Whether you’re still in high school or are looking for a second career later in life, it’s important to understand the requirements for any job you’re interested in.
What Electricians Do
In short, electricians install and repair electrical systems. However, this can be done on a commercial or residential level. It can include work in communications, lighting, appliances, and equipment. Typical tasks include reading blueprints and technical diagrams of electrical systems, installing new wiring and circuits, and making repairs to various systems. Electricians use a variety of basic and specialized tools.
As with many industries, the range of jobs for electricians is vast. Typical job titles within the field of electricians include apprentice electrician, building construction electrician, building electrician, construction and maintenance electrician, construction electrician or apprentice, domestic and rural electrician, electrical fixtures installer, electrical wiring installer, construction or troubleshooter, institutional electrician, journeyman electrician, master electrician, residential wireman, wiring electrician.
Electricians work in new construction and existing homes and businesses. They also work outdoors with power lines and on the exterior of buildings. The job often requires working in dusty, dirty, cramped spaces and may involve work in adverse weather conditions such as thunderstorms, wind, and snow.
Most electricians work full-time, and overtime is not uncommon. Work may require evening and weekend hours. As an electrician, you may work alone, with a few other workers, or as part of a large crew.
Education and Certifications
You can take a few different routes to become an electrician. Each state may also have its own requirements. Basically, though, there are three levels of electrician--apprentice, journeyman, and master. There are college-level technical school courses available, but most companies will train on the job through an apprenticeship.
You must, however, have a high school diploma, and jobs may require a driver’s license. Most states will require you to pass a test with questions developed based on National Electrical Code and state and local electrical codes. Additional certifications are often required for specialized fields such as working with photovoltaic power.
Typical study subjects include electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices. Specialized training related to soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and elevators is common as well.
Earning a new level of certification as an electrician requires time on the job. Again, these requirements vary per state, so check with your local authority. Apprenticeship programs typically take four to five years and involve around 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and often some supplemental classroom work.
Those going into the field with existing skills may progress through the program faster, so if your DIY jam is rewiring, well, anything, this might be a good career choice for you. Once you complete the apprenticeship, you reach journeyman level, and you can continue with additional development to earn a master electrician status.
Strong Personal Characteristics for Electricians
Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming an electrician requires strength, stamina, agility, fine motor skills, and critical thinking skills. If you’ve ever worked in construction or even completed some DIY projects in your home, you know no project goes as planned, so flexibility and adaptability are key.
You'll also need strong customer service skills to communicate with home and business owners effectively. Strong communication skills will also help you interact with co-workers and bosses.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical annual pay range for all types of electricians is $49,000 to $62,000.
As of 2021, the job outlook for electricians is higher than in many other industries. Demand for alternative energy is creating stable job opportunities in that sector for electricians and looks like a promising place to specialize.
Working with electricity comes with intrinsic safety hazards, including the risk of electrocution, falls, burns, and damage to hearing on loud job sites.