Electricians play a critical role in building development and maintenance. They install and maintain electrical power systems, communication tools, and wiring in residences and businesses. While electrician is generally regarded as an admirable occupation, you have to weigh the pay and benefits against the dangerous attributes of the work.
Electricians are needed everywhere, and the job outlook for them is expected to better than average in the coming years, but that’s not the only reason becoming an electrician could be a good career choice.
- What is an Electrician?
- What Electricians Do
- Is Being an Electrician a Good Career?
- What is the workplace of an Electrician like?
- Within the Electrical Trade, There are Several Job Classifications
- Residential Electrician Job Description
- Commercial Electrician Job Description
- Industrial Electrician Job Description
- Low Voltage Electrician Job Description
- Job Settings and Duties Associated with Public Works Employers
- Benefits of Being an Electrician
- Are You Physically Healthy?
- Are You Willing To Do Physical Labor?
- Do You Have Good Vision?
- Do You Want Job Security and Career Growth?
- Do You Want Some Variety In Your Work?
- Should I Become An Electrician?
What is an Electrician?
Electricians are either inside wiremen or outside linemen. These are the main concentrations of a practising electrical professional, but there are various areas of specialization within each category. Duties also vary widely with each type of position or specialization.
Electricians are tradesmen whose responsibilities are to design, install, maintain and troubleshoot electrical wiring systems.
Electricians who fall into the inside wiremen category focus almost solely on the wiring of buildings. Structures range from a newly built home to an aged industrial building that’s being repurposed for a new use. Inside wiremen, as their name implies, spend most of their careers working indoors. Working with blueprints, they install new electrical systems in new buildings and troubleshoot problems or replace older systems.
Outside linemen, by contrast, work most of their careers outdoors. They must exhibit a moderate amount of physical fitness due to the requirement of climbing telephone and power poles when a lift bucket is not available. Outside linemen must also endure inclement weather in order to repair power outages for all the homes, businesses and other structures in the area affected by the outage. These electricians work with transformers, transmission lines and traffic signals. They may also be required to trim trees or assemble electrical substations.
These main categories are subdivided into several areas. Service electricians, for instance, specialize in troubleshooting wiring problems and making repairs. Construction electricians, in contrast, focus on laying wiring for new buildings and rarely perform maintenance. Electricians also specialize in marine, air, research, and hospital-specific applications.
Electricians know the ins and outs of designing lighting systems, installing street lights and intercom systems, ensuring electrical work is up to code and repairing electrical wiring. Electricians must go through at least four years of training as an apprentice, followed by the licensing their state requires. Most in the profession specialize in either designing, installing, maintaining and repairing the motors, equipment and electrical systems of businesses and factories or installing, maintaining and repairing the electrical systems of residences.
What Electricians Do
Could you imagine living in the dark and not being able to have any modern conveniences our appliances supply for us? People’s lives and jobs are made easier and more comfortable thanks to electric appliances, lights, and other equipment. That’s why electricians are needed on construction sites to install electrical wiring in new homes and businesses. Electricians also maintain and repair electrical systems in older structures.
- Interpreting blueprints of electrical systems to determine the location of outlets, circuits, and other equipment.
- Visiting construction sites to install the control, wiring, and lighting systems on new buildings.
- Making service calls to inspect circuit breakers, transformers, and electrical components.
- Using testing devices to troubleshoot problems in electrical equipment.
- Working with power and hand tools to replace or repair faulty electrical wiring or parts.
- Adhering to the National Electrical Code and local and state building rules.
- Training and managing the work of other employees.
Like many of the skilled trades, an individual does not have to attend a 4-year college or university to become an electrician. However, there are certain requirements to enter the industry which may require some training at a trade school.
- High School Diploma: A GED is also acceptable.
- Electrician Training: Often offered at trade schools.
- Electrician Skills: These include technical, soft, and on-the-job skills.
- Licenses and Certifications: Requirements vary by state.
Is Being an Electrician a Good Career?
Typical pay for electricians is significantly higher than standard pay for all occupations. The median pay for electricians was $49,840 per year as of May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as compared to $34,750 for all jobs. In smaller communities or less-thriving locations, the pay is more moderate. The BLS indicated that the top 25 per cent of electricians earned $82,930 or more. Geography plays a part in pay, as electricians in Alaska, New York and Illinois earned more than $70,000 per year.
Flexibility and Variability
You do have some career flexibility as an electrician, although it isn’t necessarily greater than that of other career paths. You can work for firms that specialize in residential or commercial installations and repairs or for general providers. The BLS also noted that 9 per cent of all electricians were self-employed as of 2012. Electrical work is relatively stable because homes and buildings always need electricity. The BLS indicated a 20 per cent projected growth rate in electrician jobs from 2012 to 2022, which compares favourably to the 11 per cent projected growth for all occupations.
Electricians have a relatively dangerous career. The BLS indicated that, as of 2012, electricians have a higher rate of injuries and accidents on the job than the rate for other occupations on average. Electrical shocks are among the most common and potentially severe risks. Electricians also fall off ladders or other high points when installing or fixing wires. Protective clothing, hard hats and eyewear are usually required on jobs, which can become cumbersome as well.
Unlike many professional occupations, electricians typically don’t need a traditional college education. However, as with other trade careers, you need to go through intensive training to become an electrician. You must typically dedicate yourself to train as an apprentice for four or five years, logging 144 technical training hours and 2,000 hands-on paid training hours. Thus, your training process usually takes at least as long as earning a bachelor’s degree. You also normally have to pass a state licensing exam to become licensed for electrical work. The training and testing process has a heavy concentration on safety factors and familiarity with electrical codes.
What is the workplace of an Electrician like?
Depending on their area of specialty, electricians work either indoors or outdoors year-round. In either case, their work is often labour intensive and requires manual physical manipulation of electrical wiring, cabling conduit and, in some cases, even telephone wire. A growing number of electricians gain competency in several types of electrical work, allowing them to work both indoors and outdoors.
In many cases, travel is an essential part of the day. Electricians may travel to upwards of 100 miles to a job site and may only work that job for a few days before travelling to another location. These electricians generally fall into the independent contractor category or work under an electrical contractor. Their hours of work vary from week to week.
Maintenance electricians, by contrast, work a standard 40-hour week. In some instances, these electricians may work on an on-call basis, commit to overtime hours or work night shifts. Their work is steady and regular and consists mostly of routine maintenance and troubleshooting.
Within the Electrical Trade, There are Several Job Classifications
There are up to four main classifications of electricians. Each has its education and experience requirements for licensing as shown here with common time commitments:
- Residential electrician – About three years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training
- Low voltage electrician – About three years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training (this classification is sometimes combined with residential electrician into one category)
- Commercial electrician – About five years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training
- Industrial electrician – About five years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training
While these are the general industry-wide categories of electricians, certain states may have additional classifications. For example, Nevada has a separate licensing process for sign electricians. Ohio has a category for maintenance electricians, and Oregon has a limited residential electrician classification.
All electricians share certain key functions in common. Your specific duties will depend on your level of education and training, as well as which area of specialty you choose to go into:
Residential Electrician Job Description
The name correctly hints at where these electricians work: in residential dwellings. This includes everything from single-family homes and apartment buildings to large scale housing complexes. Residential electricians work everywhere in a home from the basement to the attic.
Job duties can include:
- Diagnosing and repairing electrical issues
- Installation of electrical systems, such as ceiling fans, lighting, GFCIs/GFIs (ground fault circuit interrupters), electric vehicle charging stations, and entertainment systems
- Upgrading a home to be more energy efficient
- New wiring and circuits
Commercial Electrician Job Description
Commercial electricians install wiring, circuitry, fuses, and electrical machinery at commercial locations. They also maintain, diagnose, and repair existing electrical systems.
Work locations can include a wide variety of settings, such as:
- Commercial and industrial building sites or renovations
- Sites that are being remodelled and repaired
- Office buildings
- Retail businesses
- Schools and government offices
Industrial Electrician Job Description
Industrial electricians work at sites that require a significant amount of electricity, especially high voltage, as well as those that use specialized power sources and electronic machinery.
Worksites can include:
- Government agencies – municipal, state, and federal
- Utility companies
- Manufacturing facilities
- Shipyards and power stations
- Food processing plants
Low Voltage Electrician Job Description
This is the newest classification of electricians. For the most part, low voltage means three things: voice, data, and video (VDV) systems that typically require less than 10 volts.
While electricians have dealt with phone line installations for decades, recent advancements in technology have led to the emergence of this category of electricians in its own right.
This is made possible because of relatively new technological developments in:
- Fibre optic networks
- Local area networks (LANs) and virtual local area networks (VLANs)
- The internet
- Closed-circuit TV (CCTV)
- CATV or cable television
- Storage area networks (SANs)
Like electricians in general, low voltage electricians are highly trained, skilled, and regulated professionals. They are not to be confused with VDV installers, who are typically trained by their employer and have the minimum amount of knowledge necessary to install a specific VDV system.
Low voltage electricians can work in any environment where voice, data, and video systems are installed, whether residential, commercial or industrial.
Job Settings and Duties Associated with Public Works Employers
As an electrician, it’s most likely you’ll move from project to project working in different environments with each new job. That means an impressive variety of work locations that can include:
- Land and sea
- Crawl spaces
- Outside in weather of all extremes – hot, freezing, dust, and rain
- Underground vaults
- Sterile “clean rooms”.
- Confined spaces
- Construction sites
The following examples of electrician job duties are taken from a survey of job openings from July of 2016. These job listings are shown as illustrative examples only and do not represent job offers or assurance of employment.
Benefits of Being an Electrician
There several reasons for becoming an electrician could be a good career choice.
- Job Growth: The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 14 per cent job growth for electricians through 2024. This is twice the national average of 7 per cent.
- Career Advancement: As an electrician gains more experience and training, he or she can advance from the position of Journeyman to Master. Master electricians typically can perform higher-level tasks which can translate into higher rates of pay. For example, they can order permits while Journeymen cannot.
- Self-Employment: Working for oneself is an option as an electrician. One in 10 electricians were self-employed in 2014. These professionals can often set their schedules.
- Union Membership: Many electricians are members of a union. 4 Union members often have access to more benefits than their nonunion counterparts, such as healthcare. They may also enjoy greater job security.
- Variety: Unlike office workers who typically sit at the same desk every day, electricians have active jobs that send them to different worksites to take on new projects rather than a routine environment.
Are You Physically Healthy?
There is a lot of intellectual effort required to be an electrician, but there is also a significant physical aspect of the job. You’ll be using shovels to dig trenches, using saws and conduit benders to install conduit, and you’ll be climbing stairs/ladders/scaffolding / etc. many times during the day. You’ll be shimmying your way into small spaces and figuring out a way to get into hard-to-reach corners. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder or an Olympian, but you do need to fit in order to be effective physically.
We mentioned this on the homepage, but it’s worth repeating, especially if you’re worried you’re not fit enough to be an electrician: there are plenty of guys in their late 40s and 50s and even 60s who you wouldn’t call “in shape,” but they get the job done. If you have a full range of motion and can move around on your feet all day, you’ll be good to go.
Are You Willing To Do Physical Labor?
If you’re looking for a straight-up desk job, this isn’t it! You’ll be up and down and all over the place for much of the day.
But for most of us, that’s one of the best aspects of the job! Moving around, using your muscles, staying fit—it’s one of the best parts of the work, and when you’re at home at the end of the day, you feel like you’ve done something.
Do You Have Good Vision?
If you wear glasses, and you can see, you’ll be fine. The only way that you’d run into problems is if you’re colourblind.
Colourblindness is the inability to distinguish certain colours—usually red and green—from one another, and it affects up to 8% of the male population. Because wires are often colour-coded, colour blindness can lead to wiring mistakes, and wiring mistakes can lead anything from property damage to electrocution and/or death. If you are colourblind, “electrician” may not be the career choice for you.
Do You Want Job Security and Career Growth?
In an era when many jobs are disappearing, the job outlook for electricians is pretty bright. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the projected per cent change in employment from 2012 to 2022 will be a 20% increase for electricians—and only an 11% increase for all occupations. If you’re a gambler, a career as an electrician is a pretty solid bet.
Another way of asking this is, do you want to change jobs five years from now? Some people like having a bunch of different careers. They like the unscripted life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. More and more Americans are forced to dramatically change their career trajectory at least once during their professional career.
Do You Want Some Variety In Your Work?
Some people like the daily grind and having the same routine every day. They like knowing “At 9 am, I’ll be at my desk, at 12 pm I’ll be in the breakroom, and at 1 pm I’ll be back at my desk.” Electricians get to experience a lot of “newness” on their jobs—working in new locations, with new people, and new tasks. And that’s a good thing, as scientific studies have shown the new experiences can lead to increased life satisfaction, and that can mean increased professional satisfaction, as well.
Should I Become An Electrician?
Maybe we’re biased, but we know plenty of well-paid, professionally-satisfied electricians out there! If you’d like to join their ranks, take a stroll around our site, and find out what you need to do in order to become an electrician!
Electricians enjoy excellent job prospects. There are also many advantages to this career. In addition to these benefits, electricians can take satisfaction in playing an important role in their communities. Without their wiring work, the world might not be as comfortable of a place.