrediting bodies are HVAC Excellence, the National Center for Construction Education and Research, and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation.
After completing these skilled labor programs, new technicians generally need between an additional six months and two years of field experience before they are considered proficient. Heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers are required to be licensed by some States and localities. Requirements for licensure vary greatly, but all States or localities that require a license have a test that must be passed. The contents of these tests vary by State or locality, with some requiring extensive knowledge of electrical codes and others focusing more on HVACR-specific knowledge. Completion of an apprenticeship program or two to five years of experience are also common requirements.
In addition, all technicians who purchase or work with refrigerants must be certified in their proper handling. To become certified to purchase and handle refrigerants, technicians must pass a written examination specific to the type of work in which they specialize. The three possible areas of certification are: Type I—servicing small appliances; Type II—high-pressure refrigerants; and Type III—low-pressure refrigerants. Exams are administered by organizations approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, such as trade schools, unions, contractor associations, or building groups.
Employers of construction equipment operators generally prefer to hire high school graduates, although some employers may train non-graduates to operate some types of equipment. High school courses in automobile mechanics are helpful because workers may perform maintenance on their machines and need machinery classes. Also useful are courses in science and mechanical drawing.
It is generally accepted that formal training provides more comprehensive skills. Some construction equipment operators train in formal operating engineer apprenticeship programs administered by union-management committees of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Associated General Contractors of America. Private vocational schools have certain types of construction equipment training.
Completion of such programs may help a person get a job. However, people considering such training should check the school’s reputation among employers in the area and find out if the school offers the opportunity to work on actual machines in realistic situations. A large amount of information can be learned in classrooms. But to become a skilled construction equipment operator, a worker needs to actually perform the various tasks. The best training facilities have equipment on-site so that students can do the tasks that they are learning about.
Construction equipment operators often obtain a commercial driver’s license so that they can haul their equipment to the various job sites. Commercial driver’s licenses are issued by States according to each State’s rules and regulations.
Employment Outlook for Skilled Labor & Trades Jobs
Employment of electricians should increase 7 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as the average. About 68 percent of wage-and-salary workers were employed in the construction industry and the remainder worked as maintenance electricians in other industries. In addition, about 11 percent of electricians were self-employed.
Employment of heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to increase 9 percent during the 2006-16 decade, as fast as the average. About 55 percent of HVACR technicians worked for plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors. The rest were employed in a variety of industries throughout the country, reflecting a widespread dependence on climate-control systems. Some worked for fuel oil dealers, refrigeration and air-conditioning service and repair shops, schools, and stores that sell heating and air-conditioning systems. Local governments, the Federal Government, hospitals, office buildings, and other organizations that operate large air-conditioning, refrigeration, or heating systems also employed these workers. About 13 percent of these workers were self-employed.
Employment of construction equipment operators is expected to increase 8 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as the average. About 63 percent of construction equipment operators worked in the construction industry. Many equipment operators worked in heavy construction, building highways, bridges, or railroads. About 17 percent of construction equipment operators worked in State and local government. Others—mostly grader, bulldozer, and scraper operators—worked in mining. Some also worked for manufacturing or utility companies. About 5 percent of construction equipment operators were self-employed.
Earnings and Pay for Skilled Labor & Trades Jobs
In May 2006, these are the hourly wages for skilled labor jobs:
- Median earnings of electricians were $20.97 per hour. The highest 10 percent of electricians earned more than $34.95 per hour.
- Median earnings of heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers were $18.11 per hour. The top 10 percent of HVACR technicians earned more than $28.57 per hour.
- Median pay for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators were $17.74 per hour. The highest 10 percent of construction equipment operators earned more than $30.83 per hour.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Electricians, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos206.htm, Heating, Air-Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos192.htm, and Construction Equipment Operators at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos255.htm
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