Meter readers check the level of gas, water, steam, and electricity consumption in homes and businesses by going from building to building and reading meters that measure how much energy has been used. They then record this amount in a route book or with an electronic, handheld device. Meter readers are also responsible for checking the meters and connection lines for damage or signs of tampering and for turning on and shutting off utility service. There are approximately 50,000 meter readers employed in the United States.
Meter Reader Career History
Electricity as a scientific principle was known for many years before Thomas Edison was born. Edison’s true genius was in the application of scientific knowledge to everyday uses. After inventing the first practical incandescent light in 1879, he worked on a design for a complete system of electrical distribution for lighting and power. His efforts in this area culminated in the installation of the world’s first central electrical power plant in New York City in 1881-82.
The use of gas, electricity, and steam has increased dramatically over the past several decades as our society has increasingly relied on these sources of power to run the lights, appliances, and large machines that fill our homes and businesses. With the increased demand for utility services there has been a corresponding need for trained professionals to monitor and maintain these services. Meter readers are part of the crew that keeps these power sources running smoothly.
Meter Reader Job Description
Meter readers spend a lot of time on the go, moving from house to house and reading the meters that record the consumption levels of gas, water, electricity, and steam. They may travel by truck or on foot. A meter reader may monitor the usage of only one particular utility (electricity, for example) or the usage of more than one type of service. Meter readers can tell how much energy has been used by checking meters, which are located either near the back of the building or in the building itself, usually in the basement. They may need to use a flashlight or other equipment to see the dial that shows the amount of power usage. This information is recorded for the utility company to use when billing customers for the amount of energy they have consumed. Meter readers may use a pencil and paper to record this information or, as is becoming increasingly popular, they may use a handheld computer or other automatic machine.
Because meter readers are often the only utility company employees that have direct contact with customers, they frequently answer customers’ questions about service. They keep an eye out for any readings that may be unusually high or low and check for possible causes, such as gas leaks. They are responsible for checking the meter and connecting equipment to make sure everything is in good working order. Any evidence of damage, defects, or unauthorized tampering is noted so that the service department can act accordingly. Meter readers also are responsible for connecting and disconnecting utility service.
Chief meter readers supervise and direct meter readers in the performance of their jobs. They review the reports of the meter readers, noting any discrepancies from normal usage. They also oversee the disconnection or reconnection of utility service and investigate any customer complaints.
Utilities Meter Reader Career Requirements
Although there are no specific educational requirements, most meter readers are high school graduates, and many have some college training. Meter readers should have a solid background in mathematics and be able to fill out reports and other forms clearly and accurately.
High school students interested in pursuing a career as a meter reader should take English, mathematics, typing, and other business-related courses. Shop classes often are useful for those who plan to become installers. In addition, aspiring meter readers should have good manual dexterity and be able to get at hard-to-reach equipment.
Many utility companies provide new employees with several weeks of on-the-job training covering specific metering and safety procedures. They may also furnish classroom instruction on such topics as company policies, systems operations, instrumentation, and basic electricity.
Meter readers act as representatives of their companies while on their routes. Communication skills are thus very important. They must be able to deal with a wide variety of people and conduct their work professionally. Because they do not work under direct supervision, they should be conscientious workers and able to stick to their route schedule.
Exploring Meter Reader Career
The best way to learn more about the career of meter reader is to talk to a meter reader directly. Ask your high school guidance counselor to set up an information interview with a meter reader. You might also be lucky enough to observe a meter reader as he or she works in your neighborhood.
Most of the approximately 50,000 meter readers employed in the United States work for large utility companies. Because metropolitan areas are more densely populated and have more homes and businesses, they require a larger meter reader workforce, but job opportunities exist in towns of all sizes. Other meter readers work for local government-owned utilities.
High school graduates should inquire directly with their local utility company or by contacting utility companies listed in the phone book.
Advancement for meter readers usually depends on job performance, experience, and education. Advancement opportunities also vary depending on the place of employment. Many utility companies encourage their employees to take additional courses at local technical schools to further their careers. They may advance to positions such as chief meter readers, meter reader supervisors, or water service inspectors. They may also move into positions such as field collectors, field service representatives, or field investigators. While they do some meter reading, these workers are mainly responsible for starting and stopping service, collecting on accounts, and following up on customer complaints.
Experienced meter readers may also branch off into related work and become part of the repair crew. Office positions are also available in administration and billing.
Salaries vary widely depending on the skill and experience of the worker and the geographic location of the utility company. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meter readers earned a median annual salary of $29,720 in 2004. Earnings ranged from less than $18,910 to more than $47,280.
Meter readers who work for municipal utility companies may earn slightly more than their counterparts in the private sector. Meter readers who are employed part-time are usually paid an hourly rate.
Meter readers usually have a regular 40-hour workweek, with extra pay for overtime. Most full-time employees receive the usual health and vacation benefits, with some employees receiving pension benefits.
Because meter readers deal with the public, they must have a neat appearance and a courteous, pleasant personality. Meter readers must be able to adapt to a variety of working conditions. They may have to read meters in dingy basements or in modern office buildings. They must be able to work outdoors in all types of weather and, when necessary, drive a truck in a variety of conditions. Although the work is not very strenuous, meter readers spend much of their time bending and stooping in cramped quarters. They may have to move objects around or lift meter covers to get at the meters.
Meter readers work with a minimum of supervision. They sometimes have to go into people’s homes and may, on occasion, encounter unfriendly pets. Meter readers usually wear uniforms and carry identification cards so that they are easily recognizable when entering a home or walking around in backyards.
Meter Reader Career Outlook
Job opportunities for meter readers will decline through the next decade as there are now automated meter reading (AMR) systems that permit utility companies to take readings from a remote location. AMR systems allow utility companies to save money by cutting down on the number of meter readers who must visit individual homes. Utility companies install a device in private homes and businesses that is capable of giving an electronic reading that can be accessed over the telephone or through radio waves. The AMR systems permit a small crew of meter readers to take remote readings by traveling in vans or by using a telephone line, significantly increasing meter reading efficiency. In the future, because the technology is so successful, it may be that the meter reading profession will rapidly decline. However, new positions still will be created as meter readers retire or leave the job for other reasons.