When cars became available to the average American, they created a whole new specialty: the auto mechanic. The industry now employs more than 500,000 workers.
Similarly, today's boom in home computers leads some experts to suggest that computer repair will be the hot occupation for the second half of the 1990s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a substantial increase in the number of computer-repair technicians over the next decade. Indeed, after several years of decline, the number of repair technicians for computers and other electronic gear took a leap upward in 1994 (chart).
But a report from Dataquest Inc. casts doubt on the future of this boomlet. By its estimate, spending on hardware maintenance and support will slow sharply late in the coming decade, from an annual growth rate of 8.8% in 1994-97 down to only 2.1% growth in 1997-99. The spending on hardware maintenance for desktop computers will actually fall, as the products become cheaper and more reliable, making on-site service less necessary. "There's not a lot of profitability in service," says Clyde Nabors, executive director of the International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians. "It's a high-expense, low-dollar-value business."
Instead, computer makers are hiring large numbers of telephone support people, who talk customers through their hardware and software problems. "Only 8% of our calls turn into a call where we need to send out a replacement part," says Jim Collas, vice-president for customer support at Gateway 2000. As befits the age of communication, the key tool for computer repair now seems to be the telephone rather than the soldering iron.