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Case Study: Locksmith - Paul

What do you do?

I'm a locksmith. I provide residential, commercial and industrial customers with information and advice on all security related products and concerns.

I sell, repair, re-key and install locks, padlocks and related security hardware. I also cut keys using various machines and can pick locks when people have locked themselves out of their homes or cars.

I own my own company. While I do all the standard tasks that locksmiths do, I can also install alarm systems. These days I've been concentrating on running the business and letting my staff do more of the hands-on work.

What is your background?

I started cutting keys when I was 16 years old. I got a job at a hardware shop sorting out keys. Within a year, I became the key cutter and a few years later started installing locks. I am mostly self-taught.

My brother-in-law had a hardware shop and I started working for him, doing some locksmithing. I then moved to another city to open up my own locksmith shop. The first ten years were difficult but my business is going strong today.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

As a locksmith, you are in constant contact with the public, and the image you present will determine your success. Good communication skills, a pleasant personality and a clean, professional appearance will go far in this business.

You must be an honest person because the customers are literally trusting you with the keys to their front door.

Locksmiths must also be hard working, flexible and dedicated; you must work long hours to make the business a success. Customers often require service at unusual hours because many situations demand an immediate response.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Locksmithing can teach you skills that can be applied in any service-related trade, for example, hardware sales. You learn a lot about mechanical parts, tools and machinery. Personally, my career has also taught me how to manage my own business.

What changes will there be in the future?

Security will always be a number one priority for people in their homes and businesses, so the demand is steady.

Advances in technology are affecting the locksmith industry in many ways. Electronic and computer technology have made their way into locks, alarms, safes and card access systems in ways that would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago.

The profession as a whole is constantly changing due to electronics, computers and the evolving needs of customers.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

There are a lot of opportunities for people who would like to enter locksmithing. However, there are some who try and fail. The reason for their failure often stems from the misguided belief that all you need is a van and some tools.

Locksmithing requires a lot of training and experience. You can get this training through the Master Locksmiths' Association. Also, learn as much as you can from the best locksmiths you can find.

What do you like about your job?

One of the things I like about being a locksmith is that every day presents me with new situations and new challenges. I often get involved with interesting jobs, like trying to get into a safe that isn't working properly or designing a custom locking system for a client.

Even jobs like re-keying a lock can be interesting because there are so many different types of lock.

Another thing I have enjoyed about my job is keeping up to date with all the new technology that is emerging in the security industry.

Security systems now include not only mechanical locks, but also electronics and computer systems. Learning about all these new technologies is very interesting.

Finally, I like educating customers about the benefits of high quality security systems and services.

What do you dislike about your job?

I dislike doing business in a cut-throat market, where customers are often just looking for the lowest price.

Whenever prices are driven too low, it's impossible to do a job. Security systems are complex and it's often difficult for customers to understand the difference between high and low quality products.

I also dislike getting involved in difficult situations, for example, domestic disputes where one partner wants to change the locks, or a business owner who wants the locks re-keyed to keep a partner out.

Finally, I dislike untrained and inexperienced people who call themselves 'locksmiths' and give the trade a bad name.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Technology in locking and security systems is changing rapidly, so you need to be curious about the technology and interested in learning new things. Try to get recognised training that includes electronics.

A day in the life

8:00 am - 9:30 am

At a client's premises, trying to find out why their safe won't open and attempting to get into the safe without damaging it.

9:30 am - 9:45 am

Travelling to my next appointment.

9:45 am - 10:15 am

Re-keying two locks at a sheltered housing scheme and dropping off new keys for the warden. Re-keying involves taking the locks apart and changing the settings so the locks require new keys to be opened.

10:15 am - 10:30 am

Travelling to my next appointment.

10:30 am - 11:30 am

Installing a deadbolt lock for a customer. This requires drilling holes in the door and door frame, properly positioning the new lock and fastening it in place. Once I've installed the deadbolt, I answer the customer's questions and give her keys for the lock.

11:30 am - 12:00 pm

Re-keying a lock.

12:00 pm - 12:45 pm

Lunch.

12:45 pm - 2:15 pm

Reprogramming an electronic locking system at a factory to change settings, such as the times that the doors will automatically unlock at the beginning of the day and lock at the end of the day.

2:15 pm - 2:30 pm

Travelling to a meeting with a client.

2:30 pm - 4:00 pm

Meeting with developers of a new building to discuss the type of locks they would like to install, gathering enough information to prepare a detailed proposal and quotation, making preliminary recommendations about the type of locking system I think would work best.

4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Book-keeping, returning phone calls, preparing invoices, ordering new stock such as keys, locks and locking hardware, calling customers to schedule the next day's work.

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