Education and Training: Apprenticeship or on-the-job training
Salary: Median—$20.33 an hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Construction electricians assemble, install, and wire the electrical systems in new homes and buildings. Light, heat, power, air-conditioning, and refrigeration operate through electrical systems. Electricians usually install the wiring after the building is partially built. They follow blueprints and wiring diagrams. They also install electronic equipment and signal communication systems.
When electricians wire new homes or buildings, they first run conduit, which is metal tubing or pipe, inside walls and ceilings. They must cut the conduit to the proper length. Once the conduit is in place, electricians pull the wires through the tubing. To complete the circuit, they attach these wires to switches and outlets. Then they solder or screw wires to the fuse box, circuit breakers, or transformers. For safety reasons, electricians must follow state, county, and municipal codes in wiring.
Electricians use hand tools including screwdrivers, pliers, knives, and hacksaws. Employers usually supply conduit benders, pipe threaders, power tools, and test meters.
Education and Training Requirements
Some electricians learn the trade by working as helpers to qualified electricians. Others enter a formal apprenticeship program, which requires a high school diploma. One of the best ways to get formal training is through the four-year apprenticeship program developed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. The committee overseeing apprenticeships decides how many apprentice electricians are needed in any given area. It also establishes apprenticeship standards and plans a varied work program that gives trainees the opportunity to work with different contractors.
Along with four years of on-the-job training, apprentices receive at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. In the classroom, apprentices learn applied mathematics, wiring layout, electrical theory, electronics, and blueprint reading. Many experienced electricians also take classroom instruction to keep up with new developments in this field.
In most areas, electricians need a master electrician's license. The licenses are awarded after applicants pass a test on their knowledge of the trade, the National Electric Code, and the state, local, and municipal building and electrical codes.
Getting the Job
The best way to enter this field is through the joint union-management apprenticeship program. It is also possible to apply directly to electrical contractors for work as a helper.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Experienced electricians often advance to become superintendents or supervisors of construction jobs. Some electricians become estimators, who calculate the length of time a project will take, as well as the labor and materials costs, and submit bids for jobs. Construction electricians can transfer to related jobs, such as maintenance electricians in factories or electricians for aircraft or shipbuilding companies. They can also start their own contracting businesses.
About 659,000 electricians are employed in the United States, of which about two-thirds are in construction-related jobs. This figure is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all jobs. However, the outlook for highly skilled electricians is very good through 2014. The sophisticated wiring in computers and electronic devices will provide more jobs for electricians in the future. More electricians will also be needed to install and repair communication devices used in commerce and industry. Of course, opportunities in the construction industry depend on the strength of the economy.
Electricians generally work forty hours per week, with extra wages for overtime work. Generally they work indoors, but they may be exposed to the elements while working in partially built structures. They often stand for many hours at a time on ladders and scaffolding, or kneel in tight quarters. The risk of electrical shock is always present, although it has been lessened by strict safety procedures. Many electricians belong to labor unions.
Where to Go for More Information
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
900 Seventh St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Electrical Contractors Association
3 Bethesda Metro Center, Ste. 1100
Bethesda, MD 20814-5330
Independent Electrical Contractors
4401 Ford Ave., Ste. 1100
Alexandria, VA 22302
Earnings and Benefits
Median earnings for electricians in 2004 were $20.33 per hour. Apprentices receive forty to fifty percent of the experienced electrician's wage at the start of their training. The wages increase periodically until the end of the apprenticeship. Union workers generally receive paid vacations and pension plans.