Job opportunities are expected to be good, especially for
those with the right skills.
Most electricians acquire their skills by completing an apprenticeship
program lasting 4 to 5 years.
Nearly three-fourths of electricians work for building contractors
or are self-employed, but there also will be many job openings
for electricians in other industries.
Nature of the Work
Electricity is essential for light, power, air-conditioning,
and refrigeration. Electricians install, connect, test, and
maintain electrical systems for a variety of purposes, including
climate control, security, and communications. They also may
install and maintain the electronic controls for machines
in business and industry.
Electricians generally specialize in construction or maintenance
work, although a growing number do both. Electriciansspecializing
in construction work primarily install wiring systems into
new homes, businesses, and factories, but they also rewire
or upgrade existing electrical systems as needed. Electricians
specializing in maintenance work primarily maintain and upgrade
existing electrical systems and repair electrical equipment.
Electricians work with blueprints when they install electrical
systems. Blueprints indicate the locations of circuits, outlets,
load centers, panel boards, and other equipment. Electricians
must follow the National Electrical Code and comply with State
and local building codes when they install these systems.
Regulations vary depending on the setting and require various
types of installation procedures.
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 to the walls small metal
or plastic boxes 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 plastic encased insulated wire,
which does not need to be run through conduit. The gauge and
number of wires installed in all settings depends upon the
load and end use of that part of the electrical system. The
greater the diameter of the wire, the higher the voltage and
amperage that can flow through it.
Electricians connect all types of wire to circuit breakers,
transformers, outlets, or other components. They join the
wires in boxes with various specially designed connectors.
During installation, 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.
After they finish installing the wiring, they use testing
equipment, such as ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters, and oscilloscopes,
to check the circuits for proper connections, ensuring electrical
compatibility, and safety of components.
Maintenance work varies greatly, depending on where the electrician
is employed. Electricians who specialize in 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. Those who work in large factories
may repair motors, transformers, generators, and electronic
controllers on machine tools and industrial robots. Those
in office buildings and small plants may repair all types
of electrical equipment.
Maintenance electricians working in factories, hospitals,
and other settings repair electric and electronic equipment
when breakdowns occur and install new electrical equipment.
When breakdowns occur, they must make the necessary 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 locate and correct problems before breakdowns
occur. Electricians also advise management whether continued
operation of equipment could be hazardous. When working with
complex electronic devices, they may work with engineers,
engineering technicians, line installers and repairers, or
industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance
workers. (Sections on these occupations appear elsewhere in
Although primarily classified as work for line installers
and repairers, electricians also may install low voltage wiring
systems in addition to wiring a building’s electrical system.
Low voltage wiring involves voice, data, and video wiring
systems, such as those for telephones, computers and related
equipment, intercoms, and fire alarm and security systems.
Electricians also may install coaxial or fiber optic cable
for computers and other telecommunications equipment and electronic
controls for industrial uses.
Electricians work both indoors and out; at construction sites,
in homes, and in businesses or factories. Work may be strenuous
at times and include bending conduit, lifting heavy objects,
and standing, stooping, and kneeling for long periods of time.
When working outdoors, they may be subject to inclement weather
conditions. Some electricians may have to travel long distances
to jobsites. Electricians risk injury from electrical shock,
falls, and cuts; they must follow strict safety procedures
to avoid injuries.
Most electricians work a standard 40-hour week, although
overtime may be required. Those in maintenance work may work
nights or weekends, and be on call to go to the worksite when
needed. Electricians working in industrial settings may also
have periodic extended overtime during scheduled maintenance
or retooling periods. Companies that operate 24 hours a day
may employ three shifts of electricians.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship
programs. These programs combine on-the-job training with
related classroom instruction. Apprenticeship programs may
be sponsored by joint training committees made up of local
unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors
Association; company management committees of individual electrical
contracting companies; or local chapters of the Associated
Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors
Association. Because of the comprehensive training received,
those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both
maintenance and construction work.
Applicants for apprenticeships usually must be at least 18
years old and have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. They
should have good math and English skills, since most instruction
manuals are in English. They also may have to pass a test
and meet other requirements. Apprenticeship programs usually
last 4 years and each year include at least 144 hours of classroom
instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. In the
classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory and installing
and maintaining electrical systems. There also take classes
in blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements,
and safety and first aid practices 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. At first, they
drill holes, set anchors, and attach conduit. Later, they
measure, fabricate, and install conduit, as well as install,
connect, and test wiring, outlets, and switches. They also
learn to set up and draw diagrams for entire electrical systems.
To complete the apprenticeship and become electricians, apprentices
must demonstrate mastery of the electrician’s work
Some persons seeking to become electricians choose to obtain
their classroom training before seeking a job. Training to
become an electrician is offered by a number of public and
private vocational-technical schools and training academies
in affiliation with local unions and contractor organizations.
Employers often hire students who complete these programs
and usually start them at a more advanced level than those
without the training. A few persons become electricians by
first working as helpers, assisting electricians setting up
job sites, gathering materials, and doing other nonelectrical
work, before entering an apprenticeship program.
Skills needed to become an electrician include manual dexterity,
eye-hand coordination, physical fitness, and a good sense
of balance. The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly
and accurately also is required. Good color vision is needed
because workers frequently must identify electrical wires
by color. In addition, a good work history or military service
is viewed favorably by apprenticeship committees and employers.
Most localities require electricians to be licensed. Although
licensing requirements vary from area to area, electricians
usually must 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 keep abreast
of changes in the National Electrical Code and new materials
or methods of installation. For example, classes on installing
low voltage voice, data, and video systems have recently become
common as these systems have become more prevalent.
Experienced electricians can advance to jobs as supervisors.
In construction they also may become project managers or construction
superintendents. Those with sufficient capital and management
skills may start their own contracting business, although
this may require an electrical contractor’s license. Many
electricians also become electrical inspectors. Supervisors
and contractors should be able to identify and estimate the
correct type and quantity of materials needed to complete
a job, and accurately estimate how long a job will take to
complete and at what cost. For those who seek to advance,
it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in
both English and Spanish in order to relay instructions and
safety precautions to workers with limited understanding of
English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of
the construction workforce in many areas. Spanish-speaking
workers who want to advance in this occupation need very good
English skills to understand instruction presented in classes
and installation instructions, which are usually written in
English and are highly technical.
Electricians held about 656,000 jobs in 2004. Nearly two-thirds
of wage and salary workers were employed in the construction
industry; while the remainder worked as maintenance electricians
in other industries. In addition, about one in ten electricians
Because of the widespread need for electrical services, electrician
jobs are found in all parts of the country.
Employment of electricians is expected to increase as fast
as average for all occupations through the year 2014. As the
population and economy grow, more electricians will be needed
to install and maintain electrical devices and wiring in homes,
factories, offices, and other structures. New technologies
also are expected to continue to stimulate the demand for
these workers. For example, buildings need to increasingly
accommodate the use of computers and telecommunications equipment.
Also, the increasing prevalence in factories of robots and
other automated manufacturing systems will require more complex
wiring systems be installed and maintained. Additional jobs
will be created as older structures are rehabilitated and
retrofitted, which usually requires that they be brought up
to meet existing electrical codes.
In addition to jobs created by the increased demand for electrical
work, many openings are expected to occur over the next decade
as a large number of electricians are expected to retire.
This will create good job opportunities for the most qualified
jobseekers. Job openings for electricians, though, will vary
by area and will be greatest in the fastest growing regions
of the country.
Employment of construction electricians, like that of many
other construction workers, is sensitive to changes in the
economy. This results from the limited duration of construction
projects and the cyclical nature of the construction industry.
During economic downturns, job openings for electricians are
reduced as the level of construction activity declines. Apprenticeship
opportunities also are less plentiful during these periods.
Although employment of maintenance electricians is steadier
than that of construction electricians, those working in the
automotive and other manufacturing industries that are sensitive
to cyclical swings in the economy may be laid off during recessions.
Also, opportunities for maintenance electricians may be limited
in many industries by the increased contracting out for electrical
services in an effort to reduce operating costs and increase
productivity. However, increased job opportunities for electricians
in electrical contracting firms should partially offset job
losses in other industries.
In May 2004, median hourly earnings of electricians were
$20.33. The middle 50 percent earned between $15.43 and $26.90.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12.18, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $33.63. Median hourly earnings
in the industries employing the largest numbers of electricians
in May 2004 were as follows:
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
Nonresidential building construction
Building equipment contractors
Apprentices usually start at between 40 and 50 percent of
the rate paid to fully trained electricians, depending on
experience. As apprentices become more skilled, they receive
periodic pay increases throughout the course of their training.
Some electricians are members of the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers. Among unions representing maintenance
electricians are the International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers; the International Union of Electronic, Electrical,
Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers; the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International
Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement
Workers of America; and the United Steelworkers of America.
To install and maintain electrical systems, electricians
combine manual skill and knowledge of electrical materials
and concepts. Workers in other occupations involving similar
skills include heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration
mechanics and installers; line installers and repairers; electrical
and electronics installers and repairers; electronic home
entertainment equipment installers and repairers; and elevator
installers and repairers.
Sources of Additional Information
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities
in this trade, contact the offices of the State employment
service, the State apprenticeship agency, local electrical
contractors or firms that employ maintenance electricians,
or local union-management electrician apprenticeship committees.
This 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,
National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (NJATC),
301 Prince George’s Blvd., Upper Marlboro, MD 20774. Internet:
National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), 3
Metro Center, Suite 1100, Bethesda, MD 20814. Internet:
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW),
1125 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.ibew.org/
For information about independent apprenticeship programs,
Associated Builders and Contractors, Workforce Development
Department, 4250 North Fairfax Dr., 9th Floor, Arlington,
VA 22203. Internet: http://www.trytools.org/
Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc., 4401 Ford Ave.,
Suite 1100, Alexandria, VA 22302. Internet: http://www.ieci.org/
National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute,
1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.hbi.org/
National Center for Construction Education and Research,
P.O. Box 141104, Gainesville, FL 32614-1104. Internet: http://www.nccer.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition