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A Day in the Life of a Electrician

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

In the 1900s, when electricity was developed, electricians were responsible for the wiring, testing, and constructing of every electrical system, groundline, and socket in the U.S. Electricians are in high demand these days, primarily for maintenance rather than construction. Outdated electrical systems need upgrading. As sources of electricity change over time, methods of delivery and capacity differentiation will require that the electrician engage in continuing education. With the population growing and the power usage rising, the demand for electricians should be steady for the next ten years. Current population trends indicate that more work should be available in the South and Southwest than in the North and Northeast.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Most training programs have progressed nearly halfway, and those who couldn’t hack the academic rigor of these programs have been weeded out. At the two-year mark, the emphasis switches from classroom-based learning to practical considerations. Work is still highly supervised and tasks are limited to basic installation, testing, and maintenance. Blueprint-reading skills are developing. Wages are low for the industry, but many say this is not a problem “as you are learning a career.”

FIVE YEARS OUT

Nearly everyone has finished the training program and is a certified electrician. Those who haven’t yet passed state and federal requirements work as “electrician’s assistants” while they study for them. Those who have passed these tests pursue work through local sponsoring guilds and unions; already employed electricians or general contractors who are hiring sub-contractors, a process which also goes through the local guild or union; or on-site maintenance contractors that may or may not go through the union. Local electrician unions are powerful forces in the electrician’s working life; it is suggested that one join the local union as soon as possible after certification. Many electricians work odd but not exceptionally long hours.

TEN YEARS OUT

At ten years, an electrician has established himself as a valuable and capable player in the industry. Skills are excellent; a variety of unusual situations, such as remodeling entire buildings with outdated wiring, or meeting the demands of companies with unusual power needs, have been encountered and handled. Most have formed relationships in the industry, which, in the end, often replace formalized partnerships. While in many other industries a significant number of ten-year veterans form their own consulting companies, only around 20 percent of ten-year electricians do this. The hassles for private electrical contractors are many-insurance, liability, unhappy clients-and the pay as a freelance electrician working for individual contractors is good. A few of the teaching-inclined have gone back to the apprenticeship programs as instructors who work for slightly less pay but with more consistent and less taxing hours.