If the thought of shimmying up chimney stacks, steeples, high buildings or bridges makes you feel queasy, then a career as a steeplejack probably won’t be your cup of tea.
Essentially, steeplejacks climb to the very top of the highest buildings to carry out inspections and restoration work. They’re found working on a whole range of structures, from church steeples, clock towers and radio antennas, to industrial chimneys, suspension bridges and airport control towers.
Climbing isn’t steeplejacks’ only skill – they are trained craftsman, experts in restoration, construction, safety and maintenance.
Steeplejacks erect high ladders, build specialist scaffolding, set up various mobile elevated work platforms and even abseil up buildings. After climbing into position, they’ll be carrying out a range of duties, from repairing masonry, carpentry or roof repairs to fitting aircraft warning lights on or demolishing tall buildings.
Sometimes they’ll be called in simply to give something a lick of paint, whereas other times they’ll be assessing and inspecting structures.
This job isn’t for the faint-hearted. You’ll need a keen eye for detail and be a safety fanatic, as often it’s only ropes and safety equipment keeping you from falling from great heights. You’ll need to be deft with your hands, physically fit, super organised, a team player and as sure-footed as a mountain goat.
Salary & benefits
Trainee steeplejacks don’t earn a packet starting out. An average starting wage for a trainee is usually between £15,000 and £17,000.
However, with experience and qualifications, you could earn more. Qualified operatives can earn over £20,000 a year and, with more experience, they might be looking at over £25,000 a year.
If you want to become a steeplejack, you’ll need to be aware that it isn’t your typical nine–to-five job. Most steeplejacks work a standard 40-hour week, though hours will vary.
It isn’t unusual to work evenings and weekends, depending on the demands of a particular project.
You’ll have to be a tough cookie, too, as you will be working outdoors in all conditions and in some pretty dirty places. This isn’t a desk job, so expect to be travelling around a fair bit and working in a number of different locations. A driving licence is pretty much essential.
You don’t necessarily need any academic qualifications to become a steeplejack, but, as making calculations and measurements are very much part of the job, GCSEs in Science, Maths, English and DT might be useful.
There are two general routes to becoming a steeplejack. Either you can start working for a steeplejack company, receive training and work towards gaining NVQs, or there is a sponsored training route through the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).
This is a two year apprenticeship route for 16-year-olds. Applicants will have to pass literacy, numeracy, aptitude and problem solving tests. They’ll then work towards NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in steeplejacking, but are rewarded with being practically guaranteed a job at the end of the scheme.
There might also be other Steeplejacking Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships available for young people in the UK.
Training & progression
Trainee steeplejacks on courses organised by the Steeplejack and Lightning Protection Training Group and Construction Skills work towards gaining NVQs, safety, first aid and firefighting qualifications.
Experienced steeplejacks can progress onto supervisory or managerial roles (with a bigger pay packet), whilst some even set up their own businesses and try their hand at self-employment.