Electrician Career

A career as an electrician presents attractive prospects on several fronts: it can be personally satisfying, financially rewarding, and it can offer the kind of stability that can only come from a skilled trade that’s never going out of style.

Job Satisfaction – As a skilled professional, each day you get to make a unique and important contribution to peoples’ homes and business to keep the wheels of industry turning. Any electrician will tell you that nothing feels better than to see a wiring diagram come to life to deliver the power supply needed for a particular application.

Earning Potential – The US Department of Labor issued a report in May 2015 showing the average electrician salary in the US to be $55,590. For those at the top of their filed (top 10 percent), the average salary is $88,130. Working as an independent contractor and bidding jobs of your own could mean earning a whole lot more than this.

Career Stability – The US Department of Labor reports that the job growth rate for electricians is, ‘much faster than the average for all occupations.’ The Department reported that between 2014 and 2024 the number of electrician jobs is projected to grow by 14 percent.

Once you complete the requisite education and training you’ll have what it takes to start your career as an electrician in any number of chosen specializations.

Apprentice, Journeyman, Master Electrician: How Your License Changes as You Progress in Your Career

Regardless of where you become licensed, you will follow the same basic sequence in the licensing process:

  • During your initial education and on-the-job training you are considered an apprentice.
  • Once you complete your apprenticeship program, your state’s regulatory agency will evaluate how well you’ve mastered the basic skills and knowledge (often through an exam) before allowing you to move on to become a licensed journeyman.
  • After gaining additional years of experience and passing another state or national exam you can reach the highest professional level: master electrician. Some states require additional steps to become a contractor.

To summarize:

  • Apprentice – You work under the supervision of an electrician for a number of years while you learn your trade, and earn a percentage of a journeyman’s salary.
  • Journeyman – Many states allow journeymen electricians to work independently on projects in their field of expertise, however you may be restricted from performing certain types of advanced tasks that are reserved for master electricians only. Journeymen may also be allowed to supervise a number of unlicensed employees in training.
  • Master – As a master electrician you typically have a number of privileges, which can include working as an installer of new electrical systems, certifying compliance with regulations, and providing all other services in the electrical trade

Certain state regulatory authorities may have their own unique system in place, though it will follow the same basic sequence. For example:

  • Some states may not have a category for journeyman.
  • Some states don’t offer a master electrician license, and instead only offer an independent contractor’s license.
  • Some states require you to become licensed/certified/permitted by county or city, instead of, or in addition to, passing a state or national exam.

Within the Electrical Trade There are Several Job Classifications

There are up to four main classifications of electricians. Each has its own education and experience requirements for licensing as shown here with common time commitments:

  • Residential electrician – About three years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training
  • Low voltage electrician – About three years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training (this classification is sometimes combined with residential electrician into one category)
  • Commercial electrician – About five years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training
  • Industrial electrician – About five years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training

While these are the general industry-wide categories of electricians, certain states may have additional classifications. For example, Nevada has a separate licensing process for sign electricians. Ohio has a category for maintenance electricians, and Oregon has a limited residential electrician classification.

All electricians share certain key functions in common. Your specific duties will depend on your level of education and training, as well as which area of specialty you choose to go into:

Residential Electrician Job Description

The name correctly hints at where these electricians work: in residential dwellings. This includes everything from single-family homes and apartment buildings to large scale housing complexes. Residential electricians work everywhere in a home from the basement to the attic.

Job duties can include:

  • Diagnosing and repairing electrical issues
  • Installation of electrical systems, such as ceiling fans, lighting, GFCIs/GFIs (ground fault circuit interrupters), electric vehicle charging stations, and entertainment systems
  • Upgrading a home to be more energy efficient
  • New wiring and circuits

Commercial Electrician Job Description

Commercial electricians install wiring, circuitry, fuses, and electrical machinery at commercial locations. They also maintain, diagnose, and repair existing electrical systems.

Work locations can include a wide variety of settings, such as:

  • Commercial and industrial building sites or renovations
  • Sites that are being remodeled and repaired
  • Office buildings
  • Retail businesses
  • Schools and government offices
  • Hospitals

Industrial Electrician Job Description

Industrial electricians work at sites that require a significant amount of electricity, especially high voltage, as well as those that use specialized power sources and electronic machinery.

Work sites can include:

  • Government agencies – municipal, state, and federal
  • Utility companies
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Factories
  • Shipyards and power stations
  • Food processing plants

Low Voltage Electrician Job Description

This is the newest classification of electricians. For the most part low voltage means three things: voice, data, and video (VDV) systems that typically require less than 10 volts.

While electricians have dealt with phone line installations for decades, recent advancements in technology have led to the emergence of this category of electricians in its own right.

This is made possible because of relatively new technological developments in:

  • Fiber optic networks
  • Local area networks (LANs) and virtual local area networks (VLANs)
  • The internet
  • Closed circuit TV (CCTV)
  • CATV or cable television
  • Storage area networks (SANs)

Like electricians in general, low voltage electricians are highly trained, skilled, and regulated professionals. They are not to be confused with VDV installers, who are typically trained by their employer and have the minimum amount of knowledge necessary to install a specific VDV system.

Low voltage electricians can work in any type of environment where voice, data, and video systems are installed, whether residential, commercial or industrial.

Job Settings and Duties Associated with Public Works Employers

As an electrician it’s most likely you’ll move from project to project working in different environments with each new job. That means an impressive variety of work locations that can include:

  • Land and sea
  • Attics
  • Crawl spaces
  • Outside in weather of all extremes – hot, freezing, dust, and rain
  • Underground vaults
  • Trenches
  • Sterile “clean rooms”
  • Confined spaces
  • Heights
  • Construction sites

The following examples of electrician job duties are taken from a survey of job openings from July of 2016. These job listings are shown as illustrative examples only and do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment.

Electrician with the City and County of Denver – Denver International Airport

  • Perform electrical construction, maintenance, and repair
  • Install electrical systems, equipment, and fixtures
  • Install new and upgraded electrical equipment/systems
  • Complete circuits according to diagram specifications and code requirements
  • Prepare working sketches
  • Work from blueprints, schematics, and written instructions
  • Estimate labor, material, and equipment costs
  • Applicants must be at least at the journeyman level

Electrician with MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Facilities Repair and Maintenance

  • Work from blueprints, specifications, wiring diagrams, sketches, and schematics
  • Maintain, repair, and install a full range of electrical systems, including:
    • Electrical distribution systems
    • Inside and outside lighting
    • Variable frequency drives
    • Motor control centers (fans, pumps, and motors)
  • Install and maintain fire alarm systems
  • Receive work order assignments
  • Perform maintenance, inspection, and testing in accordance with the requirements of Massachusetts’ electrical code
  • Applicants must be at least at the journeyman level

Electrician with BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco

  • Perform the full scope of electrician duties regarding installation, maintenance, and repair work of traction power systems, normal voltage equipment, and high voltage equipment
  • Test, maintain, and adjust electrical equipment and components
  • Install, maintain, repair, and modify industrial systems that range from 110 to 4,180 volts
  • Install, maintain, repair, and modify transformers, motors, generators, cathodic protection systems, and fire alarm systems
  • Troubleshoot and diagnose electrical problems
  • Applicants must have at least one year of experience at the journeyman level

Electrician with the US Coast Guard in Detroit – Surface Forces Logistics Center

  • Electrical troubleshooting and repair
  • New and replacement equipment installations
  • Test, repair, instal and troubleshoot marine and shore-side electrical equipment
  • Analyze electrical malfunctions and select the right replacement components
  • Perform field work on a variety of electrical systems
  • Train personnel in the safe operation of installed equipment

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