Pros and Cons of Being an Industrial Electrician
Industrial electricians inspect and install electrical equipment in factories and other industrial spaces. Here are some pros and cons to consider:
|Pros of Being an Industrial Electrician|
|Minimum formal education needed (21% have just a high school diploma, 39% have some college, no degree)**|
|Good expected employment growth (20% for all electricians for the years 2012-2022)*|
|Apprenticeship period is paid (pay is commensurate with experience)*|
|Degree of independence (9% were self-employed in 2012)*|
|Cons of Being an Industrial Electrician|
|Must complete apprenticeship or training (often lasts four years)*|
|Employment can fluctuate with the economy*|
|Rate of on-the-job injury is high (shocks, small working areas, falls, burns)*|
|Long and irregular work hours may be required (holidays, weekends and overtime)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.
Job Description and Duties
Industrial electricians install, test, repair and maintain electrical equipment in a variety of settings. Unlike general electricians, industrial electricians typically work in industrial environments like factories, military bases or manufacturing companies. In order to know safe areas for installation, these professionals read blueprints and manuals. They also maintain electrical tools and calibration instruments.
These electricians must be able to work under safety guidelines, like the National Electric Code. They may collaborate with workers in the fields of construction and heating/air conditioning. Depending on the size of their company, industrial electricians may also train apprentices.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that all electricians have the favorable job growth of 20% for 2012-2022, you need to keep in mind that this career is susceptible to changes in the economy. For example, recessions can result in fewer construction opportunities, which can adversely affect employment for electricians. According to the BLS, electricians made the median annual salary of about $51,000 in May 2014. The highest-paid electricians made about $86,000. During that same period, the lowest-paid workers made only about $31,000.
Requirements for Industrial Electricians
While you don't need to have a college degree to become an industrial electrician, you still have to take technical courses in math, electrical codes, electrical theory and blueprints. While these courses might be offered through an apprenticeship, you might also choose to enroll in an educational program offered through a technical school. In order to enroll in such a program or begin an apprenticeship, you need to have a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and knowledge of algebra.
Apprenticeships usually last about four years, during which you must complete classroom lessons as well as 2,000 hours of on-the-job training per year. While you aren't paid as much as a licensed electrician during an apprenticeship period, you usually still receive a salary for your work.
There are several ways to find apprenticeship programs. The U.S. Department of Labor (www.doleta.gov) has a Registered Apprenticeship program available across the nation. The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) offer apprenticeship programs specifically for electricians (www.njatc.org). The Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) also provides electrical apprenticeships (www.ieci.org). These websites often provide information on specialized training, locations for technical training and types of courses offered.
Most states require electricians to have a license for work. Since each state has different requirements, you'll need to check with your state's licensing or trade websites for specific information. There are many types of licenses for several specialties. For example, a journeyman electrician license shows that the worker has trained with another certified electrician for 8,000 hours.
In order to receive a license, you need meet the eligibility requirements and pass a comprehensive exam. Most licenses need to be renewed, and some licenses require continuing education in electrical safety, the National Electric Code and various state laws.
In order to succeed as an industrial electrician, you need to be able to do the following:
- Enjoy working in an industrial setting (manufacturing companies, treatment plants, etc.)
- Lift heavy equipment and work in cramped areas
- Perform technical work that revolves around programmable logic controllers (PLC's), motor control and power distribution
- Differentiate colors (for electrical wiring tasks)
- Work irregular shifts
- Troubleshoot and address technical issues
- Perform basic math
Job Postings from Real Employers
Employers often have different requirements when seeking industrial electricians, but most demand candidates to undergo drug tests and have a few years of experience. Several employers differentiated industrial electrician experience from residential/commercial experience. Here are some job postings from Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com from April 2012:
- A theme park in California asked for an industrial maintenance electrician with a background in maintaining machinery found in oil refineries, manufacturing plants or water treatment plants. The electrician needed to have technical electrical skills and knowledge of the National Electric Code. The electrician would also be able to work under the guidelines of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and climb up to 200 feet comfortably.
- A manufacturing company in Kansas needed an industrial electrician who understood PLC's. The applicants needed to be a licensed electrician and have flexibility in work scheduling.
- A company in Wisconsin required the services of an industrial electrician who had either an associate's degree, six years of experience or a journeyman's card. Specifically, they asked candidates to have at least three years of experience in the industrial environment. Candidates would know how to program PLC's and troubleshoot equipment.
- A manufacturing company in Louisiana sought an industrial electrician who had at least five years of work experience and basic computer skills in Microsoft Office software. They also needed to understand PLC's, motor controls, relay controls and various industrial electrical techniques.
How to Stand Out
The best way you can stand out is by receiving years of work experience through apprenticeship programs. Even though you may specialize as an industrial electrician, you may still benefit by learning how to be a residential electrical or a data-telecommunications specialist.
Certifications can show employers that you have proven expertise in a field and can be beneficial in job hunting. Similar to licenses, certifications have various prerequisites, often requiring you to pass an exam in a specific field. The Electronics Technicians Association International (ETA) and International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians (ISCET) have more information on certification.
Elevator Installer and Repairer
These workers have the same training requirements as an industrial electrician, but they tend to make better wages. They make sure that elevators are safe for the public, and they also perform maintenance. They are expected to lift heavy equipment and work long or irregular hours. Elevator installers and repairers must complete an apprenticeship period, and they usually must be licensed by the state. In May 2011, the BLS says that these workers made the median annual salary of about $75,000, while the highest-paid workers made about $106,000.
Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technician
If you're more interested in building electrical equipment, testing and designing prototypes, then you may want to become an engineering technician. You would have to receive an associate's degree in engineering technology to qualify for work. In May 2011, the BLS stated that these workers made a median annual salary of about $57,000. However, the BLS expected only a 2% growth for these workers for 2010-2020.