What Does an Electrician Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Electricians design, install, and repair electrical power systems, including communications, lighting, and control networks in homes, businesses, factories, and public spaces and thoroughfares, in addition to ensuring that electrical work is up to code. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2018, 655,840 people were employed as electricians.
Electrician Duties & Responsibilities
Electricians' duties are diverse and depend on the employer and specialty, but some responsibilities are common to most:
- Diagnose electrical problems using diagrams or blueprints.
- Install and repair electrical systems.
- Inspect, troubleshoot, and conduct tests.
- Pinpoint problems using a range of testing devices.
- Safely use various hand and power tools.
- Plan the layout and installation of electrical wiring, equipment, and fixtures.
- Comply with all safety standards and regulations of the National Electrical Code.
- Supervise and train others in the installation and repair of electrical components.
Electricians get electrical power from its source to end-users, install it safely, and perform testing, maintenance, and repairs to keep it functioning properly. In the course of doing this work, they may also need to administer first aid or CPR, provide professional advice to customers, order parts, demonstrate knowledge of renewable or green energy components and systems, work productively with coworkers and the public, and remove trees, branches, and brush that interfere with power lines and electrical utility rights of way.
Electricians who work for the government tend to be the most highly compensated, followed by manufacturing, contracting, and employment services, but compensation across all sectors is:
- Median Annual Salary: $55,190 ($26.53/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $94,620 ($45.49/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less Than $32,940 ($15.84/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training, & Certification
This job doesn't require a college education, but it does require extensive training as well as licensing. Apprentice electricians must be at least 18 years old.
- Education: A high school diploma or GED is required.
- Apprenticeship: Electrician apprenticeship programs generally last four to five years and include a minimum of 576 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.
- Licenses: Most states and municipalities require that electricians be licensed. They must pass an exam that tests knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electrical and building codes.
Electricians are a highly unionized profession. In fact, the percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2018 was higher than that of workers in any other industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Electrician Skills & Competencies
Working as an electrician requires multiple skills, traits, and abilities:
- Manual dexterity: An electrician must have good manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination.
- Color vision: They must be able to identify wires by color, so normal color vision is critical.
- Physical fitness and a good sense of balance: They may be on their feet all day and work at high elevations, in addition to routinely lifting objects that weigh up to 50 pounds.
- Troubleshooting and analytical skills: They need to decide which device is the right one for testing a wide variety of problems and then figure out the best solutions.
- Ability to work on a team: Many electricians work on crews with limited supervision.
The job outlook for electricians is good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of electrician jobs will increase by about 9%, or about as fast as the average for all occupations, between 2016 and 2026.
Experienced electricians also have many opportunities for advancement, which may or may not involve changing employers. For example, electricians can become supervisors, or, if they work in construction, project managers. An electrician can also become an electrical inspector for a municipality.
Electricians might work indoors in residential and commercial buildings or outdoors on construction sites, sometimes in inclement weather.
Working as an electrician can be uncomfortable and, at times, dangerous. Electricians work in cramped spaces and spend a lot of time standing or kneeling. They're prone to minor injuries, such as burns, shocks, and falls, so wearing protective clothing and equipment at all times is important.
Electricians typically work full-time and may work overtime hours as necessary, sometimes working evenings and weekends. Self-employed electricians might opt to work longer hours in the interests of maintaining and growing their businesses.
How to Get the Job
FIND AN APPRENTICESHIP
Join an apprenticeship program sponsored by the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or by the Independent Electrical Contractors and learn a trade while being paid.
Once you've finished your apprenticeship, use expert-sourced practice interview questions to prep for your first job interview.
Comparing Similar Jobs
The median annual salaries of similar jobs that may require more education and be subject to different licensing requirements are:
- Drafter: $55,550
- Electrical Engineer: $99,070
- Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanic (HVAC): $47,610
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018