Electrician Careers 101

Electrician is a popular career choice because it is a high demand job that does not require a degree.

Electricians still need training, but instead of attending a traditional university, electricians take a certification course. Electrician is a broad term that actually refers to multiple types of jobs.

If you are interested in becoming an electrician, take time to learn the different career paths. Some types of electricians work in specific areas. Residential wireman works in local neighborhoods and help both individuals and families. Other types of electricians, such as a telecommunications technician, are more likely to work in commercial areas and assist large and small businesses in the state.

The type of electrician career you want determines what kind of training and certification you need. Several similarities exist between all electrician types. Typically, new electricians all follow the same path in the beginning, then start to branch out into different careers after mastering the basics. More information about starting an electrical career is covered below.

What Does an Electrician Do?

One of the reasons electricians are in high demand is because of how much people rely on electricity. All homes and works have some sort of electrical component. Some electrical systems are larger than others and need more work, such as transportation grids and broadband systems. Other electrical systems are simple, but still require training to correctly set up, such as home lighting systems.

Electricians have many tasks, some of which vary depending on your chosen specialization. Some of the most common tasks for electricians include:

  • Read residential and commercial blueprints.
  • Install new electrical system, which includes wiring and setting up transformers.
  • Maintain and repair existing electrical systems.
  • Use testing devices to locate any circuitry issues for residential and commercial buildings.
  • Ensure buildings meet the National Electric Code as well as any state building requirements.

Electricians choose between working for themselves or joining a business. New electricians almost always start out by working with a business, as becoming self-employed is a complicated process and involves plenty of other skills outside of electrical work.

Compared to some of the other trade jobs, becoming an electrician takes a great deal of training. Most electricians spend at least a year becoming certified, but most spend two years in school. Becoming certified as an electrician takes less time and money than getting a traditional degree.

The starting salary for most electricians is generous. On average, electricians in the United States made around $50,000, based on 2014 data. The electrical industry is expected to experience a large growth surge. This is because more residential and commercial buildings are being created, plus there is no shortage of existing buildings in need of electrical maintenance.

Some critics argue becoming an electrician is risky because of the increase in renewable energy. While some homes and businesses are utilizing renewable energy, the majority do not. Shifting from electrical to renewable energy is not something that takes place overnight.  

General Requirements to Become an Electrician

The exact requirements to become an electrician depending on the type of field you are interested in joining. Some states have extra requirements, but general guidelines exist for all electricians to follow, including:

  • Being at minimum of 18 years of age.
  • Having a high school diploma or an equivalent certification, such as a GED.
  • Having the necessary certification for your state. This typically includes passing a written and practical certification exam.

While it is not technically a requirement, it is important for electricians to have a clean criminal record as well. To be hired by a company, electricians must be insured. It is much harder to get insurance if you have a criminal record. Even something as small as a misdemeanor charge or having too many speeding tickets makes it harder to get insurance. If you are not outright disqualified, you may have higher prices, which does not look good when applying for an electrician job.

Students preparing to become an electrician should prioritize algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry classes. Mechanical drawing classes help to understand blueprints.

The Types of Electricians

Any student who is considering going to a trade school to become an electrician must be aware of all the different electrical careers. The four main types of electrician careers are residential wireman, inside wireman, telecommunication technicians and outside linemen.

A residential wireman works in both private and multi-family homes. Their primary job is to install new electrical wiring into a home. When a house is being built, a residential wireman installs the initial electrical system and makes any repairs or performs maintenance as needed. Since residential wiremen work in homes as they are being developed, it is important to understand local building codes as well as state requirements. This includes understanding the power regulations for the building.

Many electricians start their careers as a residential wireman. Some end up branching into different career paths, but it is not uncommon for electricians to work as residential wireman for their entire career.

Inside wiremen share many of the same responsibilities as a residential wireman. The difference is inside wiremen work on commercial buildings instead of residential structures. As a commercial building is being constructed, inside wiremen often set up a temporary power system for the construction workers to use. Inside wiremen deal more in large heating, venting and cooling systems. Some other systems normally found in commercial buildings and not residential are complex security systems and fire alarms.

Telecommunication technicians work with either commercial or residential building. They are often paired up with a residential or inside wireman. Telecommunication technicians focus on installing low-voltage systems in a building, such as computer cables, control systems and phone lines.

Outside linemen install electrical lines along the outside of your building. These power lines connect to a larger power system. Some lines are installed underground, while others are above ground and connected by utility poles. Outside linemen typically make more than other types of electricians because they spend the majority of their time performing challenging work outside.

Completing an Apprenticeship

After you take the necessary certification course through a trade skill or community college, the next step is to become an electrician apprentice. Apprentices work under a master electrician. Before you get a license, you must work as an apprentice for several years. The exact amount of time varies depending on your state requirements. Once you are done working as an apprentice, you become a journeyman electrician.

Becoming a Master Electrician

After working as an apprentice and journeyman electrician, the next step is to become a master electrician. Master electricians often specialize in a field, which may require extra certification or classes. Master electricians have the most career options of all electricians and have the highest salaries as a result. Master electricians apply for their title through their local jurisdiction. Most master electricians need anywhere between four and eight years to achieve their title, and they must pass a master electrician exam.