If you're wanting to add a spark to your life, maybe you should become an electrician. They work with electrical power, communications, light and control systems. And as long as they do it right, they don't literally add a spark.
Electricians typically start out as apprentices, but there are some who choose to attend technical school. Since they have such an important job, electricians usually work full-time with some evenings and weekends thrown in there. If you're looking for a path that will include some overtime pay, you've found the right career.
Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories.
Electricians typically do the following:
- Read blueprints or technical diagrams
- Install and maintain wiring, control, and lighting systems
- Inspect electrical components, such as transformers and circuit breakers
- Identify electrical problems using a variety of testing devices
- Repair or replace wiring, equipment, or fixtures using hand tools and power tools
- Follow state and local building regulations based on the National Electrical Code
- Direct and train workers to install, maintain, or repair electrical wiring or equipment
Almost every building has an electrical power, communications, lighting, and control system that is installed during construction and maintained after that. These systems power the lights, appliances, and equipment that make people’s lives and jobs easier and more comfortable.
Installing electrical systems in newly constructed buildings is often less complicated than maintaining equipment in existing buildings because electrical wiring is more easily accessible during construction. Maintaining equipment and systems involves identifying problems and repairing broken equipment that is sometimes difficult to reach. Maintenance work may include fixing or replacing parts, light fixtures, control systems, motors, and other types of electrical equipment.
Electricians read blueprints, which are technical diagrams of electrical systems that show the location of circuits, outlets, and other equipment. They use different types of hand and power tools, such as conduit benders, to run and protect wiring. Other commonly used hand and power tools include screwdrivers, wire strippers, drills, and saws. While troubleshooting, electricians also may use ammeters, voltmeters, thermal scanners, and cable testers to find problems and ensure that components are working properly.
Many electricians work alone, but sometimes they collaborate with others. For example, experienced electricians may work with building engineers and architects to help design electrical systems for new construction. Some electricians may also consult with other construction specialists, such as elevator installers and heating and air conditioning workers, to help install or maintain electrical or power systems. At larger companies, electricians are more likely to work as part of a crew; they may direct helpers and apprentices to complete jobs.
The following are examples of types of electricians:
Inside electricians maintain and repair large motors, equipment, and control systems in businesses and factories. They use their knowledge of electrical systems to help these facilities run safely and efficiently. Some also install the wiring for businesses and factories that are being built. To minimize equipment failure, inside electricians often perform scheduled maintenance.
Residential electricians install wiring and troubleshoot electrical problems in peoples’ homes, which can be either single-family or multi-family dwellings. Those who work in new-home construction install outlets and provide access to power where needed. Those who work in maintenance and remodeling typically repair and replace faulty equipment. For example, if a circuit breaker repeatedly trips after being reset, electricians determine the cause and fix it.
Although lineman electricians install distribution and transmission lines to deliver electricity from its source to customers, they are covered in the line installers and repairers profile.
Although most electricians learn through an apprenticeship, some start out by attending a technical school. Most states require electricians to be licensed. For more information, contact your local or state electrical licensing board.
A high school diploma or equivalent is required.
Some electricians start out by attending a technical school. Many technical schools offer programs related to circuitry, safety practices, and basic electrical information. Graduates usually receive credit toward their apprenticeship.
After completing their initial training, electricians may be required to take continuing education courses. These courses are usually related to safety practices, changes to the electrical code, and training from manufacturers in specific products.
Most electricians learn their trade in a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship program. For each year of the program, apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of technical training and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training.
In the classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices. They also may receive specialized training related to soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and elevators.
Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Many apprenticeship programs have preferred entry for veterans. The basic qualifications to enter an apprenticeship program are as follows:
- Minimum age of 18
- High school education or equivalent
- One year of algebra
- Qualifying score on an aptitude test
- Pass substance abuse screening
Some electrical contractors have their own training programs, which are not recognized apprenticeship programs but include both classroom and on-the-job training. Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly, some electricians enter apprenticeship programs after working as a helper. The Home Builders Institute offers a preapprenticeship certificate training (PACT) program for eight construction trades, including electricians.
After completing an apprenticeship program, electricians are considered to be journey workers and may perform duties on their own, subject to any local or state licensing requirements. Because of this comprehensive training, those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both construction and maintenance work.
Some states may require a master electrician to either perform or supervise the work.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most states require electricians to pass a test and be licensed. Requirements vary by state. For more information, contact your local or state electrical licensing board. Many of the requirements can be found on the National Electrical Contractors Association’s website.
The tests have questions related to the National Electrical Code, and state and local electrical codes, all of which set standards for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment.
Business skills. Self-employed electricians must be able to bid on new jobs, track inventory, and plan payroll and work assignments.
Color vision. Electricians must identify electrical wires by color.
Critical-thinking skills. Electricians perform tests and use the results to diagnose problems. For example, when an outlet is not working, they may use a multimeter to check the voltage, amperage, or resistance to determine the best course of action.
Customer-service skills. Residential electricians work with people on a regular basis. They should be friendly and be able to address customers’ questions.
Physical stamina. Electricians often need to move around all day while running wire and connecting fixtures to the wire.
Physical strength. Electricians need to be strong enough to move heavy components, which may weigh up to 50 pounds.
Troubleshooting skills. Electricians find, diagnose, and repair problems. For example, if a motor stops working, they perform tests to determine the cause of its failure and then, depending on the results, fix or replace the motor.