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Reuters/Tobias Schwarz
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GOING UP

A skyscraper boom in US cities is giving elevator technicians a lift

By Leslie Josephs

Automation may have made elevator operators obsolete, but things are looking up for those who install and repair elevators.

The US Bureau of Labor statistics expects employment for technicians who install and fix lifts to grow by 13% between 2014 and 2024, about double the average growth rate for all US jobs.

According to the BLS, there are currently 22,240 such workers in the US. Market-research firm IBIS World pegs total US employment in the elevator, escalator, and conveyer sector at 107,269, up 11% from a low of 96,809 in 2010.

Elevator technicians earn an average of $77,000 a year, 55% more than the national average salary, and the highest average salary in the construction field. The position usually only requires a high school diploma, as most of the craft is taught through apprenticeships.

What’s behind the sunny outlook? A vertical building boom in US cities, spurred by increased demand for office space, residential towers, and hotels. (Federal regulations also now require many shorter buildings to be accessible to those with disabilities.) It’s a trend likely to continue: Half the world’s population currently lives in cities, and the UN predicts that will grow to two-thirds by 2050.

Otis Elevator Company, a unit of conglomerate United Technologies, says that it is outgrowing one of its factories in South Carolina. The company also just launched (paywall) its first brand campaign in 10 years. For the six months ended March 31, German manufacturer Thyssenkrupp reported orders in its elevator unit worth 5.4 billion euros—a record, and up 7% from the same period a year earlier.

ThyssenKrupp, which made the high-speed elevators at the 104-story 1 World Trade Center, is also preparing for future demand. Earlier this year, it unveiled a new elevator design that, instead of heavy cables, has cabs travels along magnetic tracks. That allows them to make 90-degree turns, meaning riders can travel both vertically and horizontally.