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.
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.
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Electrician Jobs & Responsibilities
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.
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.
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 of those specializations.
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 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.
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 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.
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
Your salary as an electrician will vary based on a number of factors, including location, years of experience, and the skills you possess. One thing to note, an apprentice will earn less than their fully trained counterparts. Over the course of their apprenticeship, their pay will increase.
National Salary Data
- Median Annual Salary: $56,180 ($27.01 per hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $96,580 ($46.43 per hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $33,410 ($16.06 per hour)
Electrician Median Annual Salary (2010-2019)
State Salary Data
- Highest Median Annual Salary: District of Columbia, Illinois, Alaska, Oregon, & Hawaii
- Lowest Median Annual Salary: Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Dakota, & South Carolina
Electrician Salary by State
Training, Certification, and Licenses
A high school diploma or equivalent is required to become an electrician. In the United States electrician licenses are issued at the state level, with all states recognizing the three types of certifications. It’s important to know that licensing requirements may vary state-by-state.
Most states require electricians to pass a test and be licensed. Requirements vary by state. For more information, contact your local or state electrical licensing board. Many of the requirements can be found on the National Electrical Contractors Association’s website. The tests have questions related to the National Electrical Code and state and local electrical codes, all of which set standards for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment.
Electricians may be required to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their licenses. These courses are usually related to safety practices, changes to the electrical code, and training from manufacturers in specific products.
Electricians may obtain additional certifications, which demonstrate competency in areas such as solar photovoltaic, electrical generating, or lighting systems.
Electricians may be required to have a driver’s license.
Types of Electricians by Certification Levels
Certification status of an electrician can fall into one of three levels: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master Electrician.
The beginning of an electrician’s career is entering and completing an apprenticeship program.
In most states an individual is going to need a high school diploma or its equivalent to apply to one of these programs. The program usually includes training from the classroom, which then transitions to joining some sort of commercial electrician operation to apply the classroom knowledge in an observed environment.
The time in a classroom can take several years, then the electrician can apply to continue their apprenticeship under a licensed electrician.
The next step in an electrician’s career is the Journeyman Electrician. Once the apprenticeship program is completed, one can take a test to become a journeyman electrician. This test is to gain your license to operate as an electrician and is administered by a local, state, or federal licensing group.
The license/certification allows for the electrician to continue working without the supervision of other licensed electricians and opens the opportunity to train new apprentices in the future as well.
Master Electrician is the highest level in terms of electrician certification. This certification’s requirements may vary from state to state.
The general standard amongst states is an electrician accrues around 4,000 hours as a Journeyman and also has passed a licensing exams that shows a depth of knowledge in the National Electrical Code.
Master electricians usually work the most complicated and complex commercial and industrial projects due to their proven memory bank of knowledge. They are able to train Journeymen electricians as well.
Projections show an expected growth of employment of electricians by 8% from 2019 to 2029. This is much faster than the average employment growth of all occupations. This is expected due to increasing construction spending and a rising demand for alternative energy sources.
Emerging fields, like alternative power generation (i.e. solar and wind energy), will push a demand for electricians for installation, maintenance, and repair as well. Additionally, electricians will be required to connect these power sources into home and business power grids over the next decade. While there is expected growth from these emerging fields, the extent will largely be determined by accompanying government policy.
Electrician Job Growth (2010-2019)
Electrician Knowledge and Skills
Working as an electrician does require specific skills, traits, and abilities in order to conduct common actions while on the job.
- Manual dexterity: Manual dexterity as well as good hand-eye coordination are necessary due to the hands on nature of the work.
- Color vision: Electricians will often be working with color coded wires and equipment, so normal color vision is critical.
- Physical fitness and a good sense of balance: Electricians work in a manual labor field, often standing on their feet for large portions of the day and potentially operating at high elevations within buildings and structures.
- Troubleshooting and analytical skills: Electrical systems will have many potential points of failure so an electrician will need to decide how to address a wide variety of problems and then figure out the best solutions.
- Ability to work on a team: Many employers will have electricians work on crews, which may have limited supervision.
The work environment for an electrician can change on a day-to-day or job-to-job basis. Work can be indoors or outdoors, in homes, businesses, factories, or construction sites. Electricians must be able to travel both short and long distances depending on the job site.
While on the job, work sites can be very tight. This can include long periods of standing or kneeling during the day. Electricians may be exposed to and have to deal with dirt, dust, building debris, and/or fumes. Electricians should also be prepared to work with loud machinery.
Because electrical systems can be anywhere within a building or structure, electricians need to be prepared to work at great heights as well.
In terms of coworkers, electricians may work alone, or they may work with others. This could include other electricians as well as those managing the job site they are on.
Across most specializations almost all electricians will work full time. Their individual schedules may vary and include evening and weekends as well as off hours during significant weather events. Overtime should also be expected due to those variations in schedules.
How to Become an Electrician
As noted, a high school diploma or equivalent is required to become an electrician.
Many will choose to start by applying to a technical school. The classroom experience will cover topics like circuitry, safety, and general electrical concepts. Often this classroom experience credit will go towards the next step, an apprenticeship program.
Regardless of technical school or not, most electricians spend the next 4 to 5 years in an apprenticeship program. This may vary between programs, but generally an apprentice will accumulate 2,000 hours of paid training on the job as well as accompanied technical instruction.
If one takes a career path through the military or construction, that experience could shorten required apprenticeship time, judged on a case by case basis.
There are several groups and options for sponsored apprenticeships. This includes unions and contractor associations, with requirements varying between states and even locality. Some contractors may have their own internal training programs that are not necessarily apprenticeships, but can include technical and on the job training.
As noted, most states will require a passed test in order to be licensed as an electrician. These test and requirements vary state to state and those specifics can be found on the National Electrical Contractors Association’s website. http://www.necanet.org/