An electrician could...
|Install lights in a stadium so teams can play night games.||Upgrade old wiring in a house, preventing electrical fires.|
|Wire the lights for a rock concert to entertain the fans.||Test the grounding on swimming pool equipment prevent electrocution.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Electricians are the people who bring electricity to our homes, schools, businesses, public spaces, and streets—lighting up our world, keeping the indoor temperature comfortable, and powering TVs, computers, and all sorts of machines that make life better. Electricians install and maintain the wiring and equipment that carries electricity, and they also fix electrical machines.|
|Key Requirements||Manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, physical fitness, and a good sense of balance, as well as good color vision, because workers frequently must identify electrical wires by color.|
|Minimum Degree||Vocational or Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, computer science, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, English; if available, applied technology|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!|
|Interview||Listen to an interview with a real-life electrician as he describes some of the problems he encounters when he goes into a home for repairs or remodeling.|
Training, Other Qualifications
Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship programs. These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom instruction.
Education and Training
Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship programs. These programs combine paid on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Joint training committees made up of local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association; individual electrical contracting companies; or local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors Association usually sponsor apprenticeship programs.
Because of the comprehensive training received, those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both maintenance and construction work. Apprenticeship programs usually last 4 years. Each year includes at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. In the classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first aid practices. They also may receive specialized training in soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and cranes and elevators. On the job, apprentices work under the supervision of experienced electricians.
Some people start their classroom training before seeking an apprenticeship. A number of public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies offer training to become an electrician. Employers often hire students who complete these programs and usually start them at a more advanced level than those without this training. A few people become electricians by first working as helpers—assisting electricians by setting up job sites, gathering materials, and doing other nonelectrical work—before entering an apprenticeship program. All apprentices need a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D.). Electricians may also need classes in mathematics because they solve mathematical problems on the job.
Education can continue throughout an electrician's career. Electricians often complete regular safety programs, manufacturer-specific training, and management training courses. Classes on installing low-voltage voice, data, and video systems have recently become common as these systems become more prevalent. Other courses teach electricians how to become contractors.
Licensure. Most states and localities require electricians to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary from state to state, electricians must usually pass an examination that tests their knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electric and building codes. Experienced electricians periodically take courses offered by their employer or union to learn about changes in the National Electrical Code.
Electrical contractors who do electrical work for the public, as opposed to electricians who work for electrical contractors, often need a special license. In some states, electrical contractors need certification as master electricians. Most states require master electricians to have at least 7 years of experience as an electrician. Some states require a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or a related field.
Applicants for apprenticeships must usually be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. They also may have to pass a test and meet other requirements.
In addition, apprenticeship committees and employers view a good work history or military service favorably.
Nature of the Work
Electricians bring electricity into homes, businesses, and factories. They install and maintain the wiring, fuses, and other components through which electricity flows. Many electricians also install and maintain electrical machines in factories.
Electricians usually start their work by reading blueprints. Blueprints are technical diagrams that show the locations of circuits, outlets, load centers, panel boards, and other equipment. To ensure public safety, electricians follow the National Electrical Code, and state and local building codes.
Electricians connect all types of wires to circuit breakers, transformers, outlets, or other components. They join the wires in boxes with various specially designed connectors. When installing wiring, electricians use hand tools, such as conduit benders, screwdrivers, pliers, knives, hacksaws, and wire strippers, as well as power tools, such as drills and saws. Later, they use ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters, oscilloscopes, and other equipment to test connections and ensure the compatibility and safety of components.
Electricians generally focus on either construction or maintenance, although many do both. Electricians specializing in construction primarily install wiring systems into factories, businesses, and new homes. Electricians specializing in maintenance work fix and upgrade existing electrical systems and repair electrical equipment.
When electricians install wiring systems in factories and commercial settings, they first place conduit (pipe or tubing) inside partitions, walls, or other concealed areas, as designated by the blueprints. They also fasten small metal or plastic boxes to the walls that will house electrical switches and outlets. They pull insulated wires or cables through the conduit to complete circuits between these boxes. In residential construction, electricians usually install insulated wire encased in plastic, which does not need to run through conduit.
Some electricians also install low-voltage wiring systems, in addition to electrical systems, although line installers and repairers specialize in this work. Low-voltage wiring accommodates voice, data, and video equipment, such as telephones, computers, intercoms, and fire alarm and security systems. Electricians also may install coaxial or fiber optic cable for telecommunications equipment and electronic controls for industrial uses.
Maintenance electricians repair or replace electric and electronic equipment when it breaks. They make needed repairs as quickly as possible in order to minimize inconvenience. They may replace items such as circuit breakers, fuses, switches, electrical and electronic components, or wire. Electricians also periodically inspect all equipment to ensure it is operating properly and to correct problems before breakdowns occur.
Maintenance work varies greatly, depending on where an electrician works. Electricians who focus on residential work perform a wide variety of electrical work for homeowners. They may rewire a home and replace an old fuse box with a new circuit breaker box to accommodate additional appliances, or they may install new lighting and other electric household items, such as ceiling fans. These electricians might also do some construction and installation work.
Electricians in large factories usually do maintenance work that is more complex. They may repair motors, transformers, generators, and electronic controllers on machine tools and industrial robots. Electricians also advise management whether continued operation of equipment could be hazardous. When working with complex electronic devices, they may consult with engineers, engineering technicians, line installers and repairers, or industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers.
Electricians work indoors and out, at construction sites, in homes, and in businesses or factories. Work may be strenuous at times, and may include bending conduit, lifting heavy objects, and standing, stooping, and kneeling for long periods of time. Electricians risk injury from electrical shock, falls, and cuts. They must follow strict safety procedures to avoid injuries. When working outdoors, they may be subject to inclement weather conditions. Some electricians may have to travel long distances to job sites.
Most electricians work a standard 40-hour week, although overtime may be required. Those who do maintenance work may work nights or weekends and be on-call to go to the job site, when needed. Electricians in industrial settings may have periodic extended overtime during scheduled maintenance or retooling periods. Companies that operate 24 hours a day may employ three shifts of electricians.
On the Job
- Maintain current electrician's license or identification card to meet governmental regulations.
- Connect wires to circuit breakers, transformers, or other components.
- Repair or replace wiring, equipment, and fixtures, using hand tools and power tools.
- Assemble, install, test, and maintain electrical or electronic wiring, equipment, appliances, apparatus, and fixtures, using hand tools and power tools.
- Test electrical systems and continuity of circuits in electrical wiring, equipment, and fixtures, using testing devices such as ohmmeters, voltmeters, and oscilloscopes, to ensure compatibility and safety of system.
- Use a variety of tools and equipment, such as power construction equipment, measuring devices, power tools, and testing equipment including oscilloscopes, ammeters, and test lamps.
- Plan layout and installation of electrical wiring, equipment and fixtures, based on job specifications and local codes.
- Inspect electrical systems, equipment, and components to identify hazards, defects, and the need for adjustment or repair, and to ensure compliance with codes.
- Direct and train workers to install, maintain, or repair electrical wiring, equipment, and fixtures.
- Diagnose malfunctioning systems, apparatus, and components, using test equipment and hand tools, to locate the cause of a breakdown and correct the problem.
Companies That Hire Electricians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Battery That Makes Cents
- A Cool Way to Make Electricity: Solar Cell Power Output vs. Temperature
- Avoid the Shock of Shocks! Build Your Own Super-sensitive Electric Field Detector
- Batteries: The Shocking Truth
- Build a Reed Switch Motor
- Build a Simple Electric Motor!
- Build Your Own Crystal Radio
- Color Mixing with Red, Green, & Blue LEDs
- Crank Up the Music!
- Dance Mania: Build Your Own Dance Pad!
- Electric Paint: Light Up Your Painting
- How Blue is Your Sports Drink?
- How Bright Is Your Glow Stick? Measure It!
- How Do You Take Your Tea? Make a Simple Electronic Device to Measure the Strength of Tea
- How Does LED Brightness Vary with Current?
- How does the Intensity of Light Change with Distance?
- How Far Can Sparks Jump?
- How Long Does It Take to Fry a Diode?
- Human-Powered Energy
- Linear vs. Logarithmic Changes: What Works Best for Human Senses?
Do you have a specific question about a career as an Electrician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of your state employment service, your state apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors or firms that employ maintenance electricians, or local union-management electrician apprenticeship committees.
Information also may be 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.
For information about union apprenticeship and training programs, contact:
- National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee: www.njatc.org
- National Electrical Contractors Association: www.necanet.org
For information about independent apprenticeship programs, contact:
- Associated Builders and Contractors: www.trytools.org
- Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc.: www.ieci.org
- National Association of Home Builders: www.nahb.org
- National Center for Construction Education and Research: www.nccer.org
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Electric TV. (n.d.) Spotlight on Skills: Disney. Retrieved July 27, 2009, from http://www.electrictv.net/Video-Library/Edition1/SPOTLIGHT-ON-SKILL--Disney.aspx
- Rongey, D. (2009). Troubleshooting Home Electrical Wiring. Retrieved July 30, 2009, from http://www.ask-the-electrician.com/troubleshooting-electrical-wiring.html