Locksmithing is a traditional trade, and in most countries requires completion of an apprenticeship. The level of formal education required varies from country to country, from a simple training certificate awarded by an employer, to a full diploma from an engineering college. Locksmiths may be commercial (working out of a storefront), mobile (working out of a vehicle), institutional, or investigational (forensic locksmiths). They may specialize in one aspect of the skill, such as an automotive lock specialist, a master key system specialist or a safe technician. Many also act as security consultants, but not all security consultants have the skills and knowledge of a locksmith.
Historically, locksmiths constructed or repaired an entire lock, including its constituent parts. The rise of cheap mass production has made this less common; the vast majority of locks are repaired through like-for-like replacements, high-security safes and strongboxes being the most common exception. Many locksmiths also work on any existing door hardware, including door closers, hinges, electric strikes, and frame repairs, or service electronic locks by making keys for transponder-equipped vehicles and implementing access control systems.
Although the fitting and replacement of keys remains an important part of locksmithing, modern locksmiths are primarily involved in the installation of high quality lock-sets and the design, implementation, and management of keying and key control systems. A locksmith is frequently required to determine the level of risk to an individual or institution and then recommend and implement appropriate combinations of equipment and policies to create a “security layer” that exceeds the reasonable gain of an intruder.
In the United States, the locksmith industry exhibited steady growth in the years following 2010. In 2012, total revenue was over $1.6 billion with more than 3,600 locksmiths in operation.