Electricians Career Information
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Significant Points· Job opportunities are expected to be excellent for
· Most electricians acquire their skills by completing a formal 4- or 5-year apprenticeship program.
· About one-third of all electricians work in industries other than construction.
Nature of the WorkElectricity is essential
for light, power, air conditioning, and refrigeration. Electricians install,
connect, test, and maintain electrical systems for a variety of purposes, including
climate control, security, and communications. They also may install and maintain
the electronic controls for machines in business and industry. Although most
electricians specialize in either construction or maintenance, a growing number
Electricians work with blueprints when they install electrical systems in factories, office buildings, homes, and other structures. Blueprints indicate the locations of circuits, outlets, load centers, panel boards, and other equipment. Electricians must follow the National Electric Code and comply with State and local building codes when they install these systems. In factories and offices, they first place conduit (pipe or tubing) inside designated partitions, walls, or other concealed areas. They also fasten to the wall small metal or plastic boxes that will house electrical switches and outlets. They then pull insulated wires or cables through the conduit to complete circuits between these boxes. In lighter construction, such as residential, plastic-covered wire usually is used instead of conduit.
Regardless of the type of wire used, electricians connect it to circuit breakers, transformers, or other components. They join the wires in boxes with various specially designed connectors. After they finish the wiring, they use testing equipment, such as ohmmeters, voltmeters, and oscilloscopes, to check the circuits for proper connections, ensuring electrical compatibility and safety of components.
In addition to wiring a building's electrical system, electricians may install coaxial or fiber optic cable for computers and other telecommunications equipment. A growing number of electricians install telephone systems, computer wiring and equipment, street lights, intercom systems, and fire alarm and security systems. They also may connect motors to electrical power and install electronic controls for industrial equipment.
Maintenance work varies greatly, depending on where the electrician is employed. Electricians who specialize in residential work may rewire a home and replace an old fuse box with a new circuit breaker to accommodate additional appliances. Those who work in large factories may repair motors, transformers, generators, and electronic controllers on machine tools and industrial robots. Those in office buildings and small plants may repair all types of electrical equipment.
Maintenance electricians spend much of their time in preventive maintenance. They periodically inspect equipment, and locate and correct problems before breakdowns occur. Electricians may also advise management on whether continued operation of equipment could be hazardous. When needed, they install new electrical equipment. When breakdowns occur, they must make the necessary repairs as quickly as possible in order to minimize inconvenience. Electricians may replace items such as circuit breakers, fuses, switches, electrical and electronic components, or wire. When working with complex electronic devices, they may work with engineers, engineering technicians, or industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers.
Electricians use handtools such as screwdrivers, pliers, knives, and hacksaws. They also use power tools and testing equipment such as oscilloscopes, ammeters, and test lamps.
Working ConditionsElectricians' work is
sometimes strenuous. They may stand for long periods and frequently work on
ladders and scaffolds. Their working environment varies, depending on the type
of job. Some may work in dusty, dirty, hot, or wet conditions, or in confined
areas, ditches, or other uncomfortable places. Electricians risk injury from
electrical shock, falls, and cuts; to avoid injuries, they must follow strict
safety procedures. Some electricians
may have to travel to jobsites, which may be up to 100 miles away.
Most electricians work a standard 40-hour week, although overtime may be required. Those in maintenance work may work nights or weekends, and be on call. Companies that operate 24 hours a day may employ three shifts of electricians.
EmploymentElectricians held about 748,000 jobs in 2009. About two-thirds were employed in the construction industry. About one-third worked as maintenance electricians and were employed outside the construction industry. In addition, about 8 percent of electricians were self-employed.
Because of the widespread need for electrical services, jobs for electricians are found in all parts of the country.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Most people learn the
electrical trade by completing a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship
gives trainees a thorough knowledge of all aspects of the trade and generally
improves their ability to find a job. Although more electricians are trained
through apprenticeship than are workers in other construction trades, some still
learn their skills informally, on the job.
Apprenticeship programs may be sponsored by joint training committees made up of local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association; company management committees of individual electrical contracting companies; or by local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors Association. Training also may be provided by company management committees of individual electrical contracting companies and by local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors. Because of the comprehensive training received, those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both maintenance and construction work.
The typical large apprenticeship program provides at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year, and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training over the course of the apprenticeship. In the classroom, apprentices learn blueprint reading, electrical theory, electronics, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first aid practices. They also may receive specialized training in welding, communications, fire alarm systems, and cranes and elevators. On the job, under the supervision of experienced electricians, apprentices must demonstrate mastery of the electrician's work. At first, they drill holes, set anchors, and set up conduit. Later, they measure, fabricate, and install conduit, as well as install, connect, and test wiring, outlets, and switches. They also learn to set up and draw diagrams for entire electrical systems.
Those who do not enter a formal apprenticeship program can begin to learn the trade informally by working as helpers for experienced electricians. While learning to install conduit, connect wires, and test circuits, helpers also learn safety practices. Many helpers supplement this training with trade school or correspondence courses.
Regardless of how one learns the trade, previous training is very helpful. High school courses in mathematics, electricity, electronics, mechanical drawing, science, and shop provide a good background. Special training offered in the Armed Forces and by postsecondary technical schools also is beneficial. All applicants should be in good health and have at least average physical strength. Agility and dexterity also are important. Good color vision is needed because workers must frequently identify electrical wires by color.
Most apprenticeship sponsors require applicants for apprentice positions to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or its equivalent. For those interested in becoming maintenance electricians, a background in electronics is increasingly important because of the growing use of complex electronic controls on manufacturing equipment.
Most localities require electricians to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary from area to area, electricians usually must pass an examination that tests their knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electric and building codes.
Electricians periodically take courses offered by their employer or union to keep abreast of changes in the National Electrical Code, materials, or methods of installation.
Experienced electricians can become supervisors and then superintendents. Those with sufficient capital and management skills may start their own contracting business, although this may require an electrical contractor's license.
Job OutlookJob opportunities
for skilled electricians are expected to be excellent, largely due to the numerous
openings arising each year from experienced electricians who leave the occupation.
In addition, many potential workers may prefer work that is less strenuous and
has more comfortable working conditions. Well-trained workers will have especially
Employment of electricians is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2010. As the population and economy grow, more electricians will be needed to install and maintain electrical devices and wiring in homes, factories, offices, and other structures. New technologies also are expected to continue to stimulate the demand for these workers. Increasingly, buildings will be prewired during construction to accommodate use of computers and telecommunications equipment. More factories will be using robots and automated manufacturing systems. Installation of this equipment, which is expected to increase, should also stimulate demand for electricians. Additional jobs will be created by rehabilitation and retrofitting of existing structures.
In addition to jobs created by increased demand for electrical work, many openings will occur each year as electricians transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the labor force for other reasons. Because of their lengthy training and relatively high earnings, a smaller proportion of electricians than of other craftworkers leave their occupation each year. The number of retirements is expected to rise, however, as more electricians reach retirement age.
Employment of construction electricians, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to changes in the economy. This results from the limited duration of construction projects and the cyclical nature of the construction industry. During economic downturns, job openings for electricians are reduced as the level of construction activity declines. Apprenticeship opportunities also are less plentiful during these periods.
Although employment of maintenance electricians is steadier than that of construction electricians, those working in the automotive and other manufacturing industries that are sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy may be laid off during recessions. Also, efforts to reduce operating costs and increase productivity, through the increased use of contracting out for electrical services, may limit opportunities for maintenance electricians in many industries. However, this should be partially offset by increased demand by electrical contracting firms.
Job opportunities for electricians also vary by area. Employment opportunities follow the movement of people and businesses among States and local areas, and reflect differences in local economic conditions. The number of job opportunities in a given year may fluctuate widely from area to area.
EarningsIn 2009, median hourly earnings of electricians were $24.29. The middle 50 percent earned between $16.49 and $28.41. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.31, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31.71. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of electricians in 2006 are shown below:
Motor vehicles and equipment $26.71
Local government 19.88
Electrical work 19.22
Heavy construction, except highway 17.92
Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning 17.26
Depending on experience, apprentices usually start at between 30 and 50 percent of the rate paid to experienced electricians. As they become more skilled, they receive periodic increases throughout the course of the apprenticeship program. Many employers also provide training opportunities for experienced electricians to improve their skills.
Many construction electricians are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Among unions organizing maintenance electricians are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; and the United Steelworkers of America.
Related OccupationsTo install
and maintain electrical systems, electricians combine manual skill and knowledge
of electrical materials and concepts. Workers in other occupations involving
similar skills include heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics
and installers; line installers and repairers; electrical and electronics installers
and repairers; electronic home entertainment equipment installers and repairers;
and elevator installers and repairers.
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the State employment service, the State apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors or firms that employ maintenance electricians, or local union-management electrician apprenticeship committees. This information also may be available from local chapters of the Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc.; the National Electrical Contractors Association; the Home Builders Institute; the Associated Builders and Contractors; and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. For information about union apprenticeship and training programs, contact: For information about independent apprenticeship programs, contact:
Sources of Additional Information
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the State employment service, the State apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors or firms that employ maintenance electricians, or local union-management electrician apprenticeship committees. This information also may be available from local chapters of the Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc.; the National Electrical Contractors Association; the Home Builders Institute; the Associated Builders and Contractors; and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
For information about union apprenticeship and training programs, contact:
For information about independent apprenticeship programs, contact: