An electrician is any skilled tradesperson who designs, installs, maintains, and repairs the electrical systems and products used in residential homes, businesses, and factories. Electricians work inside or outside buildings to ensure lights, industrial equipment, and appliances operate safely and reliably. There are many special types of electricians, including residential electricians, who install wiring and solve electrical problems in homes, and inside electricians, who maintain and repair control systems, motors, and electrical equipment in businesses and factories.
As an electrician, you're responsible for getting electricity from its source to the places where individuals and business consumers can use it. The specific responsibilities associated with this job may vary depending on the area of specialization, but they might include:
- Planning the electrical systems for new buildings, including the best position for electrical outlets, light fixtures, heating outlets, and ventilation systems
- Reading and interpreting architect blueprints, circuit diagrams, and other technical documents
- Installing wiring, lighting, and control systems in new and existing buildings, according to municipal codes
- Forming electrical circuits, by connecting electrical wires to components and fixtures and testing completed circuits
- Installing switches, circuit breaker panels, relays, and other electrical control and distribution equipment
- Installing hangers and brackets to support electrical products
- Performing maintenance procedures to keep wiring, lighting, and control systems in good working order
- Inspecting circuit breakers, transformers, and other electrical components for faults
- Using testing devices to discover why electrical products and systems are malfunctioning
- Repairing, replacing, and upgrading faulty or outdated electrical equipment, fixtures, and wiring, including isolating faults for safe removal and replacement
- Training other electricians and directing them to perform specific tasks
Electricians may spend their time working inside buildings under construction or renovation or outdoors on power and telecommunications systems. They may work in large spaces or in cramped conditions. These working environments often involve live electrical wires, so they can be quite dangerous if the proper precautions aren't taken. Often electricians work independently on projects, but they may also be part of a larger construction team.
Unlike many employees who have a regular place of work, electricians work on a remote site for a certain period of time, ranging from a single day to a few months, before moving on to the next job. Job sites can be far from electricians' homes. It's not uncommon for electricians to travel 100 miles or more from their home to complete work.
Electricians enjoy year-round job opportunities. Their hours vary depending on their role. Maintenance electricians usually have regular work which they complete in a typical 40-hour week. Most keep regular business hours on weekdays and don't usually work on weekends, public holidays, or late at night. Some electricians work on-call and put in extra hours to troubleshoot urgent problems.
In contrast, independent electrical contractors and the junior electricians who work underneath them don't have such regular hours. They may have a busy schedule one week and have few hours the next. Working as an independent electrical contractor or consultant gives electricians the most flexible schedules.
What Qualifications Are Required to Be an Electrician?
Working as anelectrician is one of the best jobs you can secure with only a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Rather than attending school to gain a degree, electricians get their education on-the-job. This is often obtained through an apprenticeship program lasting four or five years. Apprentices must be at least 18 years of age, with a high school diploma or equivalent, and one year of algebra behind them. They must also pass an aptitude test and substance abuse screening exam.
During an apprenticeship, trainee electricians must complete 144 hours per year of technical training, where they learn about blueprints, safety and first aid practices, electrical code requirements, mathematics, and electrical theory. In addition, apprentices participate in 2,000 hours of practical on-the-job experience each year.
Less commonly, electricians attend a technical school. Their courses cover basic electrical information, safety practices, and circuitry. Technical school graduates typically receive credit towards an apprenticeship program.
Most U.S. states require electricians to hold a license. The National Electrical Contractors Association website offers information about each state's licensure requirements.
Electricians often receive ongoing training throughout their careers. This helps them stay on top of changes to the electrical code, new safety practices, and how to handle specific products.
As electricians do not need a degree, their experience is more important than their education levels. That's why on-the-job experience is a major component of apprenticeship programs around the country. It also accounts for the relatively large salaries of experienced electricians compared to new hires.
Consequently, electricians with less than a year of experience make up just 2 percent of the workforce. Accounting for 31 percent of the workforce, most electricians have between 10 and 19 years of experience. Twenty-four percent of electricians have at least 20 years of experience, 22 percent have between one and four years of experience, and 21 percent have between five and nine years of experience.
This points to the value an electrician's experience brings to the role. Electricians passionate about their profession should find numerous opportunities throughout their careers.
Electricians rely on a variety of technical skills and personal attributes to excel in their positions. While these attributes aren't usually listed on an electrician job description, don't underestimate their appeal to hiring managers:
- Understanding of electrical standards – Electricians must meet recognized standards for all installations and repairs.
- Understanding of mathematical and scientific principles – While electricians don't need advanced mathematical and scientific skills, they will apply the basic principles of these disciplines to their work.
- Good comprehension skills – These will help electricians interpret and understand memos, blueprints, and technical documents they receive on new job sites.
- Keen eyesight and hand-eye coordination – Working with electrical products, components, and systems is precise work which relies on steady hands and excellent vision.
- Independent worker – While electricians may work as part of a larger construction team, this position tends to be a solitary role that suits people who prefer working on their own.
- Time management – It's essential for electricians to complete work to manage their time well and complete projects on schedule.
- Concern for safety – Electricians work in dangerous environments which place them at risk of shocks and burns, so it's important to be cautious.
- Critical thinking – After product and system testing, electricians use the data they collect to diagnose problems and determine the best solutions.
- Logical problem-solving skills – When electrical products and systems fail, electricians must think logically to find solutions to these problems.
- Customer service skills – Having a personable demeanor helps electricians deal with residential and business customers.
- Physical endurance – Electricians often have to stand or kneel for extended periods, which can take a toll on the body.
- Physical strength – It's not uncommon for electricians to move heavy components weighing as much as 50 pounds.
- Leadership Skills– As electricians progress in their careers, they will be called on to manage apprentices and junior electricians in the workplace.
How much do electricians make? This all depends on their level of experience and location. Entry-level electricians usually earn around $21.25 per hour. Salary increases sharply early in an electrician's career. By the time electricians have between 5 and 10 years' of experience behind them, they usually command around $49,000 a year. Average annual salaries sit at approximately $54,0-00. However, electricians in some of the nation's most lucrative markets stand to make much more. For example, the average annual salary for an electrician is $86,000 in Boston, Massachusetts; $80,000 in Chicago, Illinois; and $89,000 in Seattle, Washington
Job Outlook for Electricians
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs growth that's better than the national average for the period between 2014 and 2024. It states there'll be 85,900 new positions for electricians created during this period, representing a 14 percent increase in the job market. The Bureau suggests this increased demand will be fueled by an increased need for wiring in homes and commercial premises. Many employers already struggle to find qualified applicants, so electricians should have their pick of favorable opportunities.
Many electricians are content with their positions and do not seek career advancement. If they do, they typically take on very similar jobs working as certified electricians or journeyman electricians. These roles add between $2,000 and $3,000 to electricians' annual pay packets. Less commonly, electricians may become construction project managers, overseeing a group of electricians and other construction workers.
Strong job growth and the promise of a long, stable career make working as an electrician very attraction for high school graduates. If you're a logical thinker with an aptitude for math and science, becoming an electrician could be the right fit for you. Start searching for a great electrician role today.