Precision instrument and equipment repair is a career with diverse applications. It involves intricate work on equipment that often has very small parts that need to be handled carefully. It is best suited to individuals with good hand eye coordination who enjoy manual technical work. There is often also an artistic side to the job, as repair of musical instruments and valuable watches requires an esthetic sense as well as a technical one.
Since there are many different types of precision instruments to be repaired, the field breaks down into several generalized categories. The US Labor Department gives estimated average yearly salary figures for four different categories. They are as follows: Watch repairers earn about $37,600 on average. Musical instrument repairers and tuners on average make roughly $35,950. For camera and photographic equipment repairers the figure stands at $37,990. And for medical equipment repairers the figure is $44,030.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Thus, while not the very highest, this is a fairly well paid field. Keep in mind that these are only averages, so starting wages are bound to be less and wages for more experienced technicians will typically be more, often substantially more.
Job Description and Outlook
As noted above, the four basic groups of equipment that fall into this job category are cameras, watches, musical instruments, and medical equipment. These are all precision devices that need to be kept in top condition in order to function properly. The job of a precision equipment repair professional is to repair and maintain these types of equipment using various precision tools and procedures suited to the particular type of equipment being repaired.
Cameras and other photographic optical devices are precision equipment that needs to be maintained and repaired on a regular basis, and camera repairers have the background and skill to perform this task. They first determine if repairing a camera is less or more expensive than replacing it. If it is more cost effective to repair than to replace, the repair professional may disassembles the camera, replaces needed parts, possibly strips other discarded cameras to find parts that are no longer in p[production, and finally fixes the camera. Fixing digital cameras requires a knowledge of computer software and digital technology.
The other branches of the field have their own skill sets, necessary tools, and so on. Music instrument repairers work on a variety of musical instruments, watch repairers repair mostly vintage or expensive watches with small precise tools, and medical equipment repairers repair devices such as medical imaging equipment, heart monitors, defibrillators, and even electric wheel chairs. In all of these fields good hand eye coordination and an extensive and thorough knowledge of the type of equipment or instrument being repaired is necessary.
The work environment in the field is generally a shop environment. Shops are quiet and well lit to allow for the careful concentration needed to do precision work. Some medical equipment maintenance and repair may be done while the equipment is in use, requiring repair professionals to be comfortable with working around patients in a hospital setting.
The job demand outlook for this profession is expected to show little to no growth through the year 2016. The maximum expected in around 2%. However, certain branches may show more growth than others. For instance, many watch repair professionals currently in the field are now reaching retirement age, and this should create a demand for watch makers/repairers.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
The education required for the precision repair profession varies somewhat among its different branches, but on the whole it involved a large amount of hands on shop experience. Often employers hire employee/trainees with nothing more than a high school diploma and a process of apprenticeship/on the job training begins. It often takes several years of work of steadily increasing sophistication for a precision repair professional to become truly proficient.
Often this learning process involves learning to repair certain brands or types of equipment and gradually adding others. Each make of a precision device is designed somewhat differently from others, so a specific familiarity must be gained for the different types of devices, finally resulting in a broad overall knowledge base.
There are also various education programs at the post secondary level that train student either in a specific skill, such as watch repair, or more general fields such as electronics repair that may be required. Often job candidates with some college level training of this sort are favored by employers. As discussed below, some certifications are also available in the field and take the form either of a simple test the technician must pass, or longer classroom based courses resulting in the certification.
Fields such as watch repair often have certifications that a student can earn that will be beneficial in impressing employers. Both the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute and the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors certify students after completion of tests and in some cases classroom work. Some of these certification programs have classroom training programs that may last as long as two years and 3000 classroom hours. Others are a few months in duration or are tests a repair professional can take whenever they are ready.
In addition to the watch repair associations mentioned above, there are other professional associations for other branches of the field such as the National Association of Photo Equipment Technicians for camera work, The Association for Advancement of Medical Instrumentation for medical equipment repair, and the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair.