How to become a locksmith
Qualifications & training
There are several ways to begin the journey of becoming a locksmith. Many are brought up by their father or a role model similar to their father where they are introduced to key terminology and have the wonderful opportunity of getting their hands on the hardware, so to speak, without formal training. If you do not have that opportunity you can seek out an apprenticeship, which we get calls for quite regularly. If you are interested in working as an apprentice you should expect to be doing anything that is asked of you to begin learning and possibly producing for the trusting soul ambitious enough to accept you. Bear in mind that anyone seeking an apprenticeship is essentially being trained to become a future competitor, so do your best to learn as much as possible on your own. There are many trade magazines, such as the Keynotes, which is the official publication of ALOA, the Locksmith Ledger, and the National Locksmith periodicals.
Many choose to take a correspondence course, which was much more popular years ago, but seems less popular now. I took the Foley Belsaw locksmith course many years ago, and I think it is acceptable as an indication that you are serious about learning the correct terminology for hardware and to begin basic skills that you really should know before seeking out an apprenticeship. Additionally, you could begin working as apprentice for someone or some company while taking the course.
There really is only one entity that you could say represents a means of displaying one's knowledge as a locksmith in America, and that is ALOA. If you want to prove what you know you start by taking the exams for CRL. A Certified Registered Locksmith is certified by the Associated Locksmiths of America, or ALOA (the logo in the upper right hand corner of this site). In order to achieve this you must PASS the exams administered by ALOA for basic skills in many different areas related to the locksmith trade. Many choose not to pursue this. I did early on because I thought it best to show some level of proficiency in this trade, and that is the intent of the CRL credentials.
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The next level of proficiency is Certified Professional Locksmith, or CPL. These exams are actually many more exams than what you took for CRL, which you must pass first. After CPL is CML, or CERTIFIED MASTER LOCKSMITH. It is a pity that many, many organizations claim to be "Master Locksmiths" when in fact they have not taken a single exam to even prove they know as much as a CRL. It is quite difficult and would take quite a while to finally achieve this designation. There are many exams to take and pass, and I don't know anyone that did it in less than several years of constant work and study.
There is a similar proficiency program for safe techs with SAVTA, the Safe and Vault Technician's Association. The exams are administered along with ALOA and the primary certification is CPS, or Certified Professional Safetech.
My best advice for anyone wanting to learn this trade is to learn as much terminology as possible before seeking out an apprenticeship. One of the first questions I will ask a candidate is "Are you good at solving puzzles?" The reason I ask this is because you will regularly be faced with situations that you do not know what to do and it is incumbent upon you, as a "locksmith", to learn each puzzle and solve it. This means being ready to call for help only when you have exhausted all your own means of solving a problem. There is a fine line between not calling your trusting soul of a boss when you need help and you end up creating a mess, and knowing that you can solve a situation on your own and gain the pride of taking on your own responsibilities in the process. I have less respect for those who simply don't know when to ask for help. However, if you always need help, you aren't going to be productive on your own. Your goal should be to be qualified to take on any job that comes in to the company. It is not going to happen overnight. If you tell your trusting soul of a boss that you only know how to change a door knob and you can't fit a key to a cabinet lock, you should move on. If you tell your trusting soul of a boss that you don't do any automotive work but you want to learn to open safes, you should move on. So that may seem rather grey, but before I move on you need to be prepared to honor an agreement with your trusting soul of a boss not to compete in the same service area as him or her because I am tired of training competitors.
Trainees can start at around minimum wage with an in shop position.. With experience earnings can easily become $800 to $1000 a week if you are productive. An experienced locksmith that does not turn away any kind of work may earn much more than that. I can say that individuals that I have trained have tried to come back afterwards and I refuse to take them back. I do not have a revolving door. Honesty and Trust are paramount in this industry and I absolutely have no patience or understanding for someone who decides they can do better on their own only to find out how difficult it is out there.
Hours and conditions
I work at least 80 hours a week, and more recently, with all my marketing efforts included, as many as 120 or more hours a week. It is an obsession and those who are truly successful, that I have met, all had this in common. When we say 'evenings' this can (if your company offers a 24–hour emergency service) actually mean 'the middle of the night' if you are working the late–callout shift. I have had mixed results with this and usually end up doing all this myself because most of the newer staff can't be called out to do any job, so I end up doing it myself anyway.
Your work may be based in a shop: perhaps cutting keys and selling locks and other security devices, but most locksmiths also, or even exclusively, visit customers on site, for example to fit or replace a lock, or help someone who is locked out.
Bear in mind that though some of your work will be inside, you will also have to work outside in all sorts of weather. You cannot expect to only do certain types of work. This is a big mistake for anyone not the owner of the company and it is certainly going to cause problems with other members of the staff. You should not expect to come in to a cozy shop and pick and choose which jobs you run. Be prepared to learn as much as necessary to do it all, but not be so arrogant that nobody likes you, or you won' t have the limitless resource of those around you to help you when you can't solve the puzzle.
Skills and knowledge
A locksmith deals with materials other than locks and keys, therefore carpentry skills (in particular) will be useful. He might also find engineering and electrical skills beneficial.
He also needs some or all of the following:
- good practical skills
- good communication and customer–care skills
- a patient approach, with the ability to pay attention to detail
- carpentry and metalwork skills
- problem-solving skills
- an interest in electronic and mechanical equipment
- an attention to detail that everything works properly without question
Your best chance of getting started in the trade is to work for an existing firm. This could be for a locksmith company, but could equally be for a shop or security equipment manufacturer. You could also consider DIY and hardware stores, shoe repairers and even some large department stores who provide key–cutting services.
Most locksmith companies are quite small but there are some large national companies operating franchises, these mainly provide 24-hour mobile and emergency services.
You could, eventually, become self-employed. However, the sector is competitive and you would need to do careful market research to see if there is a need for a locksmith service in your area.
Further training and development
Working within a company, a trainee locksmith can expect to receive on-the-job training from your peers if you are not disrespectful and always willing to do what is expected of you.
As a trainee, and even once you're qualified, you should keep up to date with new products and developments. This is an ongoing process that most people are not aware of, yet locks must constantly change as the methods of bypass will always be close behind.
You can discuss your willingness to work as an apprentice by calling:
You will be given a short on phone application process and be expected to forward some key information to us regarding your work experience and what makes you feel qualified to begin a career as a locksmith. We welcome candidates at all levels of proficiency and pay accordingly.