Electricians install, connect, and maintain electrical systems for many purposes, including climate control, security, and communications. They also install and maintain the electronic controls for machines in business and industry. Think about the last time you had a power outage, and you will see the important role electricity plays in our lives.
Electricians must be able to understand blueprints. Blueprints indicate the locations of circuits, outlets, load centers, panel boards, and other equipment. Electricians must follow the national electrical code and comply with state and local building codes when they install systems.
Electricians work both indoors and outside. They work at construction sites, in homes, in businesses, and in factories. Work can be strenuous and involves bending and lifting heavy objects, standing, stooping, and kneeling for long periods. They may be subject to unpleasant weather conditions when working outdoors. They also risk injury from electrical shock and must follow strict safety procedures. A small number of electricians die on the job each year, either through carelessness on their part or circumstances beyond their control. Dealing with this potent force of nature on a daily basis is not without risk. You had best learn all the safety precautions you need to know before you ever begin work on a site.
Most electricians work a standard forty-hour week, though overtime, nights or weekends, and being on call are often part of the job. Companies that are open twenty-four hours a day may employ three shifts of electricians. And of course, private contractors have the luxury of setting their own hours.
Like carpenters, most electricians learn their trade through an apprenticeship program. These programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Apprenticeship programs are often sponsored by local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association, or local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors Association.
Applicants for apprenticeships must be at least eighteen years old and have a high school diploma or a GED. You should have good math and English skills, since the instruction manuals are in English. You may have to pass a test and meet other requirements. Apprenticeship programs usually last four years and include about 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.
Classroom studies include electrical theory, installing and maintaining electrical systems, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, safety and first aid practices, communications, fire alarm systems, and many other topics. When on the job, apprentices work under the supervision of an experienced electrician.
Training is offered by many public and private vocational-technical schools and through training academies affiliated with local unions. Employers who hire graduates of these programs start them at a more advanced level than those without the training.
Electricians need to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Electricians must pass an examination that tests their knowledge of electrical theory, the national electrical code, and the local electric and building codes.
Experienced electricians can advance to supervisory positions. In construction, they can become project managers and construction superintendents. Many become electrical inspectors. It is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish. Spanish-speaking workers are making up a larger part of the construction workforce. To understand instruction presented in classes and on the work site, Spanish-speaking workers who want to get ahead need very good English.
Many electricians are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Other unions representing 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.
Jobs for electricians are expected to increase over the next decade. More electricians will be needed to install and maintain electrical devices and wiring in homes, factories, offices, and other buildings. New technologies will create the demand for workers. Older structures being rehabilitated require being brought up to meet existing electrical codes.
The median hourly rate of electricians is $20.33. The low end is $12.18, and the high end is $33.63. The average for government-employed electricians is $22.24. Apprentices start at between 40 and 50 percent of the fully trained electrician rate. They receive periodic pay increases throughout the course of their training and job experience.
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of your state employment service, your state's apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors or firms that employ maintenance electricians, or local union-management electrician apprenticeship committees. Information is also 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.