What is an Industrial Electrician?

Current technological innovation and industrial growth make it a great time to become an industrial electrician. Advances in these fields bring a whole new dynamic to this type of career not seen in other conventional electrician jobs. Just a few of the innovations that have taken place in recent years that signal a boom for the profession include:

  • Increasingly widespread adoption of localized power sources such as wind, solar, and hydro
  • Discovery of a new gas drilling technique – hydraulic fracturing – that has revolutionized America’s position in the global energy market
  • Increasing power, and decreasing size, of computers coupled with the emergence of the internet of things (IoT)

Industrial electricians are doing everything from incorporating sensors and telemetry devices into industrial machinery that provide real-time updates on productivity and maintenance needs to developing electrical systems for the new generation of oil and gas extraction equipment used in hydraulic fracturing – among hundreds and hundreds of other specialized forms of wiring work.

These developments come at a time when the job market is already thriving as major industrial employers are experiencing more growth and more profit than ever before.

Understanding the Role of Industrial Electricians

The simplest way of defining industrial electrical work is by looking at job settings. Examples of sites where industrial electricians might work include:

  • Factories
  • Production lines
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Shipyards
  • Smelters
  • Oil and gas refineries and platforms
  • Mining operations
  • Industrial construction sites
  • Power stations
  • Scientific research facilities

Unique to the job duties of industrial electricians is the installation, maintenance, and repair of industrial machinery systems, from conveyors and industrial robots at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant to the enormous power systems and control panels that support steel smelters in Pittsburgh’s foundries. Industrial electricians can work with machinery electrical systems basically anywhere there is a medium or large-sized production facility or resource extraction operation.

The Industrial Training Authority (ITA) identifies the following as the distinguishing characteristics of industrial electricians:

  • Inspect, install, repair, service, and troubleshoot industrial electrical systems
  • Perform electrical work with motors and generators
  • Perform electrical work on industrial construction sites
  • Work with high voltage systems
  • Perform electrical work with pumps, environmental regulating systems, and industrial lighting systems
  • Perform electrical work with heavy duty machinery
  • Perform electrical work with industrial communications systems
  • Industrial electricians in a broad sense can include those who work with electrical systems that pertain to the marine, mining, oil, gas, vehicle production, and aircraft production industries

In addition to having a general familiarity with the National Electrical Code (NEC), Industrial electricians must also be extremely familiar with the sections of the NEC that relate to industrial settings.

The types of equipment and machinery industrial electricians work with includes:

  • Industrial installations of overcurrent protection
  • Portable cables over 600 volts
  • Electric-discharge lighting systems over 1,000 volts
  • Motors, motor circuits, and controllers
  • Capacitors, resistors, reactors, and storage batteries over 1,000 volts
  • Switchgear and industrial control assemblies
  • Electrode-type boilers
  • Cranes and hoists
  • Electric welders
  • Industrial machinery

The knowledge and skill domain of industrial electricians include:

  • Feeder and service load calculations
  • Services exceeding 1,000 volts
  • Hazardous locations and classes

State Licensing Requirements and Professional Certification Options for Industrial Electricians

Some jurisdictions lump industrial and commercial electricians into the same category for licensing purposes, while others recognize these as separate professional classes. Check with your local jurisdiction’s regulatory agency or chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to determine how industrial electricians are classified where you live.

In virtually all licensing jurisdictions, the general procedure for becoming an industrial electrician involves progressing through the three standard licensing levels:

Apprentice – An apprenticeship would involve gaining field experience and on-the-job training while also participating in as many as 1,000 classroom hours studying safety protocols and electrical science and theory. Most apprenticeships consist of between 4,000 and 6,000 hours (typically 4-6 years) of jobsite experience. When you complete the apprenticeship term required in your jurisdiction, you would be eligible to take the Journeyman Exam. Passing the exam would allow you to move up to the next licensing level and become a journeyman.

Journeyman – As a journeyman, you no longer need to work under direct task-specific supervision. In most cases, you would be allowed to work independently on a team that includes a master industrial electrician. After working between two and four years as a journeyman, you would be eligible to take the Master Electrician Exam. Passing the exam would allow you to move up to the next licensing level and become a master electrician.

Master – As a master electrician you could work as a foreman or team leader, which would involve supervising journeyman and apprentice electricians. As a master electrician, you could perform all duties independently within the scope of industrial electrical work and may be able to bid for contracts. Bidding jobs would typically require an additional contractor’s license.

Professional Certification for Industrial Electricians

There are several national organizations that offer relevant certifications. Some jurisdictions may require that you go through one of these national organizations as part of your local licensing process. However, voluntary national certification should not be confused with state or jurisdictional licensing, which is a legal requirement that is enforced by government licensing boards. More often, employers, rather than state and jurisdictional licensing boards, are the ones that would require this type of certification.

Examples of relevant national certification organizations include:

ISA Certification Programs

  • Certified Automation Professional (CAP)
  • ISA Certified Control Systems Technician (CCST)

SGS Certification

  • SGS Electrical Installations Certification

International Code Council

  • Commercial Electrical Inspector

Industrial Association of Electrical Inspectors

  • Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI)

National Fire Protection Association

  • Certified Electrical Safety Worker (CESW)

AVO Training Institute

  • Industrial Electrical Safety Inspector

NTT Certification

  • Electrical Safety
  • Electrical Code and Standards
  • Electrical Maintenance

Salaries for Industrial Electricians

The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the official government body responsible for tracking salary statistics for all professional classifications in the nation. Specifically, it maintains statistics for electrical installers and repairers for commercial and industrial equipment.

In its 2015 report, the BLS shows that nationwide these professionals earned an average salary of $56,670. That same year those earning salaries that fell within the top ten percent made $79,030 on average. Interestingly, it also reveals that 90 percent of the metropolitan areas where industrial electricians earn the highest average salaries are on the West Coast:

Sacramento, CA metro area:

  • $70,670 (average)
  • $102,300 (top 10%)

Albany, OR metro area:

  • $71,020 (average)
  • $79,230 (top 10%)

Salem, OR metro area:

  • $71,030 (average)
  • $101,270 (top 10%)

Seattle, WA metro area:

  • $71,070 (average)
  • $98,650 (top 10%)

Fairbanks, AK metro area:

  • $71,570 (average)
  • $84,650 (top 10%)

Bend, OR metro area:

  • $72,530 (average)
  • $90,430 (top 10%)

Oakland, CA metro area:

  • $73,510 (average)
  • $99,680 (top 10%)

Tri-Cities, WA metro area:

  • $74,520 (average)
  • $104,290 (top 10%)

Brockton, MA metro area:

  • $77,030 (average)
  • $111,340 (top 10%)

Anchorage metro area:

  • $82,030 (average)
  • $96,210 (top 10%)

Significant Employers of Industrial Electricians

In 2015 the US Department of Labor reported that the major employment sectors for industrial equipment electricians were:

  • Federal government
  • Building equipment contractors
  • Electronic and precision equipment repair/maintenance
  • Household appliances and electrical and electronic goods merchant wholesalers
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
  • Resource extraction and energy production

In America’s major job markets significant employers of industrial electricians include:

Phoenix

  • Konecranes Lifting Businesses
  • Superlite Block
  • City of Phoenix
  • Rogers Electric
  • Delta Construction Partners

San Antonio

  • Commercial Metals Company
  • Critical Electric Systems Group – CESG
  • Alcoa – Aluminum Company of America
  • Schlumberger
  • San Antonio Water System

New York City

  • Amtrak
  • Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Stacey Electric Service
  • CDM Smith
  • United Nations

Los Angeles

  • LU Electric
  • Bergelectric
  • Extron Electronics
  • Los Angeles County
  • Kite Pharma

Chicago

  • Real Alloy
  • Federal-Mogul
  • Huhtamaki
  • Trillium Construction
  • Tradesmen International

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