Electricians are responsible for bringing electricity into homes, businesses and factories. They do so by installing and maintaining wiring, fuses, and other electrical components. They usually begin their work by reading blueprints, which are technical diagrams that show the locations of panel boards, circuits, outlets, load centers, and other equipment.
Electricians also follow the National Electrical Code, along with state and local building codes, in order to ensure public safety. Electricians are responsible for connecting all kinds of wires to circuit breakers, transformers, outlets, etc. The wires are then joined in boxes with specially designed connectors. Electricians also use hand tools such as conduit benders, screwdrivers, pliers, knives, hacksaws and wire strippers, along with power tools such as drills and saws. In order to test connections and compatibility of safety components, electricians use tools such as ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters, oscilloscopes, and other equipment.
Electricians usually begin as apprentices, working under the supervision of experienced electricians. Their jobs at first include drilling holes, setting anchors and attaching conduits. Later, they measure, fabricate, and install conduit and install, connect and test wiring, outlets, and switches. They also learn how to draw diagrams. Apprenticeships typically last four to five years depending upon the state’s certification laws.
Electricians need to possess manual dexterity, good eye-hand coordination, be physically fit, and have a good sense of balance. They must also have good color vision, as different wires are in different colors. They must also be age 18 or above and have at least a high school diploma or G.E.D. Generally, electricians focus either on construction or maintenance, although many do both. Those specializing in construction typically install wiring systems in factories, businesses and new homes. Those specializing in maintenance fix and upgrade existing electrical systems along with repairing electrical equipment.
Electricians may also install low-voltage wiring systems, which accommodate voice, data and video equipment (i.e. computers, telephones and intercoms), and fire and alarm systems. They may also install coaxial or fiber optic cable for telecommunications equipment. When equipment breaks, maintenance electricians replace it. They also make repairs as quickly as possible, replace things like circuit breakers, fuses, switches, wire or electrical and electronic components. They also periodically inspect equipment to make sure it’s working properly. Maintenance electricians can also focus on residential or factory work. Those specializing in residential work perform a wide variety of duties for homeowners, from replacing a fuse box to completely rewiring a home. Electricians working in industrial settings perform more complex tasks, such as repairing motors, transformers, generators, and electronic controllers on machine tools and industrial robots. They also advise management if continuing to operate equipment could be hazardous.
Electricians work inside and out, at construction sites, in people’s homes, and in businesses or factories. Their jobs may include long periods of kneeling, stooping, bending or standing. They sometimes have to crawl through tight spaces, such as attics or underneath houses. Electricians also risk physical injury from electrical shocks, falls and cuts, and have to follow strict safety procedures along with typically wearing specially-made clothing (i.e., boots that are NEC certified to help avoid electrocution). Electricians may have to work in inclement weather at times, and some may have to travel long distances to job sites. Most work a standard 40-hour work week, but long hours and weekends are sometimes required in order to meet deadlines.
Electricians work in many different industries, along with being self-employed or working for electrical contractors. Those industries include: motor vehicle parts manufacturing; electric power generation, transmission and distribution; local government; nonresidential building construction; plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors; and employment services.
While most electricians earn their training through apprenticeship programs, these programs are rigorous and include 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training per year (for four to five years). Classroom learning incorporates electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements and safety and first aid practices. Some choose to begin their classroom training before seeking an apprenticeship. Many community and technical colleges offer associates degrees and certificate programs in Electrical Systems Technology and related fields. Employers like to hire graduates of these programs, and tend to start them at a more advanced level than those without training. It is important that electricians continue their education throughout their careers, as they must stay abreast of new safety and electrical code procedures/changes, along with taking manufacture-specific training and management training courses. Those wishing to become electrical contractors need certification as a master electrician (in most states), along with at least seven years of experience. Some states even require a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering or a related field.