About a week after my layoff
I got a call from a contractor
for the local cable company. I was leery. Everybody knows that cable installation companies are always
hiring, and if anybody is always
hiring most likely the job sucks. On the other hand I'm unemployed, and well even a shitty job beats unemployment. The numbers the recruiter
told me weren't too bad, but it was piecework
and simple common sense told me she was spinning everything her way. I could have turned them down, after all it was piecework, and you don't lose your unemployment for turning down a job which might not pay a red cent.
I've been 'training' for a couple weeks now even if my pre-existing skill set exceeds pretty much everyone there, they have their ways and I need to learn them. The guy who's training me is a good guy of seemingly infinite patience. And he's raced circle tracks, and there is always mutual respect among the fraternity of true racers. So in the truck we can talk about racing and how things vary between ovals and road racing, and how much they are the same. Which is more then most people think as both face the simple problem of how to get an automobile around a track quickly.
But let me be perfectly blunt, these guys get hosed. True you get a truck, a gas card, a laptop and so on. But you also have to buy a lot of tools-- more then I ever had to buy starting out as apprentice electrician. But the biggest deal is the pay. Let me offer you an example. As a trainee, I'm paid hourly, which is minimum wage and despite what you hear about the recent raises, I earned more on unemployment then I do working full time as a cable guy. You have to keep your hours, but you better not list more then forty or you'll get into trouble. See, the least you can make is your hours at minimum wage. Management will find ways to screw you nobody turns in more then forty no matter how long you're out. Which is really likely because our first job is often in BFE. So you drive for 90 minutes out to a job. Now if you have to install a drop, a cable modem, a DVR and a phone line, plus do the wiring you can make $120. Do two of those a day and you have a happy day. But if you're going out to just put in a cable modem, you might only make $40. Or even $20 for modem swap. And once Jay and I drove for two hours to swap out a modem, for which Jay will receive about $20 in compensation. Then drive another hour and a half for an ECOT, a $40 job, maybe fifty if you have to run a new drop (as we did) So you have four hours invested in a $40 job. And then two hours back, so you made $60 total for eight hours of work and travel, which really isn't minimum wage. I mean they do have their good days, but if you don't get a good schedule, you don't make much. Many of these guys are making less then the minimum weekly pay the recruiter mentioned, and working sixty hours to earn it. So long as you earn more then minimum wages, your pay comes entirely from piecework.
It's not always like this, but for many of them it seems that way lately. For people with a work ethic, some smarts and minimal skills it isn't hideous. You can make decent money more quickly then I did as an apprentice. But as I said, if it was that great they wouldn't always be hiring. As I've been earning double what many of them make, no I am not content. But I am employed. As my mortgage is cheap, and my cars paid off, I can survive. But I plan to be really, really nice and helpful to the next cable guy to knock on my door. Offer him cookies. Seriously.
On the plus side I had two interviews today for good jobs, one that would pay me a real living wage. Both went on for a long time, both seemed positive, and I feel confident I'm in the hunt for both jobs. One would be enough. So there is light at the end of the tunnel.
An ECOT stands for Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Basically the government puts in cable in a home, so someone who for whatever reason can't make it in regular school can learn online.