What does an electrician do?

An electrician designs, installs, and maintains electrical systems and controls used to power our homes and businesses.

Electrician career snapshot

Median pay

$60,040 ($28.87/hr)

Required degrees

None

10-year job growth

9% (Faster than average)

What is an electrician?

Electricians are generally responsible for installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting electrical systems. Some examples of the systems electricians work on include lighting, communication systems, control systems, power drives, and electrical machines and equipment. 

Electricians work on commercial projects, residential projects, or a mixture of the two. Electrical systems are used everywhere in the country and around the world, so there is no limitation to where an electrician can work.

What type of work you choose to do as an Electrician is ultimately up to you. This guide will help you understand what types of jobs and responsibilities are available, how much you can make, what education and training you need, and how to become an Electrician.

What does an electrician do?

Almost every building has an electrical power, communications, lighting, and control system that is installed during construction and then needs to be maintained after that. These systems power the lights, appliances, and equipment that make people’s lives and jobs easier and more comfortable. At the most basic level, electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in these homes, businesses, and factories. In addition to those duties, an electrician may also ensure that electrical work within any of those spaces are up to code when installed.

As evident with the long list of places an Electrician can work, their duties are diverse and depend on the employer and specialty, but some responsibilities are common to most:

  • Diagnose electrical problems using diagrams or blueprints
  • Install and repair electrical systems
  • Inspect, troubleshoot, and conduct tests
  • Pinpoint problems using a range of testing devices
  • Safely use various hand and power tools
  • Plan the layout and installation of electrical wiring, equipment, and fixtures
  • Comply with all safety standards and regulations of the National Electrical Code
  • Supervise and train others in the installation and repair of electrical components

Electricians' purpose is to get electrical power from its source to end-users, install it safely, and perform testing, maintenance, and repairs to keep it functioning properly. While performing their primary functions as an electrician, individuals may potentially find the need to administer first aid or CPR, provide professional advice to customers, order parts, demonstrate knowledge of renewable or green energy components and systems, work productively with coworkers and the public, and remove trees, branches, and brush that interfere with power lines and electrical utility rights of way.

Types of electrician Jobs

As noted, many electrician jobs can fall into the broad categories above, but electricians can also be described based on more acute specializations that require specific skills and certifications. Below is a list of some electrician career paths:

Industrial electrician

Industrial electricians will work in primarily industrial locations such as power plants, processing plants, factories, and mines.

These types of electricians work directly with systems large and complex. Due to the machinery involved, some will focus directly on security and/or lighting systems.

In these roles, an electrician often reports to on site maintenance or facility supervisors. Also an electrician is usually required to have multiple years of apprenticeship experience prior to entering this role.

Commercial electrician

Commercial electricians will work in primarily commercial buildings like offices and other workplaces.

A commercial electrician may also be utilized in the designing and planning of a new building for expertise in electrical systems. This would call upon knowledge in public safety and electrical codes, so additional challenges may be experienced per specific job.

This specific field is also where many electricians establish themselves as independent electrical contractors; starting their own businesses and hiring additional electricians to work for them.  

Residential electrician

A residential electrician is the most common type of electrician. Typical work may include working on anything from security systems to air conditioning units to other household appliances.

Residential electricians training will often combine apprenticeships with classroom setting instruction. This includes the supervision of either a Journeyman or Master electrician. Like other electricians, many states require a state issued test once the apprenticeship has concluded.

This is another area where electricians can establish themselves as independent or can find employment by independent contracting companies.

Maintenance electrician

Maintenance electricians are often found in the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. What differentiates them is that they are tasked with maintaining, repairing, and upgrading the existing electrical equipment.

Other maintenance responsibilities include testing, troubleshooting, and diagnosing problems with equipment.

To gain employment as a maintenance electrician, similar steps to other electricians are required. They need a formal apprenticeship, with on-the-job technical training, followed by an electrician license.

Other electricians

The electrician trades can expand into many different specific industries. Below are examples of other types of electrician trades:

  • Electrotechnical Panel Builder
  • Electrical Machine Repairer and Rewinder
  • Highway Systems Electrician
  • Aviation Electrician
  • Marine Electrician
  • Auto Electrician
  • Powerhouse and Substation Technician
  • Solar Technician
  • Wind Turbine Electrician

Linemen vs wiremen

Specializations can be broken down into multiple categories, but below are two broad categories that most electricians can be described as.

Linemen (outside electricians)

Electricians may also be called line electrical workers. These electricians work outdoors with utility transmission and distribution systems, installing them at high voltages. These individuals work to make sure the electricity from power plants move to substations. This work may enter anywhere from residential, commercial, to industrial facilities and they are equipped to handle high voltage lines.

Wiremen (inside electricians)

Wiremen will work primarily inside structures with lower voltage systems. They install, maintain, and repair the electrical systems across residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. This includes installation of anything from green energy panels to security systems.

Pros & cons of being an electrician

To help you decide if becoming an electrician is the right career path for you, let’s take a look at some of the main pros and cons:

Pros

  • No degree required
  • Can earn money while you’re being trained
  • Competitive salary & good job outlook
  • Many different kinds of work
  • Opportunity to take the self-employment path

Cons

  • Apprenticeships can take up to 5 years
  • May have to work longer hours and weekends
  • Some on-the-job dangers

>> Learn more: Electrician Work Environment

Electrician salary & job outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for electricians in 2021 was $60,040 per year, or $28.87 per hour. This is about 31% higher than the average salary for all occupations ($45,460) and about 25% higher than the average for construction trades workers ($48,860).

The job outlook for electricians is good. Employment of electricians is projected to grow about 9% from 2020 to 2030, and this equates to about 84,700 new electrician job openings per year. This is higher than the expected job growth for all occupations and construction trades workers, which are expected to grow 8% and 5%, respectively.

>> Learn more: Electrician Salary Guide & Electrician Job Outlook Guide

How to become an electrician

Here is a quick overview of how to become an electrician:

  1. Earn a high school diploma (or equivalent)
  2. Decide whether you want to attend trade school (optional)
  3. Apply for an apprenticeship through a union, trade school, or non-union organization
  4. Depending on your state, you may have to register as an electrician apprentice
  5. Complete your apprenticeship
  6. Get licensed/certified in the city/state you are working in

>> Learn more: How to Become an Electrician & Electrician Education & Training