Rchard Bermack Photography


Elevator Constructors Apprenticship Program

Organized Labor

Roy Francesconi Area Coordinator
Otis Elevators once bragged that its elevators moved the equivalent of the earth's population every six days. Elevators are one of the safest forms of mass transportation for those who ride in them. Unfortunately, they are not as safe for the mechanics who build and maintain them.

“A typical counterweight of a traction elevator weighs12,000 pounds and travels 500 feet a minute, and it runs next to the elevator. If it hits you, you lose. It is known as the silent killer. We can't stress safety enough,” states Roy Francesconi, the area coordinator of the National Elevator Industry Educational Program. When Francesconi started as a union representative in the 1970s, his job included visiting families who recently lost loved ones. “When I started, mechanics were Bruce Willis die-hard types. The mechanic would grab a cable, slide down two or three floors, and tell you to follow him. Do that today and you're terminated. It's been tough getting the testosterone out the trade, but that is one area where the employer and the union are in agreement. We have the right to go home to our families in the same condition as we came to work. “In every program unit there's a chapter involving safety; the first two courses are predominantly safety. We drill it into them, you don't move the elevator until you know where your partner is and that they are aware that you're going to move it. 'Lock out and tag out.' When I started we had lanyards and safety belts, and the first lanyards were 10 feet long, till somebody read an article that anything over 6 feet would snap your back. Now when you go to work for an employer you get the equivalent of a gym duffel bag full of safety equipment, five sets of gloves, safety glasses, a full face shield, fall arresting devices, ear plugs and other noise protection.”

The apprentice training program began in 2002, as part of the National Elevator Industry Educational Program, or NEIEP. Before then the only training program was for elevator mechanic helpers, and there was no formal training program to go from helper to journeymen mechanic. Many workers would retire after working 35 years in the trade as helpers. It was common knowledge that if you didn't have a family member in the trade, you would never become an elevator mechanic. Now after completing the four-year apprentice program and passing a test, anyone with the skills and aptitude can become a licensed journeymen mechanic. The four-year program consists of eight 72-hour semesters and 6800 hours of on-the-job-training.

Although most trades these days require varied skills and working conditions, this is particularly true of the elevator industry, where fixing a broken elevator can range from jumping into a dark pit in the ground and dealing with large, greasy, mechanical parts to trouble shooting computer programs and micro electrical components. Elevator mechanics maintain everything that is contained in the elevator hoist way, which means all things related to elevators, including electrical cables and plumbing. Elevator mechanics also install and maintain escalators, moving walks, stair lifts, and dumb waiters. The NEIEP program includes pipe fitting, plumbing, and even welding certification.

One of the advantages of creating a new training program is the ability to take advantage of 21st century learning tools. One of Francesconi's special projects is helping develop virtual training modules that use computer game technology. The way he envisions it, the student will enter the lobby of an office building on a simulated computer monitor and a customer will come up and say, “Hello Mr Elevator Man, my elevator is stuck on the third floor and the door won't close.” The student will have to navigate through that virtual world, find the elevator, go into the machine room, and find out why it won't work. “We are going to make it as realistic as we can without putting their hand on an actual elevator,” says Francesconi.