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Electricians: Job Description & Requirements

Discover what type of work an electrician performs. Learn about the education and skills needed in addition to employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career choice.

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Career Definition for an Electrician

Electricians install and maintain the wiring and components that keep electricity flowing through homes, offices, schools and factories; some also set up the low-voltage wires that run computers and phones. Following blueprints and drawing from knowledge of safety codes, they connect wires to transformers, circuit breakers and other devices. Their many tools include conduit benders, wire strippers, screwdrivers and pliers; they test their work with devices including oscilloscopes, ohmmeters, voltmeters and ammeters.

Required Education Vocational, technical or training academies and/or apprenticeship program
Necessary Skills Physically fit, balance, color vision, hand-eye coordination
Median Salary (2015)* $51,880
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 14%

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Although some electricians are first hired as helpers, most begin as apprentices in programs that generally last four years and require 144 classroom hours and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training; one apprenticeship-sponsoring organization is the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). Some workers get a head start by studying first in vocational, technical or training academies, allowing them to start as higher-level apprentices; courses may focus on electricity; properties of conductors; conduit fittings; residential, commercial and industrial installations and heating and lighting practices.

Skills Required

An apprentice electrician must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or General Educational Diploma (GED). Electricians should also be physically fit and have good balance, hand-eye coordination and color vision.

Economic and Career Outlook

As of May 2015, median hourly wages for electricians were $24.94 while median annual wages were $51,880, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). In the decade of 2014-2024, electrician employment opportunities are projected to be faster than average, with an increase of 14%. Openings decrease during economic downturns, but shortages of electricians occur when construction activity picks up.

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Alternative Careers

Some skills necessary to become an electrician will help prepare you for careers in other areas.

Electronics Installer

For those wanting a career setting up and testing electronics, becoming an electronics installer may be the right fit. Electronics installers work in many industries and hook up products like security and audio systems, navigation equipment, manufacturing machines and utility components. After installation, they test the equipment to make sure it is functioning properly and make any necessary adjustments.

To work in the field, electronics training at a technical college is generally necessary, and on-the-job training is very common. Obtaining professional certification from an organization such as the Electronics Technicians Association International may provide an advantage when applying for positions.

An employment decline of 4% is predicted for this field between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS, but installers of industrial and commercial equipment will see more new opportunities than other industries. In May of 2015, the BLS estimated that electronics installers of transportation systems received a median yearly income of $58,990, while home entertainment electronics installers earned $37,790.

Electrical Engineering Technician

Those with more of an interest in designing and constructing new electrical devices should consider becoming an electrical engineering technician. Under the direction of an electrical engineer, these engineering technicians create sketches and schematics, assemble electrical components, build prototypes, run extensive tests, correct design flaws and prepare reports. An associate degree in electrical engineering technology is a necessary step to gaining employment in this profession, and these programs can be found at vocational and technical schools.

In 2015, the BLS reported that 139,080 electrical and electronics engineering technicians were employed in the nation and earned a median of $61,130 per year. An employment decline of 2% is expected for this field from 2014-2024, and the BLS attributes this stall to the decline of manufacturing activities.

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