Telecommunications Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Telecommunications technicians install, test and repair networking and communications systems for an increasingly sophisticated range of voice, data and multimedia applications, such as:

  • Fixed or mobile phone and radio systems, fax machines and computers.
  • Computer networking equipment and firewall's.
  • Cable, satellite or digital TV.
  • Aerials or satellite dishes.
  • Alarm and intruder systems.
  • Broadband modem installations.

Precise job roles vary but typical duties may include:

  • Testing and checking components in a factory or production laboratory.
  • Assembling telecommunications equipment or systems, either in a workshop or on site.
  • Installing, testing, repairing, supporting and updating equipment in homes or businesses.
  • Setting up, maintaining or repairing large business telecommunications networks, public and private exchanges, switches and routers.
  • Setting up, testing and maintaining network security systems.
  • Laying and connecting copper or fibre optic cabling in the street, in buildings or on other sites.
  • Installing satellite and radio equipment and mounting antennae on buildings or masts.
  • Assisting with design and planning of telecommunications systems and layouts.
  • Installing, testing and maintaining power systems and switchgear.

Following installation plans, technicians fit the equipment, route cables and power supplies, and make sure the software needed to run the equipment is installed and works correctly.

In the armed forces and the police and emergency services, telecommunications technicians also maintain and repair portable and fixed transmitters.

Most technicians usually work Monday to Friday, from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Some may need to work shifts, including evenings and weekends or be available on call. Overtime may be necessary to meet deadlines for some jobs. Part time opportunities are rare.

Technicians could work indoors in a factory workshop or be based at a network control centre. They may travel around a lot, working from a van to do jobs in businesses or homes, maintaining contact with their office by radio or with a mobile phone. They may also work outdoors on all kinds of industrial and commercial sites.

Some jobs can be physically demanding, involving lifting, carrying and possibly working at heights or in confined spaces.

Many tasks are carried out in dust-free or temperature controlled environments. Outside work, such as laying cables or setting up aerials, can involve working in all weathers.

Technicians are often required to wear special safety clothing or a uniform and may need a current driving licence.

Starting salaries for an apprentice technician may be around £12,000 a year. With experience, qualified technicians may be able to earn up to £32,000 a year.

Apprentices in large companies may be offered free accommodation or subsistence allowance when living away from home. Technicians usually receive additional payments for working shifts and overtime. Rates for contract work are higher.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

New telecoms technologies are constantly being explored and developed. In spite of the economic downturn, there are still plenty of job opportunities throughout the country for those with the necessary technical aptitude.

Around 55,000 people work as telecommunications technicians and engineers in the UK. Employers include telephone and business network providers, mobile phone companies, cable, satellite or digital TV companies, rail and offshore oil companies, voice, data and video message installation firms, as well as public sector employers. They range from very small companies offering a wide range of work to big international organisations with highly specialised departments.

It is also possible to work for the Ministry of Defence, the police and emergency services, or in the armed forces.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers and on a number of recruitment websites that specialise in telecommunications jobs.

Education and Training

People can either train with an employer on an Apprenticeship, or take a full-time or part-time course and then apply for a trainee technician post.

To qualify for the IT and Telecoms Professionals Apprenticeship, applicants usually need four GCSE's (A*-C), including maths, English and science or technology or a relevant BTEC first diploma.

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.

For those with A levels (usually including maths and/or science subjects) or equivalent qualifications, Higher Apprenticeships are also available. They are fast track apprenticeships incorporating a foundation degree with progression to an Honours degree.

Full or part-time courses include BTEC national certificates or diplomas, higher national certificates and diplomas (HNC's/HND's) as well as foundation degrees in relevant subjects. These include telecommunications, telecommunications technology, communications technology, electronics, computing and computing sciences.

The Diploma in information technology may also be relevant for this area of work.

It would be helpful to read some of the industry magazines and look at relevant websites before applying for jobs, so that you understand some of the main technical terms.

Employees already working in telecommunications, or in the electronics or electrical industries, could study for a relevant BTEC national certificate or diploma, or an NVQ Level 3. Entry requirements may not always apply with relevant experience.

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A Few More Exams You Might Need

Apprenticeships usually last up to around two years, and apprentices complete a mix of on- and off-the-job training, following the National Occupational Standards. NVQ's/VRQ's in subjects relevant to IT/Telecoms are available at Levels 2, 3 and 4.

Most companies provide in-service training as well as specific manufacturers' courses and vendor qualifications such as the networking qualifications offered by CISCO and Microsoft. There are also mentoring schemes organised by the professional bodies, enabling trainees to seek advice from more experienced colleagues.

Technicians who wish to progress in their career can apply for registration as a professionally recognised engineering technician (EngTech) or ICT technician (ICTTech). More details are available from www.engc.org.uk.

The e-skills portfolio from www.e-skills.com can help you to assess your current level of qualifications and training needs.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Telecommunications technicians should:

  • Have relevant IT skills, including software, communications protocols and networking systems.
  • Be able to solve problems logically.
  • Be resourceful.
  • Understand technical drawings, cabling plans, schemes and basic circuit diagrams.
  • Be prepared to learn new skills as technology develops.
  • Work well in a team or on their own.
  • Be able to produce reports and statistics.
  • Have good customer service skills and be able to explain technical matters in simple terms.
  • Have normal colour vision.
  • Be good with their hands.
  • Be physically fit and not afraid of heights (for some jobs).
  • Be aware of health and safety risks.

Your Long Term Prospects

Technicians working for larger companies may be able to progress to senior technician or supervisor.

By increasing their knowledge and with additional qualifications they can progress further to become incorporated and chartered engineers, and to jobs in many areas of telecommunications, computing and electronics.

Experienced technicians can become self-employed, or work on a contract basis.

There are numerous opportunities to work abroad across the world.

Get Further Information

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London WC 1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Website: www.engc.org.uk

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

The Institute of Telecoms Professionals (ITP),
Sunbury TE, Green Street,
Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex TW16 6QJ
Tel: 01932 788861
Website: www.theitp.org

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way,
Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313311
Website: www.theiet.org

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