The demand for structured wiring is growing rapidly. It is a relatively new trade compared to traditional building trades, such as plumbing, electrical, masonry and carpentry. The technology in homes is constantly changing, which keeps the work fresh and exciting. Just as plumbers, electricians and carpenters are essential to building a new home, structured wiring is becoming a standard feature ensuring demand for this trade well into the future. Who is doing this kind of work? Systems integrators – those who install home theaters, audio systems, home offices and other low-voltage services – have a built-in advantage as installers of structured wiring systems. Security installers know how to get wires in tight places and many are moving into this business. But installers with many other backgrounds are also becoming active. Electricians are adding low-voltage wiring to the electrical power wiring that they already install, and carpenters have a natural advantage because they understand how houses are built and the location of available pathways for the wiring. Traditional telecommunications employees are getting involved, as are those who have made their living installing local area networks in commercial buildings. And the market’s high growth, both now and projected for the future, makes it a golden opportunity for those just joining the workforce. The number of structured wiring installations performed in a particular area drives the demand for installers. This demand has grown substantially in recent years and is expected to continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. In just a few short years, the number of installations in new homes alone has grown from a statistically insignificant number five years ago, to over 40% of new homes built in 2002. Yet, three fifths of the new homes being built are not including this feature, meaning that the potential for growth includes nearly another million new homes each year and over 100 million existing homes yet to be updated. Job Descriptions A variety of jobs are available in structured wiring installation, including apprentice wire puller, junior technician, senior technician, installation manager, customer service manager, operations manager, systems designer, business owner and many others. Each of these jobs requires a different skill set. Some companies have trained specialists for disciplines such as security, home theater and home networking. One person may perform several of these functions in a smaller company, while larger companies will typically have several installation teams composed of multiple technicians and a team leader or manager. Here are some sample job descriptions: Operations Manager – schedules work assignments for the day or week, ensures that all personnel receive the proper training, ensures that all needed materials are available for each installation, manages tool and materials inventories, ensures that proper documentation is prepared for each installation, etc. Customer Service Manager – maintains documentation for all installations, handles customer inquiries and problems, manages customer service technicians, performs after-the-sale follow-up with homeowners, etc. Senior Technician – tests, verifies, and troubleshoots all team installations, manages and trains junior technicians, performs trim-out, equipment connection and customer programming, etc. Junior Technician – pulls wires, installs rough-in equipment, ensures that the worksite is left clean, oversees apprentice wire pullers, etc. Systems Designer – works with customers, architects, or sales team to understand the features and functions needed for each job, and designs an end-to-end system which will fulfill these needs, including specification of products, product placement, pathway designations and any needed programming. The Retrofit Market As more and more homeowners experience the benefits and convenience of a home with structured wiring, the demand for trained technicians who can retrofit an existing home is on the rise as well. The new-home market is the early adopter. As of 2002, roughly 40% of all new homes were built with some level of structured wiring. As more and more consumers experience the benefits that structured wiring offers, the demand for retrofit installations will increase rapidly. The market potential for new housing units is roughly 1.5 million installations per year, while the retrofit market represents about 110 million potential installations. The products and features are nearly identical for both markets but, from an installer’s standpoint, there are some big differences between these types of jobs. New-home installations are performed with open walls (before the sheetrock and insulation are installed), whereas retrofit installations require fishing wires through existing walls, floors and ceilings, and spending time in crawl spaces and insulated attics. (Of course, major remodeling jobs often result in open walls as well.) New-home installations typically last several months from start to finish due to the overall construction schedule, whereas retrofit installations are typically completed in less than one week. Some of the tools used in new-home installations, such as heavy-duty right-angle drills, are often impractical in retrofit installations. However, specialized tools exist for retrofit installations, which make fishing wires through walls fairly easy. Key among these tools are drill bits with long, flexible, extendable metal shafts, fiberglass pull rods that naturally follow the same path as the drill bit, and various other products for pulling and pushing wire in tight places without tearing up the walls of an existing home. These tools, in the hands of a well-trained installer, can turn the retrofit process into an efficient, profitable business, at a reasonable cost to the homeowner. Getting Started To find a job for trade positions, check the want ads in your local newspaper, the trade magazines or trade websites. Meanwhile, make sure you are properly trained in all aspects of your job before starting your first installation. The training process should include hands-on training for certain aspects of installing structured wiring, such as punching down wires on insulation displacement connecters (IDCs) and applying connectors such as F-connectors and modular crimp-on plugs. In addition, depending upon your position, training may include the following: Technical training on the products, systems and technologies that you will be installing; Operational training regarding how customers expect you to dress and behave in their homes and on their construction sites; Sales training on the products and upgrades; Design training to be able to create a full system from scratch; Business training so that you can set prices correctly and run the business profitably. Excellent training is available from manufacturers, distributors, training consultants and consortiums, and at virtually all of the industry shows and expositions. Additionally, detailed information is available on a new educational CD-ROM from the Copper Development Association. The CD-ROM, entitled “Structured Wiring for Today’s Homes – Installer Edition,” is available upon request free from CDA. To make it easy to get started, CDA offers two videotapes, Infrastructure Wiring for Existing Homes and Infrastructure Wiring for New Homes. These videotapes cover many of the basics including a tutorial on the wires and tools used, the fundamentals of residential networks and installation planning and several real life installations in different types of home. These videotapes are available for a nominal charge from CDA. Summary A career in the installation of structured wiring can be profitable and fun. It is a new trade that offers many of the rewards of traditional trades as well as exposure to a variety of new, ever-changing technologies and business opportunities. Why not get started today? Copper Development Association, 260 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Phone: (212) 251-7200, Email: