Telecommunications Central Office Technician
Telecommunications Central Office Technician
Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$23.96 per hour
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Telecommunications central office technicians keep the complex and sophisticated equipment used in the telecommunications industry working properly. They are in charge of installing, maintaining, and repairing the electronic and electromechanical switching equipment in the central offices of telecommunications companies. Installers set up the intricate systems, and craft workers keep the switching equipment in fine running condition. Used equipment is replaced before it breaks down so that the telecommunications system never stops working.
Most central office installers are employed by telecommunications equipment manufacturers. Others work for telecommunications companies or contractors that coordinate large installations. Central office equipment installers, also called equipment installation technicians, set up, rearrange, and change communications equipment associated with the complex switching and dialing operations vital to telecommunications central offices. Using equipment work order information, blueprints, circuit diagrams, and floor plans, installers set up new central offices, add equipment to existing offices, and replace outdated equipment. Once the installation is complete, it is the installers' responsibility to verify that everything works properly. Using sophisticated equipment, they test each piece of equipment, determine the cause of any difficulty, and correct the problem.
Central office craft workers are usually employed by telecommunications companies. They are generally divided into three categories: the frame wirer, the central office repairer, and the test desk technician. Frame wirers, sometimes referred to as frame attendants, connect, disconnect, and rearrange wires that run from the telecommunications lines and cables to the central office. Central office repairers, also known as switching equipment technicians, test, repair, and maintain all types of local and long-distance switching equipment that automatically connects telecommunications customers. Most of the switching systems are electromechanical—that is, they contain many moving parts that require frequent cleaning, oiling, and replacement. Newer switching systems, which use digital electronics, have few moving parts and require practically no maintenance. Test desk technicians, sometimes called trouble locators, use specially designed testing equipment to locate problems in telecommunications lines. They supervise the troubleshooting procedures used by both the inside and the outside repair crews to clear problems from subscribers' lines.
Education and Training Requirements
Candidates for central office technician positions were traditionally selected from inside and outside telecommunications companies. They received both formal classroom instruction and on-the-job training. As of the early 2000s, however, most companies preferred workers who had already acquired these skills through the military or through other job experience. In addition to experience, employers look for people who have completed an associate's degree or postsecondary vocational school program in telecommunications technology, electronics, or related subjects.
Persons considering a job as a central office technician should have the analytical skills and judgment to resolve complex mechanical problems. Candidates must be able to work in a team environment and have the patience to follow detailed instructions. Solid reading comprehension, logic, and mathematical skills are necessary to understand company manuals and follow circuit diagrams.
New workers may receive a combination of formal instruction, on-the-job training, and practical experience by observing and helping experienced technicians.
Getting the Job
Individuals interested in this type of work should apply directly to the personnel offices of telecommunications equipment manufacturers or large installation contractors. Candidates should also contact local telecommunications companies because they frequently hire installers and offer excellent training programs. To get a job as a central office craft worker, students should apply directly to the nearest telecommunications company employment office.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
There are several avenues of advancement for central office technicians, and particularly for craft workers. After one or two years of satisfactory performance, frame wirers may be selected to train for a more skilled job such as that of test desk technician or central office repairer. The central office craft worker can advance to a supervisory position and then to a position as an engineering assistant or administrative staff worker. The central office installer can also advance to engineering assistant.
The employment of central office technicians is projected to decline through the year 2014. Although there will be a need for telecommunications services and equipment due to the growth in both population and demand, newer electronic switching equipment requires little maintenance and is relatively easy to install. In addition, with computerization, more companies are centralizing their maintenance forces in switching control centers. However, the growing popularity of voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP), expanded multimedia offerings such as video on demand, and growth in other telecommunications services will provide new job opportunities. Mobile maintenance crews can be dispatched to clear trouble conditions, thereby reducing the need for on-site central office repairers. This trend is expected to continue.
Telecommunications central offices are generally comfortable and clean. Because communications systems operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, central office craft workers have schedules that include late shifts, holidays, and weekends. Those craft workers who are assigned to mobile work forces must travel within their assigned territories. Central office installers are also expected to do some traveling.
Where to Go for More Information
Communications Workers of America
501 Third St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2797
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
900 Seventh St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States Telecom Association
607 Fourteenth St. NW, Ste. 400
Washington, DC 20005
Earnings and Benefits
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for telecommunications central office technicians is $23.96 per hour. Experienced technicians who belong to unions earn more. For technicians covered by a union contract, the contract provides for health and life insurance, educational benefits, retirement plans, and overtime pay.