Satellite Systems Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Satellite systems technicians install, maintain and repair telecommunications equipment and satellite dishes in offices, hotels, business premises and private houses. They install and maintain the communications links for electrical power companies, terrestrial aerials or satellite dishes for TV or telecommunications companies, and signalling for railway companies.

Their work involves designing and installing new systems, upgrading existing ones and repairing and realigning equipment.

Their main tasks include:

  • Deciding on the best location for equipment.
  • Planning how to route the cables.
  • Installing aerials or satellite dishes.
  • Testing the equipment.
  • Checking the signal levels received.
  • Connecting signal outlet sockets.
  • Installing the reception equipment.
  • Commissioning the installation - getting it working.

Technicians usually work in pairs. They use vans to transport their equipment, which may include ladders, scaffolding, personal protection equipment, wiring tools and test equipment for signal checking. As skilled workers, they understand the theory behind the practical work they are doing and keep up to date with rapidly changing developments in the field.

On complex installations, they may have to follow detailed plans and drawings. A lot of the work is done at heights, so they have to be very competent and safety-conscious, both for themselves and for other people nearby.

Technicians' hours tend to vary, but often include weekends and evenings. Emergency call-outs or tight deadlines may mean they have to work outside usual hours. They usually travel from site to site and may complete several installations in one day.

There can be opportunities for flexible and part-time working, especially for freelance, contracted or self-employed technicians.

The work often involves working outside at heights in hot or cold weather. Inside work could be in individual homes, offices or industrial sites. When they are carrying out planning or administration, they are usually in their own or a shared office.

Starting salaries are around £13,000 a year. For self-employed technicians, earnings depend on the amount of business they have and the rates they charge.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The world of television, radio and telecommunications is continually changing and evolving. As a result, satellite systems technicians are in increasing demand.

They are employed by specialist contracting firms that provide installation services for organisations such as major telecommunications and cable companies, mobile phone companies, TV companies and broadcasters. There are also opportunities in the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence, working on military applications of telecommunications technology.

Aerial and satellite companies are very busy due to the switchover to digital TV. It is estimated that the industry will need another 400 or 500 systems installers to cope with the number of systems that need converting to digital technology.

New developments in the industry include digital terrestrial television reception, broadband cable TV, internet via satellite, the reception of foreign satellite programmes, HDTV (high definition TV) and home cinema systems. These will ensure an increasing number of employment opportunities in this field.

The tabloid newspapers carry regular adverts in their jobs/classified sections for aerial installing companies, and jobs are advertised on many specialised websites - simply search for satellite technician jobs.

The Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI) journal Feedback (available from the CAI office) carries job adverts.

Education and Training

The main openings are for trainee installers. There are no set requirements, but three or four relevant GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English, or equivalent qualifications, would be useful. A relevant GCSE/S grade subject is Information and Communications Technology.

A driving licence is an advantage, but young people may be able to start work as trainees before they pass their driving test.

The usual way to learn is by experience and this is generally obtained from the larger installers. Smaller companies usually only employ experienced workers.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships may be available. These are usually in Telecommunications with larger employers such as British Telecom. Combined with college courses, these lead to NVQ/SVQ Level 3 or higher.

To join an Advanced Apprenticeship scheme requires three or more GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths, English and a science.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The most common method of training is on the job with an employer. Training might lead to NVQ's/SVQ's in:

  • Providing a Telecommunications Service.
  • Installing and Maintaining Aerial Equipment and Associated Feeders.

The Advanced Apprenticeship scheme leads to NVQ/SVQ qualifications at Level 3, and apprentices can achieve a BTEC National Certificate or Diploma in Telecommunications. This is a good basis for further study up to HNC/HND or degree level in subjects such as electronics, engineering, telecommunications and satellite systems engineering.

The CAI offers a whole range of one and two-day courses, such as Basic Radio and TV Reception, Basic Satellite Installation Techniques and Working Safely at Heights. There is also a distance learning City & Guilds course in Signal Distribution Systems, but a reasonable level of aerial installation experience is needed to complete this fairly demanding course.

The industry has an NVQ in Signal Reception, relating to TV and radio antenna installation. It is Level 2 for individual aerials and dishes in the home and Level 3 for signal distribution systems in multi-dwelling units (blocks of flats) or commercial buildings.

Some satellite systems and antenna manufacturers also run their own short courses.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Satellite systems technicians need:

  • Numerical ability for technical calculations and costings.
  • To be able to work out solutions to installation problems.
  • A head for heights and good colour vision.
  • Practical manual skills.
  • The ability to explain technical matters in simple terms.
  • The physical strength to carry ladders and equipment.
  • An understanding of safe working practices.
  • A polite, pleasant manner.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, technicians could progress to supervise a team of installers. Some technicians may specialise in a particular area of the job; others may become self-employed after qualifying.

Apprentices can continue studying Telecommunications NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 4 and 5, leading to senior jobs in the industry. These may be middle management jobs in development and the application of new techniques. They may also lead to work in customer relations, costing and estimating.

Get Further Information

Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI),
Fulton House, Fulton Road,
Wembley Park, Middlesex HA9 0TF
Tel: 020 8902 8998
Website www.cai.org.uk

e-skills UK,
1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Website: www.e-skills.com

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