What is an electrician?
An electrician is a skilled tradesperson specializing in the design, installation, maintenance, and repair of electrical systems. These systems, found in both residential and commercial environments, provide the power needed for light, heat, and other functions that keep homes, businesses, and factories operating efficiently. The contribution of these professionals is invaluable, as they uphold the electrical integrity of all spaces, ensuring minimal disruptions.
They play a critical role in constructing new buildings, using their expertise to draw up and execute plans for electrical systems. They also offer service to existing facilities looking to update or repair their electrical infrastructure. Without their vital work, our society would struggle to function, especially given our ever-increasing reliance on electrical power for almost every aspect of modern living.
Duties and responsibilities
At the heart of an electrician’s profession lies a variety of tasks, from design to hands-on labor. Initially, these professionals interpret architectural drawings and electrical diagrams to determine the best strategies for installing new electrical systems in buildings.
One significant duty is installing electrical systems and components. This task includes fitting circuit breakers, transformers, outlets, and other vital equipment. They also test electrical systems and equipment to ensure they operate correctly and safely after installation. This step involves diagnosing any issues and crafting viable solutions to address them.
The work environment for an electrician depends on the nature of the task at hand. They can work in residential homes, commercial buildings, industrial plants, and construction sites. When on-site, they frequently navigate tight spaces, climb ladders, and occasionally work in extreme weather conditions to complete their tasks.
The profession does carry some inherent risks due to the nature of the work, including the potential for electric shocks or falls from heights. However, these risks are mitigated by stringent safety training, the use of protective equipment, and adherence to safety regulations and standards.
Typical work hours
The typical work hours for electricians vary based on their clients’ needs and the nature of their projects. They typically work full-time in a standard work week, which means at least 40 hours. This schedule can involve early mornings, evenings, and even weekend work to meet deadlines, respond to emergencies, or accommodate clients’ schedules.
On-call work may be required, especially for professionals employed by companies that require around-the-clock maintenance. In construction and project-based roles, overtime may be common during peak periods to ensure timely completion of projects.
How to become an electrician
This career guide section outlines the steps to becoming an electrician. We will explore key steps such as earning a high school diploma, completing an apprenticeship, obtaining necessary licenses and certifications, and getting the required professional experience.
Step 1: Complete your high school education
The first step is to complete high school or earn a high school equivalency diploma. Prospective electricians should emphasize subjects like math, physics, and, if available, vocational-technical programs that provide experience and understanding of basic electrical concepts and practices.
Step 2: Attend a vocational school or trade school (optional)
Though not required, many opt to attend vocational or trade schools as this can provide a more comprehensive grounding in the trade. Look for schools that offer electrician programs with a blend of theory and hands-on training.
Step 3: Complete an electrical apprenticeship
Once you’ve completed secondary education, the typical next step is to enter an apprenticeship program, where you’ll receive both classroom instruction and on-the-job training under the supervision of a licensed electrician. Apprenticeships usually last 4-5 years and provide invaluable practical experience.
Step 4: Obtain your license
In many regions, these professionals must hold a special license to operate legally. Licensing requirements vary but often include passing a state or regional competency exam. This exam usually tests knowledge of the National Electrical Code, various electrical concepts, safety practices, local laws, and building codes.
Step 5: Continuous education and certification
Even after licensing, they must maintain their knowledge through continuing education courses. These courses update electricians on changes to the National Electric Code, state and local electrical codes, and safety practices. Obtaining specific certifications can help you specialize and increase competitiveness in the job market.
Step 6: Gain professional experience
After completing an apprenticeship, electricians usually start as journey workers, working independently on various electrical jobs. With enough experience, they may become master electricians, which often involves supervising other electricians. This step may require additional exams or licenses, depending on your location.
Step 7: Consider starting your own business
If you’re entrepreneurial, you may want to start your own electrical services firm. However, running your own business presents new challenges, including managing employees and handling administrative tasks. It also typically requires additional licenses and insurance, depending on your location.
How much do electricians make?
Compensation for electricians varies by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Factors unique to this job that impact compensation include certifications such as journeyman or master electrician, the presence of union membership, and the scope and scale of assigned electrical projects.
Highest paying industries
- Natural Gas Distribution – $96,920
- Land Subdivision – $89,720
- Specialized Design Services – $88,400
- Office Administrative Services – $87,480
- Scientific Research and Development Services – $85,600
Highest paying states
- New York – $77,810
- Hawaii – $77,530
- Alaska – $76,330
- Washington – $75,770
- New Jersey – $74,530
Types of electricians
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization to serve as a guide for understanding the options available within the profession.
Focusing primarily on homes and small residential buildings, these electricians handle installations, upgrades, and repairs of electrical components. They are adept at understanding housing codes and ensuring the safety and efficiency of residential electrical systems.
This specialization involves working in commercial establishments such as offices, restaurants, shopping centers, and other businesses. Electricians in this area are responsible for installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting electrical systems that are generally more complex than those found in residential settings.
Individuals in this role are trained to work in industrial environments like factories and manufacturing plants. Their duties often include installing, repairing, and maintaining industrial machinery and large electrical systems.
These professionals maintain existing equipment, systems, and structures. Scheduled check-ups, identifying potential issues, ensuring code compliance, and performing preventive measures are all part of a maintenance electrician’s core duties.
Construction experts design and install electrical systems in new buildings. Projects generally include creating plans for wiring and installing outlets, switches, circuit breakers, and other electrical infrastructure.
Individuals with this specialization focus on vehicle electrical systems. They diagnose, repair, and maintain all electrical components in cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles.
Aircraft electricians are highly specialized professionals who maintain and repair aircraft’s electrical systems. This involves working with navigation systems, radio communications, lighting systems, and other electrical components found in aircraft. Their expertise ensures the safety and functionality of vital aircraft systems, contributing significantly to aviation safety.
Specializing in maritime electrical systems, these electricians maintain and repair electrical equipment on ships and at shore facilities. They often deal with complex, large-scale systems and are required to work in challenging conditions.
Top skills for electricians
This career guide section outlines the skillset and traits necessary to thrive as an electrician.
Understanding of electrical systems
To perform their duties effectively, an understanding of electrical systems is necessary. They must have a solid grasp of how different components interact, allowing them to pinpoint and rectify issues safely and efficiently.
When electrical systems fail, these professionals should be able to determine the root cause effectively and efficiently. Troubleshooting requires an analytical mind and a systematic approach.
They often need to be physically fit to handle the job’s demands, which include carrying heavy equipment, climbing ladders, and working in confined spaces.
One of the most crucial skills is a strong consciousness and respect for safety regulations, as the job carries a significant risk. These professionals must ensure their safety and that of others around them by strictly adhering to safety procedures and standards.
Communication plays an essential role in this profession. Electricians need to communicate effectively with clients and team members, explaining complex problems understandably to ensure work is completed to the client’s satisfaction.
Being in this role requires a high level of manual dexterity, as the job involves working with small components and intricate wiring systems. Comfort using hand and power tools is also a necessity.
Electrician career path options
As an electrician, your career growth relies on gaining experience, continuing education, and, in some cases, certification. While the early years of your career are generally spent in learning and journeyman roles, mastery of your skills can lead to senior positions and greater responsibilities.
With experience and proven competency, you may move to a supervisor position. This role entails managing teams of electricians, scheduling jobs, overseeing quality standards, and confirming that work meets safety regulations. Supervisors also liaise with project managers and clients and play a significant role in pre-job planning and budgeting.
Some electricians, after gaining significant experience, branch out into inspection roles. Inspectors examine and approve electrical work, ensuring it meets county, state, and national building and electrical code requirements. Most electrical inspectors have years of experience and comprehensive knowledge of codes and standards.
Becoming a master electrician is a common goal. This status requires several years of work experience and passing an exam covering electrical theory and building codes. As a master electrician, you can plan, design, install, and maintain an electrical system for any project, including large and complex installations.
Another path for experienced professionals is to become an electrical contractor – an entrepreneurial role where one starts their own business, providing electrical services to clients. This could range from residential services to contracts with large companies. As your own boss, workspace freedom and income potential largely increase. However, getting started requires excellent business skills and a sizable financial investment.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for electricians
Over the past few years, there has been an increased reliance on automation and smart home technology, requiring skilled electricians to stay updated with the latest trends. Due to this high demand for expertise in complex electrical systems, professionals in this field are expected to continually educate themselves, including traditional schooling and on-the-job training.
The push for renewable energy has opened new job prospects for those with specialized training in solar panel and wind turbine installations. These professionals’ importance extends to residential and large-scale industrial applications, where the setup and maintenance of renewable energy systems are crucial. Additionally, the industry’s green agenda includes fitting traditional properties with energy-efficient systems, providing plentiful career opportunities.
In the era of digitalization, electricians with knowledge of data, voice, and video wiring are in demand. The surge in telecommunication and the need for high-speed data transfer has placed a high value on these skilled professionals. Success in this space requires understanding current industry trends and adapting to ever-evolving innovations.
According to the recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, jobs for electricians are expected to grow 7 percent through 2031. The increasing demand from the growing number of electronic devices requiring installation and maintenance largely drives this demand. An ongoing push for energy efficiency and renewable energy is expected to result in new job opportunities for these professionals.
Electrician career tips
Understand the industry
You must invest time to understand the electrical industry in depth. Expand your knowledge past your core training and stay updated on the latest trends, technologies, and techniques. Regularly reading trade magazines, attending webinars, and following industry experts on social media platforms can make you well-versed in the industry landscape. This knowledge will improve your work and open doors for career advancement opportunities.
Gain diverse experience
Exposure to a diverse set of project types, systems, and environments is valuable in the electrical field. The more varied your experience, the more adaptable and versatile you become. Try to work on new construction, remodeling, residential, commercial, and industrial projects whenever possible. The broader your experience, the better equipped you will be to take on different jobs and positions in your future career.
Always uphold the highest standards of safety. Regularly review and update your knowledge of safety regulations, best practices, and tools. Participate in safety training and obtain certifications (such as OSHA 10 or OSHA 30) to ensure you are equipped to handle various risks. Always adhere to safety precautions and use appropriate protective equipment during work.
Build a professional network
Networking is key to growth and advancement in any career. Joining professional associations and attending networking events can provide opportunities for learning, mentorship, and job prospects. Key associations to consider include:
- The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)
- The Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC)
- The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
- The American Lighting Association (ALA)
Focus on continuous learning
You must learn and develop new skills to stay updated with the changing trends in the industry. In addition to on-the-job training, consider:
- Short courses on topics like advanced electrical theory, specialized wiring techniques, renewable energy systems, or building automation
- Safety and certification courses such as the OSHA Outreach Training Program or the NFPA 70E Electrical Safety Course
- Tech training courses in building management systems, home automation, or electric vehicle charging technology
Where the electrician jobs are
- Mr. Electric
- Michael & Son
- Electricians of America
- New York
Top job sites
What skills are required to become an electrician?
An electrician should have sharp critical thinking skills, be detail-oriented, have good manual dexterity, and have excellent color vision since wiring is often color-coded. Additionally, being physically ready due to the labor-intensive nature of the job is very important. Communication skills also play a vital role since they often have to explain complex processes in understandable terms to homeowners and other clients.
What education is necessary to become an electrician?
Typically, becoming an electrician requires a high school diploma or a GED at a minimum. Many gain training through apprenticeship programs combining practical experience with class-based learning. These programs usually last four years and are often sponsored by joint training centers representing both electrician unions and contractor organizations.
Is there a licensing requirement for electricians?
Yes, licensing requirements are imperative. In most states and municipalities, electricians are required to hold a license gained after completing an apprenticeship or training program and passing an examination. The specifics of licensing requirements may vary by state, so it’s always recommended to check with the local state licensing board for precise information.
Are electricians usually unionized or non-unionized?
In general, electricians can be union or non-unionized – it’s up to the individual to choose. Joining a union can offer benefits, including access to paid apprenticeships, consistent wage scales, and job protection. However, non-unionized professionals often have more flexibility with job selections and can negotiate pay independently.
What is the work environment of an electrician like?
Electricians work in a variety of environments, both indoors and outdoors. They may work in residential homes, commercial businesses, industrial sites, or construction sites. Their work can sometimes involve standing, bending, or kneeling for long periods, and they must adhere to strict safety procedures to avoid injuries from electrical shock, falls, or cuts. Some may have to work in extreme weather conditions or confined spaces.
What tasks does an electrician typically perform in a day?
Electricians may spend their day performing a range of tasks that include installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems and equipment, inspecting and testing electrical equipment, reading blueprints, diagnosing problems with electrical systems, and ensuring safety standards and building regulations are met. Tasks may vary depending on the specific role and the nature of the job – for example, residential vs commercial.
Why do electricians need good color vision?
Color vision is essential for electricians because electrical wires are usually color-coded. They should decipher these colors accurately and consistently to make the correct connections and maintain safety. Incorrect wiring due to the inability to distinguish between wire colors could result in malfunctioning equipment or a dangerous fire hazard.
Are there any significant health risks associated with being an electrician?
Like any other profession, electricians face workplace-related hazards. If safety protocols are ignored or mistreated, electricity can be dangerous, leading to electric shocks, severe burns, or death. Additionally, they may risk injuries from falls, cuts or scrapes, and exposure to harmful materials like asbestos or lead. However, adherence to safety practices can minimize these risks significantly.
Can electricians specialize in certain types of work?
Yes, electricians often specialize in different areas of work. For instance, some focus on residential work, offering services directly to homeowners. That might include everything from installing light fixtures to rewiring an entire house. Others may specialize in commercial work, dealing with electrical systems in businesses, factories, or government buildings. There’s also the role of outside linemen who manage the power lines that connect facilities to the electricity grid.