Best Careers 2009: Locksmith/Security System Technician

US News

Overview. A key to job satisfaction is how often you help someone in distress. Locksmithing scores near the top. One of life's most vulnerable feelings is returning home to find your home broken into; a locksmith can make you safer. One of life's more frustrating experiences is being locked out of your car; a locksmith lets you in.

And today's locksmiths go well beyond locks and keys. Your car door may no longer have an entry key but a transponder. In your home or business, security techs install electronic and biometric (thumbprint or iris) entry and fire alarm systems, complete with closed-circuit TV networked to a central monitoring facility.

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Despite the field's growing complexity, basic training is short, usually just a few months You do, however, need a knack for working with gadgets and electronics, good vision and depth perception, and manual dexterity. Basic carpentry, electrical, and welding skills help, too. Perhaps most important, you must be able to resist temptation -- after all, you do know how to pick locks. If you have those attributes, locksmithing is a worthy career choice. Along with police officers and FBI agents, yours is the noble goal of foiling the baddie -- but with much less risk to life and limb.

A Day in the Life. Your first call is the kind you dread. An older woman returns home to find the doorknob removed and discovers that most of her valuables are gone. Her distress turns to anger when you suggest she'd be wise to replace her flimsy doorknob with a safer but more expensive system. You listen well, playing psychologist, and a few minutes later, without your having to ask again, she requests the upgraded locks. An hour later, her home is safe.

Next is a more entertaining affair. The owner of a pawnshop is on vacation, and the manager needs to get into the safe because a customer is demanding his pawned jewelry. Alas, the owner didn't leave the combination and is unreachable. You have to drill the safe open and replace the mechanism.

Then, you install a wireless alarm system, something you just recently trained for. Fortunately, a more experienced tech joins you to supervise.

Finally, you return to the office to take a class in installing Internet-based intercoms.

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Smart Specialty

Institutional locksmith. You create and manage the usually complex security systems at colleges, museums, corporations, or government agencies.

Learn more: Institutional Locksmiths Association.

Salary Data

Median (with eight years in the field): $43,600

25th to 75th percentile (with eight or more years of experience): $37,500-$55,300

(Data provided by PayScale.com)

Training

Most locksmiths learn on the job, supervised by a master locksmith. That's supplemented by short online or in-person courses offered by locksmith associations or manufacturers.

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