Americans are practically dependent on television for much of their news, entertainment, educational and even "babysitting" needs. Correspondingly, occupations such as cable installation and sales professionals are looking to be stable positions for telecommunications experts. Overall employment is expected to grow by 2 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, equaling more than 6,000 new jobs in the field.
Cable installers were included as telecommunications line installers and repairers in the 2010-11 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. In May 2008, the median wage for equipment installers and repairers was $27.60 hourly, or $57,408 per year in telecommunications. The annual median annual salary for line installers and repairers was closer to $48,090, with the middle 50 percent of workers earning between $33,680 and $60,670 per year. The lowest 10 percent of line installers and repairers surveyed reported making under $25,790, and the highest 10 percent made upwards of $67,990.
Line installers and repairmen working in cable and other subscription programming fields in 2008 earned about $39,970 a year, according to the bureau. In 2011, industry professionals agree this is a fair estimate. Scott Eisenberg of Wide Open West Cable has been an installation professional since 1997, working as both a subcontractor and an in-house technician. "I started in 1997 making $13 per hour," he says. "Fourteen years later, I make around $19." When Eisenberg works a full 40-hour work week consistently, for an entire year he earns $39,520; a figure close to BLS wage estimates.
At a glance, it would appear that cable subcontractors earn considerably more than salaried workers. "As a subcontractor, you get paid by the job rather than the hour," Eisenberg says, "but once you account for all of your work expenses, the pay is about the same." For example, one installation job might cost $500 and take two hours to complete. The contractor would then earn $125 per hour. However, when you deduct the cost of a work van, gasoline, vehicle maintenance, commercial auto insurance, cable and installation materials and tools his hourly earning are substantially decreased.
You don't get any benefits as a subcontractor in the cable business. You'll be solely responsible for reporting your income, paying your own taxes and providing your own health insurance and retirement benefit plans. "Working for Wide Open West, I have three weeks paid vacation per year, four sick days, five floating holidays a 401(k) with health and life insurance" states Eisenberg. "Subcontracting, I didn't have any of that."
In some areas, cable installation is a seasonal job. Many salaried employees and subcontractors experience extended periods of slow business and unemployment during cold-weather seasons. One benefit of being a subcontractor is that you can find work in other, warmer areas during the slow season. "Experience and the better of an understanding they have of what they do affects a subcontractor's pay too" says Eisenberg, "if they do good work and are reliable, they get first crack at jobs when work slows down."