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Electrician Careers, Jobs, and Training Information

Electrician Career and Job Highlights

  • There are projected to be excellent prospects for those entering the profession
  • The majority of workers gain their expertise through an apprenticeship that can take from three to five years.
  • Roughly 75% of electricians are employed in the construction industry; 25% work elsewhere.

Electrician Career Overview and Job Description

In the modern age electricity is a necessity for every type of building and to perform numerous functions like providing light, climate-control, security systems, heat, and many other functions. The work of electricians is to connect, assess, and repair systems that use electronics in both residences and commercial structures. The majority of electricians work in the construction industry or in maintaining and repairing.

Electricians put in electrical systems by first reading the specifications for hospitals, residences, schools, and other structures. The specifications or blueprints show where circuit boards, power outlets, and load centers need to be. There are numerous guidelines that electricians need to adhere to. These are set forth by local government, state governments, and the National Electric Code. In commercial buildings they begin by installing pipe or tubes inside walls and install circuit boxes. Next they complete the circuits by dragging the insulated wires through the conduit. For certain types of jobs electricians might use wire that is covered in plastic rather than conduit.

Whatever type of wire electricians use, they need to attach the wires to circuit breakers or transformers and connect the wires by using special connectors that are designed for the purpose. Finally they examine their work for any flaws like improper connections, incompatibility with other systems, and safety issues. They do this using tools like ohmmeters, oscilloscopes, or voltmeters.
Aside from installing a structure’s entire electrical system, workers might also be involved in the installation of low voltage systems, which consists of video, information, and audio systems like telephones, internet connections, intercoms, and alarm systems. They might also put in fiber optic cable or coaxial cable which are used with computers and operating controls for machinery.

Electricians are also involved in the repair and upkeep of electrical systems. This work can be very different based on the type of facility the electrician works at. Some workers focus on performing maintenance for homes, where they might update an older house’s electrical system or replace circuit breakers when new appliances are installed. Workers who are employed at large industrial facilities might repair machinery, transformers, electrical generators, or the operational controls on equipment or robots. Workers who are involved in offices or smaller industrial facilities might be called upon to perform all of these tasks.

The work electricians perform also depends on the type of electrician they are. Maintenance electricians do a lot of work that prevents problems from happening. They make regular assessments of equipment and electrical systems, identify potential problems, and then take steps to correct them. Workers might also work in a consulting capacity and make recommendations concerning the type of system a company might want to install and whether they should update their systems to increase safety or efficiency. Then, when problems do occur, they are called in to efficiently and effectively get the system up and running again. This work might involve replacing wires, fuses, circuit breakers, or connections. Electricians sometimes have to work with extremely intricate systems or equipment, and so they often have to collaborate with other specialists like engineers or people who work with other machinery.

Being an electrician can be physically demanding. They have to manipulate heavy conduit, be on their feet for a lot of the day, and they have to work in difficult places like on ladders or in small spaces. They could work in a variety of conditions, from outside, where they’re exposed to the elements, or in cramped places. Their work is potentially hazardous as well, as they are exposed to electrical shocks, falling from scaffolding, or cutting themselves with sharp tools. They have to adhere to strict safety guidelines and be alert. Also, some electricians have to be willing to relocate when construction sites are in remote locations.

The majority of electricians work normal hours, though they may be called upon to work overtime to complete a project. Maintenance jobs often have to be performed during evenings or weekends when commercial facilities are closed. Many electricians also have to be on-call in case problems arise. Some corporations that are open around the clock have three different shifts of electricians so there is always someone present.

Electrician Career Training and Job Qualifications

The majority of workers enter the profession through an apprenticeship program. These programs provide comprehensive training of many different electrical tasks so apprentices are more likely to be hired. Most apprenticeships last from three to five years. However, not everyone completes an apprenticeship. Some workers learn by observing and being taught by more experienced electricians. Other workers complete three year programs that train them to be residential electricians.

Apprenticeships are usually administered by committees that consist of members of regional chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or the National Electrical Contractors Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors, or the Independent Electrical Contractors Association; or managerial associations of electrical contracting firms. Apprentices gain training to be both construction and maintenance workers.

Generally apprenticeships involve both coursework and practical experience. Programs usually require a minimum of 144 hours of coursework, where trainees learn how to read blueprints, theory, math, building code guidelines, electronics, and safety procedures. They might also get training in associated areas like welding, telecommunications, security systems, or lifts. Apprenticeship programs also entail 2,000 hours of on the job experience, where apprentices work as assistants to experienced workers and then progress to performing jobs themselves. To start with they perform tasks like drilling, placing conduit, and setting supports. With experience they are given more responsibility until they can measure, assemble, and put in conduit; install, assess, and join wire; and check electrical outlets and switches.

Upon completing an apprenticeship many trainees become journeymen. Journeymen get more experience and begin to learn more specialized areas like low voltage installation, telecommunications, and audio-visual systems. A lot of contractors and owners prefer to work with only one electrician who can perform all of the tasks they need.

Workers who don’t complete an apprenticeship usually begin as assistants to experienced workers. They learn many of the same things as apprentices but may not receive training in as many areas. Many trainees are simultaneously enrolled in vocational or correspondence schools.

However a worker enters the occupation, previous experience or associated training is always beneficial. This can be gained through high school classes in electrical engineering, shop, math, mechanical drawing, or physics. Skills can also be gained through service with the armed forces or by technical or vocational schools. Every potential electrician needs to physically fit, healthy, coordinated, have good hand-eye coordination, and be able to distinguish colored wires.

Applicants for apprenticeship programs need to be eighteen or older, be a high school graduate or have an equivalent degree, and earn a passing grade on a skills assessment. Individuals who want to specialize in maintenance should have some experience in electronics and computers as more equipment uses computers.

The majority of electricians need to be certified to work in their area. Certification requirements differ according to local guidelines, but almost all applicants need to take a test that assesses how well they know the National Electrical Code, local building codes, and theory. Workers are usually encouraged to take continuing education courses provided by their employer or local union to keep current about amendments or additions to the National Electrical Code, new materials, or new procedures.

With experience and expertise electricians can be eligible for advancement to positions of greater responsibility. They might become supervisors, managers, or superintendents. Some may even start their business as a contractor. Others might become building inspectors who specialize in electrical systems.

Electrician Job and Employment Opportunities

Prospects for electricians are projected to be excellent. Many people will be able to enter the profession as others retire or move to other careers. Also, there will be less competition as many people prefer occupations that are less physically demanding and more comfortable.

Job growth is expected to be higher than the average in coming years. Most of this growth will be due to the increasing population and growing economy which lead to more construction and remodeling that involves the work of electricians. In addition, innovations in technology will create higher demand for electricians as buildings need to have electrical systems for computers, and industrial facilities are using more automated and robotic equipment. Existing buildings need to be remodeled to incorporate electronic systems for computers as well.

Many new jobs will be created in coming years, but new electricians will also be needed to fill the voids left by electricians who leave the industry. Turnover for electricians is lower than in other construction occupations as it requires a large investment of training and income is higher. However, a generation of electricians is reaching retirement age and so there will be more openings.

The construction industry is notoriously susceptible to fluctuations in the economy. The fact that most jobs are project-based and that the amount of construction is dependent on the economy means that during economic downturns employment might be unstable. There might also be fewer openings in apprenticeship programs during those times.

The work of maintenance electricians is more stable than construction electricians since maintenance work must continue even when there is little new construction. However, maintenance electricians who are employed in manufacturing industries like automotives can also be affected by recessions. Their employment may also be limited as more companies find ways to cut costs by using contracted electricians rather than by employing in-house electricians. This trend will increase opportunities, however, for electricians who work in contracting companies.

The number of job openings can also differ based on geography. Job prospects depend on where people and companies are, and regional economics affect the work of electricians as much as national economics. The amount of job opportunities can differ widely based on area.

Historical Earnings Information

Electricians are usually paid hourly. The majority of electricians made between $15.00/h and $26.50/h in 2002 with a median of $19.90/h. The lowest tenth on the pay scale made under $11.80/h and the highest tenth made over $33.20/h.

Income varied based on the nature of the employer. Electricians who were employed in manufacture of automotive parts had a median income of $28.70/h. Those employed by local governments, building equipment contractors, or commercial building construction made roughly $20.00/h. Those who worked for employment services made around $15.50/h.