An electrician is a skilled manual worker specializing in the electrical wiring of buildings, stationary machines, and related equipment. Electricians are responsible for both the installation and maintenance of all the electrical and power systems found in homes, businesses, and factories. While some may focus on new technologies such as voice, data, and video wiring or in specialty areas such as wiring ships, airplanes, and other mobile platforms, the two primary areas of specialization for electricians are construction and maintenance. Those who specialize in construction concentrate on installing wiring systems in commercial buildings, factories, and new homes. They must be able to read blueprints, be able to determine where all the components must be placed, and know how to install and connect all of the wires to the circuit breakers, transformers, outlets, or other components and systems. Electricians specializing in maintenance focus on fixing and upgrading existing electrical wiring in both residential and commercial buildings. Those involved in residential maintenance may rewire a home, replace an old fuse box with a new circuit breaker box, or install lighting and other electrical items. Those involved with large commercial building projects may perform more complex work, such as repairing motors, transformers, generators, or industrial robots.
In the United States, obtaining employment as an electrician usually requires a state or local (city or county) license as a journeyman or master. The requirement for becoming a journeyman, defined as a craftsman who has fully learned his trade, is set by the state. Training is provided through an apprenticeship program that includes both classroom and paid on-the-job training. Applicants for an apprenticeship program are usually required to have a high school diploma or GED. Interested candidates can start by working for a licensed electrician as a helper before becoming an official apprentice. Apprenticeship programs are available through various electrical unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractor’s Association (NECA).
Most apprenticeship programs last four years. Apprentices must complete at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training during each year of the program. At the end of the program, the apprentice must pass a written exam to obtain an electrician’s license. The journeyman license certifies that the electrician has met the requirements of time in the field (usually a minimum of 8,000 hours) and time in an approved classroom setting (usually 700 hours).
With experience, electricians who wish to advance above journeyman status can continue their classroom and field education and become master electricians. A master electrician supervises and is responsible for all other electricians working on a construction or installation project. Only the master electrician can pull the permits with the electrical authority. State requirements vary, but in order to be eligible to take the master electrician exam, the applicant must have worked as a journeyman for at least seven years or have a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook expects average employment growth of about 12 percent over the next 10 years. While all jobs in the construction industry are sensitive to economic fluctuations, electricians will be needed to wire new homes and commercial buildings to meet the needs of the growing population. Additionally, older buildings will require updates to their electrical systems to accommodate higher electricity consumption as well as new technologies. Robots and other automated manufacturing systems in factories will require more complex wiring systems. In addition, electricians will be required to install some of the latest energy-saving technologies, such as solar panels and motion sensors. Workers with the widest range of skills, including voice, data, and video wiring, should expect their job prospects to be good.
Salaries vary depending upon experience, industry, and geographic location. For example, manufacturers of motor vehicle parts typically pay the highest wages to electricians. As another example, electricians working in areas of California and New York have some of the highest mean annual salaries. The median hourly wage for electricians is $22.32. The middle 50 percent earn between $17.00 and $29.88 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $13.54 per hour and the highest 10 percent earn more than $38.18 an hour.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, apprentices receive 30 to 50 percent of the wages earned by experienced electricians. Those with prior experience, such as vocational technical training or experience working as an electrician’s assistant, often earn higher salaries. Additionally, electricians who complete their apprenticeships through labor unions such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers may receive higher wages than other apprentices.