Locking in to a Secure Future
Locksmiths provide a range of services relating to access and entry to secured objects and premises, changing, maintaining and fitting locking devices for public and private clients.
They may work from a store, on a travelling basis or for a company network, and may work to actually construct locks using metal work skills, although the majority of work is now completed by changing pre-made parts.
Joe Silver, a highly experienced locksmith and a director of Lockmasters Ltd in Hampshire believes that ex-service personnel are ideally suited to the trade. He said: “In the past when I ran a large franchise operation many of our people came from the forces. They have integrity, they are reliable and happy to work hard and are not deterred by unsociable hours. Loyalty and honesty also play an important part and that is inherent in the make up of most servicemen and women.”
Being a locksmith involves a range of activities. Common tasks would include:
• Operating a service through a freelance or store-based business
• Answering telephone calls and giving quotes to customers
• Travelling with equipment to carry out work
• Using tools to complete jobs such as changing locks
• Researching and practising with different mechanisms
• Being on call to respond to emergency situations
• Marketing a service through different media channels and word of mouth
• Servicing door hardware such as hinges
• Keeping account of sales transactions.
Some locksmiths are employed by larger companies on a set salary, starting at £12,000 to 14,000 and increasing with experience but most work on a freelance, self-employed basis and therefore earn variable remuneration, depending on the amount and type of business they are able to take on. Different jobs attract different fees, and in many cases locksmiths will give a quote for a specific job, based on the information they are given by a customer. In some cases, however, (if a job has lots of unknown variables for example) the locksmith may opt to charge an hourly rate. This can be anything from £30 to £80 and perhaps more, depending on transport costs, call-out times and other factors.
Locksmiths complete courses which allow them to gain access to most forms of secure doors and therefore have a responsibility to use their knowledge in their clients’ best interest and not allow information or tools to fall into the wrong hands. In addition, gaining access to secure systems for clients can be destructive and skill is required to gain entry without causing undue damage (by picking rather than destroying a lock for example).
Qualifications in the world of locksmithing are something of a grey area as there is no single national governing body for the trade, and indeed no single qualification which is essential in order to operate in the professional capacity.
A number of different guilds exist, offering courses at a variety of levels, and the level of credibility in each case depends largely on the reputation and track record of the organisation in question. A certificate of qualification in locksmithing can be gained from a training centre in a matter of weeks, but the practical knowledge and experience are harder to attain and ultimately more important to carrying out work, beyond the reassurance that a qualification or guild membership will provide a client.
As a result of this, the trade is fairly traditional and most trainee locksmiths complete a significant period in an apprenticeship to learn the practical skills and get the experience required to operate independently.
• Being a locksmith requires a range of skills, including:
• Manual dexterity and practical thinking
• A good understanding of lock and security mechanisms
• The ability to market and run an independent business
• Being able to drive in order to be able to reach clients
• An interest in locks and keys
• Good customer service skills
• The ability to use a range of specialist tools
Locksmiths generally work in safe conditions but may have to travel fairly extensively to complete different jobs. Hours of work may be fairly antisocial, as being on call is an important way to make money. In addition, some jobs may require potentially dangerous activity in gaining access to buildings, if someone is locked out of a house for example. Using manual tools such as screwdrivers and hammers will also be a likely part of the job.
Experience of the trade is often extremely important, hence the fact that most locksmiths complete apprenticeships with more experienced tradesmen to gain vital practical tips. Formal qualifications are more useful for gaining certification and finding out what it is necessary to learn, rather than how to actually complete different tasks. This is something that can only really be achieved through practice, gaining experience of different mechanisms and honing skills to a high level.
Joe Silver believes that the most successful operators are those who specialise. He continued: “There are locksmiths who specialise in safes, door entry, cars and other areas.”
Joe has used his own experience and skills to develop Lifelock, a small portable device that enables travellers to secure themselves in a hotel room so that the lock cannot be overridden by a master key. It is being used by defence and law enforcement agencies worldwide and many police forces recommend them
for vulnerable people under threat of domestic violence for use in their homes.
“One of the problems of the business is that there is no real regulating body that controls qualifications and professional practice. Anyone who owns a hammer and a screwdriver can call himself a locksmith.”
The Master Locksmiths’ Association is addressing this situation. Comprising four sectors, The British Locksmith’s Institute, the Membership Sector, Affiliate Members and the Guild of Key Cutters.
The Association offers a range of courses and continuous professional development. The establishment of a training centre at head office enabled the establishmen of a basic locksmith training course programme in 1992. This has proved very successful and is now renowned throughout the locksmithing industry as the only formal locksmithing accreditation.
Having a long history of providing training to locksmiths (either those who are starting off in the trade or those who want to further their knowledge in specific technical areas), the MLA has been awarded the prestigious City & Guilds “Approved Centre” status (No. 027758) enabling the association to offer a tailored City & Guilds award in Basic Locksmithing (No. 1841) which is based on its entry exam.
The association is also CTP accredited (Career Transition Partnership) for those looking to undertake re-settlement training when leaving the armed forces. Full information with advice on how to start of as a locksmith is available on www.locksmiths.co.uk.
Images: © Altin Osmanaj / Dmitry Kalinovsky / shutterstock.com