Education and Training: Apprenticeship or on-the-job training plus license
Salary: Median—$20.33 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Maintenance electricians work in factories, hospitals, and other large businesses. They keep the generators, lighting, and electrical systems in working order. Electricians diagnose problems and then repair or replace defective parts.
Maintenance electricians spend much of their time on preventive maintenance. They make periodic inspections of equipment to find defects before costly breakdowns occur. The specific nature of their work depends on the size of the buildings they work in and the industry in which they work. Electricians who work in factories maintain the machines that make the company's products. Maintenance electricians who work in hospitals and large office buildings keep lighting and air-conditioning systems in working order. Those who are employed by public utilities and mines must ensure a constant and reliable flow of electricity from generators.
Maintenance electricians test equipment and replace circuit breakers and switches. Sometimes they must repair wiring by splicing or by bending and cutting conduit, a type of metal tubing that protects the wire. Maintenance electricians use wiring diagrams, blueprints, and other building specifications to plan their repair work. They use tools such as screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters, conduit benders, knives, drills, and meters to test voltage, ohms, and amps.
Maintenance electricians need to act quickly when a breakdown occurs. They must be able to tell management whether the problem can be corrected and whether business can continue as usual. If regular activities must be stopped, the electrician will have to estimate how long a shutdown will last.
Education and Training Requirements
The best way to become a maintenance electrician is to complete a four-year apprenticeship program. A high school diploma is required. High school courses should include algebra, trigonometry, physics, and shop. Applicants must be in good health, have a certain degree of manual dexterity, and be able to do simple mathematics. Accurate color perception is also necessary, because wires are often color-coded according to function.
The apprenticeship program combines on-the-job training with at least 144 hours of classroom instruction each year. Apprentices learn electrical theory, mathematics, motor repair, wire splicing, welding, and the repair of electrical controls and circuits. On the job, apprentices learn to use the materials and tools of the trade. They also get experience in solving electrical problems.
Many electricians learn their trade by working as helpers for experienced electricians, but employers usually prefer formal apprenticeship training. Most cities and counties require electricians to hold master electricians' licenses. Applicants must pass an exam that tests their knowledge of the trade, of the National Electric Code, and of the local building regulations.
Getting the Job
The best way to become a maintenance electrician is to apply for an apprenticeship. A reliable electrical contractor or a local union office will have information about openings in the program. Prospective electricians also get into the trade by starting in the maintenance department of a factory or an establishment such as a hospital, public utility company, or office building, beginning as helpers and working their way up. Eventually they can take the exam for a master electrician's license.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Maintenance electricians are already at the top of their craft. However, experienced maintenance electricians in factories can become supervisors or even plant maintenance superintendents. They can move into related jobs in purchasing, sales, estimating, contracting, and inspecting. Maintenance electricians can also become construction electricians.
The employment outlook for maintenance electricians is good through 2014. Openings are expected to occur each year as the result of expansion in the field and as workers retire or change occupations. Maintenance electricians service computers, which are being used more in industry. The increased use of all types of communication devices will create more work for maintenance electricians.
Maintenance electricians work indoors, in both clean and dirty settings. They may work from ladders or catwalks or in confined spaces. They often work with high-voltage equipment, so they must be alert and precise. Protective clothing and equipment are used. Because the safety and comfort of the people who work in the buildings often depend on maintenance electricians, they must diagnose and solve problems quickly, which means that the work environment can be stressful. They usually work forty-hour weeks, although serious breakdowns may require overtime. Higher wages are paid for extra hours.
Where to Go for More Information
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
1125 Fifteenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
501 Third St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Pl.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America
8000 E. Jefferson Ave.
Detroit, MI 48214
5 Gateway Center
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Earnings and Benefits
The median income for electricians in 2004 was $20.33 per hour. Beginning apprentices earn forty to fifty percent of this salary, and their pay increases periodically as they progress through the training program. Union members generally receive paid vacations and pension plans.