Becoming an Electrician: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about an electrician's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming an electrician.
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Becoming an Electrician: Pros and Cons

Electricians perform the maintenance and installation of power and electrical systems. Take a look at some of the upsides and downsides to being an electrician below.

Pros of Becoming an Electrician
Hands-on 4-year apprenticeships can replace postsecondary education*
Faster-than-average job growth (20% from 2012-2022)*
Self-employed workers can set their own schedules (9% were self-employed as of 2012)*
Outdoor and indoor work environment*

Cons of Becoming an Electrician
Long or odd hours are common (overtime, nights, weekends and on-call shifts)*
Continuing education is typically required*
Injuries can occur in the form of cuts, falls or shocks*
Work activity can be strenuous (kneeling, heavy lifting and tight spaces)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

Electricians might specialize in a specific area of the field, like maintenance work or construction duties, but they can also perform duties in various settings, such as residences, factories or businesses. Depending on the length and nature of the job, an electrician might complete a work assignment in one day or over the course of days, weeks or months. Before starting a work assignment as an electrician, you would review the blueprints associated with the equipment being worked on.

If it's a maintenance job, the electrician heads to the site to inspect the wiring and make any necessary repairs. Sometimes a maintenance assignment includes upgrading the client's electrical systems. A construction job requires electricians to install wiring by using specialized tools like drills, saws, wire strippers, harmonic testers, voltmeters and ammeters.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

From 2012-2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that electricians were predicted to see 20% growth in employment opportunities. This could be due to an increased need for new wiring in both home and professional settings, as well as the need to upgrade outdated equipment. The economy can affect your employment as the demand for construction rises and falls. You may have better job prospects if you have a range of skills, and you'll have the most stable employment working in factories.

In 2014, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for electricians was about $51,000, with the top ten percent earning around $85,000 or more, and the bottom ten percent earning around $31,000 or less. Apprentices can expect to make less than what electricians make, but as they acquire more skills, their pay increases.

Training and Licensure Requirements

A combination of classroom instruction and paid job training makes up the bulk of apprenticeship programs electricians usually complete. These programs are available from organizations like the Independent Electrical Contractors Association, the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Apprenticeships normally last four years and require at least 2,000 hours of job training and 144 hours of coursework. The classes help to familiarize you with electrical codes, safety practices, blueprint reading and electrical theory. Before beginning an apprenticeship, you might also consider attending a vocational or technical college to complete an electrician-training program that can help you transfer into an electrician apprenticeship.

Licensure and Skills

Before being allowed to work in most states, an electrician needs to be licensed. Generally, the state you're employed in determines what requirements you have to fulfill. You'll normally be expected to complete an examination in electric and building codes at the local, state and national level.

Beyond the necessary education and licensure, employers want electricians that possess the physical traits necessary to succeed in this field. Many employers prefer electricians with good balance, strength, dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Due to electrical wires being color-coded, employers want electricians who can easily differentiate between colors.

What Employers Desire in Electricians

Based on job ads, many employers seek out electricians who know how to troubleshoot. Many also preferred someone licensed as a journeyman electrician. Read on below to find out what real employers were requesting in electricians on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com in March 2012.

  • In Texas, a company that produces tubular goods was looking for an industrial electrician with the flexibility to work on a shift schedule that rotates regularly. The employer also requested someone with prior experience and skills in repair, maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • A chemical company in South Carolina wanted an electrician familiar with 240V, 110V, 480V and 24V applications. The applicant was expected to be skilled in planning, problem solving, supply management and customer service.
  • A construction project in Texas requested a journeyman electrician with experience in supervising others.
  • A chemical business in Colorado looked for an electrician who was at least a licensed journeyman with 5-10 years of work experience. Someone with welding skills and a valid driver's license was requested.
  • An electrician opening in Texas at a diversified services company required an applicant with a state Journeyman Electrician License. For this position, a 2-year degree in the electrical field was preferred.

Standing Out as an Electrician

As an electrician, you can stand out to employers by becoming specialized in a certain area, such as indoor or residential electrical systems. This could help you earn employment where these specific skills are requested or mandatory. You can also vary your skills to be talented in multiple areas, like project planning, maintenance and installation. Additionally, many employers look for someone with experience in the field.

Alternative Occupational Choices

Electronic and Electrical Engineering Technician

If instead of installation and repair work you'd rather help test and develop electronic and electrical equipment, then you may want to consider becoming an electronic and electrical engineering technician. The type of equipment you could work with in this career includes computers, medical monitoring equipment and communication devices. When a technician receives a new product, they'll test and evaluate it. Adjustments are made as necessary to ensure the device is working properly. To become this kind of technician, you can complete an associate's degree program in a subject like electronic engineering technology. Even though employment growth was only expected to be two percent for the 2010-2020 decade, per the BLS, electrical and electronic engineering technicians could earn a higher salary than electricians. The BLS reported in May 2011 that electronics and electrical engineering technicians had a median annual income of about $57,000.

Electronics Drafter

If you like performing electrical work but you'd rather be in the planning stage, then you may look into becoming an electrical or electronics drafter. An electronics drafter creates layouts and drawings used in the manufacturing, repairing and installing of electronics. An electrical drafter prepares the layout and wiring diagrams used in power plants and electrical distribution systems. In May 2011, the BLS showed that electronics and electrical drafters had a median yearly income of about $54,000. These professionals typically need an associate's degree in drafting, and the job outlook for all drafters was only six percent between 2010 and 2010, according to the BLS.

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