Many of our survey respondents said that they had been fascinated by electricity ever since they were small, and few were disappointed with their choice of careers. There are two general types of electrical work: Construction work, which includes reading blueprints, wiring, installing, and testing electrical systems; and maintenance work, which involves troubleshooting, testing, and fixing already installed, improperly functioning, electrical systems. Most construction electricians are employed by contractors during the secondary phases of building. Maintenance electricians work as freelancers or for large factories, office buildings, or hospitals.
“If you make it through the training, and spend a little time with someone good, you’ll be all right,” commented one electrician. Almost all electricians go through an academically rigorous apprenticeship program. Only people with a careful eye for details, responsible work habits, and sound on-the-spot judgment should consider becoming electricians. Electricians must know how to read blueprints and specifications and install, connect, and test electrical devices and power sources. They must be familiar with local and federal electrical codes and regulations. Those who succeed have a sound theoretical understanding of electrical systems and good manual dexterity and patience. While on-the-job injuries are not uncommon, electricians are seriously injured by electricity at half the rate of the general population, while taking ten times the amount of risk. Most of these injuries occur at the end of long hours, when being rushed to complete a task, or when blueprints have been incorrectly drawn. An important part of becoming a good electrician is knowing when it would be dangerous to proceed.
Electricians are finding that their profession is becoming linked with those who do computer and telecommunications wiring. These systems are installed at the same time, and more often than not, new structures are wired for networks and telecommunications immediately. Over 15 percent of electricians take additional classes on telecommunications systems, wiring, and the electrical interfaces to do this work themselves.
Electricians work indoors and out, under both difficult and ordinary pressures, and are subjected to daily tests of mental acuity and physical dexterity. One of the few careers in this book that requires only a high school diploma, electricians enjoy one of the higher paid specialty-industry fields with a solid future, as America becomes more dependent on consistent and well-maintained supplies of electricity. Most people become electricians by entering an apprenticeship program through the sponsorship of an existing electrician. These programs are run by such unions as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or the National Electrical Contractors Association. Most programs take four to five years to complete. Candidates must attend nearly 160 hours of classroom instruction per year, but the emphasis is on practical experience. Over 800 hours of practical training are provided annually. Aspiring electricians should be mature and responsible, and have strong mathematical skills and good physical dexterity and stamina. Most states have their own licensing exams that test knowledge of local regulations as well as information contained in the National Electrical Code, the national register of electrical regulations. Please note that color-blind people cannot become electricians, as all wiring is color-coded to avoid mistakes and injuries.
Few electricians leave the field, unless work in a particular region becomes unavailable. Some of the 10 percent who do leave the profession each year are retirees. Some become electrical inspectors, enter teaching programs, or work as construction consultants specializing in secondary building systems. A few enter training programs to become contractors.