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What do electricians do?  

Without these workers, there would be no lights, no computers, and no TV's plugged into our walls. Electricians bring us electricity. They put in the wires that carry electricity through houses, offices, and factories. They also fix electric machines.

Electricians start by reading mapsócalled blueprintsóthat show how electricity flows. Blueprints show where to put wires, electrical equipment, and outlets for plugs. When working on a new building, electricians draw new blueprints.

Then, electricians put tubes or pipes inside the walls. They also put small boxes on the walls to hold switches and outlets. They pull wires through the tubes to connect the boxes and make a path for the electricity to follow. A path for electricity is called a circuit.

Electricians also add circuit breakers, transformers, and other equipment to control how electricity flows. They make sure the right amount of electricity goes to the machines that use it. Electricians follow strict rules about how to wire buildings.

After they finish wiring, electricians use ohmmeters, voltmeters, and oscilloscopes to measure the amount of electricity running through the system.

Electricians also install wires for telephones, computers, and fire alarms. Sometimes, they use fiber optic cable.

Maintenance electricians fix electric machines or broken wiring. Some focus on houses. They might rewire a house. Or they could replace an old fuse box with one that can run more appliances.

Some electricians work in factories. They might fix motors, generators, and electronic robots. They also inspect equipment and fix it before it breaks. They tell managers when equipment is dangerous and should be replaced. Electricians put in new electrical equipment, too.

Electricians use wire strippers, knives, hacksaws, and power tools. Some work is hard because electricians stand for a long time and climb ladders. Some electricians work in dusty, dirty, or hot places. But others work in clean places.

Workers need to be careful to avoid falls, cuts, and electric shock. They need good hand-eye coordination and to be good at seeing the different colors of wire.

Some electricians work nights and weekends instead of weekdays. Some travel far to get to jobsites.

How do you get ready to be an electrician?  

Most electricians start by becoming apprentices. As apprentices, they learn on the job. They watch and listen to experienced workers. They also take classes about electricity. They get paid while they learn. After 3 to 5 years, they are fully trained and can work on their own.

Apprentices start with easy tasks like drilling holes and setting up pipe. Later, they learn to connect wires and draw diagrams of the electrical systems they build.

In class, apprentices learn blueprint reading, electronics, math, safety, and rules about electricity. They also learn about welding, communications equipment, and elevators.

Even after they finish an apprenticeship, electricians still take more classes. They might learn more about telephone lines, computer lines, and other kinds of special wiring. Most electricians also need to get a license from the county where they work.

Experienced electricians can become supervisors and then superintendents. Those with management skills often start their own business.

To become an apprentice, most people need a high school diploma or a G.E.D. They also need to pass a skills test that includes math and science.

To get ready for the test, it helps to take high school classes in science, electronics, shop, and technical drawing. Math classes, like algebra, are also very important. After high school, people can get training in technical schools, community colleges, and the U.S. Armed Forces.

People who don't become apprentices can start training for the job by working as helpers for electricians.

How much does an electrician get paid?  

In 2002, the middle half of electricians earned between $14.95 and $26.50 an hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $11.81. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $33.21. People who worked in car factories made the most.

Apprentices are paid while they learn. To start, they usually earn between 40 and 50 percent of what fully trained electricians earn. They make more as they learn.

How many jobs are there?  

There were 659,000 electricians working in 2002. Most worked in construction or maintenance. About 10 percent worked for themselves.

What about the future?  

Electricians are expected to have good job opportunities. There will be lots of job openings every year.

Jobs for electricians are expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2012. As the economy grows, more electricians will be needed to bring electricity to more homes, factories, and other places. They also will be needed to install wire for computers and telecommunications. More factories will be using robots, whose controls electricians fix.

Electricians who work in construction sometimes have a hard time finding work when the economy slows. Maintenance work is usually steadier. The number of jobs depends on where you are.

Are there other jobs like this?  

  • 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
  • Elevator installers and repairers

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics
Where can you find more information?  
More information about electricians can be found in the Careers Database

Questions or Comments?
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