Electricians install and maintain all of the electrical
and power systems for our homes, businesses, and factories. They
install and maintain the wiring and control equipment through which
electricity flows. They also install and maintain electrical
equipment and machines in factories and a wide range of other
Electricians generally focus on either construction or
maintenance, although many do both. Electricians specializing in
construction primarily install wiring systems into factories,
businesses, and new homes. Electricians specializing in maintenance
fix and upgrade existing electrical systems and repair electrical
equipment. All electricians must follow State and local building
codes and the National Electrical Code when performing their work.
Electricians usually start their work by reading blueprints—
technical diagrams that show the locations of circuits, outlets,
load centers, panel boards, and other equipment. After determining
where all the wires and components will go, electricians install and
connect the wires to circuit breakers, transformers, outlets, or
other components and systems.
When installing wiring, electricians use handtools such as
conduit benders, screwdrivers, pliers, knives, hacksaws, and wire
strippers, as well as power tools such as drills and saws. Later,
they use ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters, harmonics testers, and
other equipment to test connections and ensure the compatibility and
safety of components.
Maintenance electricians repair or replace electric and
electronic equipment when it breaks. They make needed repairs as
quickly as possible in order to minimize inconvenience. They may
replace items such as circuit breakers, fuses, switches, electrical
and electronic components, or wire.
Electricians also periodically inspect all equipment to ensure
that it is operating properly and to correct problems before
Maintenance work varies greatly, depending on where an
electrician works. Electricians who focus on residential work
perform a wide variety of electrical work for homeowners. They may
rewire a home and replace an old fuse box with a new circuit breaker
box to accommodate additional appliances, or they may install new
lighting and other electric household items, such as ceiling fans.
These electricians also might do some construction and installation
Electricians in large factories usually do maintenance work that
is more complex. These kinds of electricians may repair motors,
transformers, generators, and electronic controllers on machine
tools and industrial robots. They also advise management as to
whether the continued operation of certain equipment could be
hazardous. When working with complex electronic devices, they may
consult with engineers,
line installers and
industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers.
(Statements on these occupations appear elsewhere in the
Electricians work indoors and out, at construction sites, in homes,
and in businesses or factories. The work may be strenuous at times
and may include bending conduit, lifting heavy objects, and
standing, stooping, and kneeling for long periods. Electricians risk
injury from electrical shock, falls, and cuts, and must follow
strict safety procedures to avoid injuries. Data from the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics show that full-time electricians
experienced a work-related injury and illness rate that was higher
than the national average. When working outdoors, they may be
subject to inclement weather. Some electricians may have to travel
long distances to jobsites.
Most electricians work a standard 40-hour week, although
overtime may be required. Those who do maintenance work may work
nights or weekends and be on call to go to the worksite when needed.
Electricians in industrial settings may have periodic extended
overtime during scheduled maintenance or retooling periods.
Companies that operate 24 hours a day may employ three shifts of
An electrician prepares the wiring for an interior room.
Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship
programs that combine on-the-job training with related classroom
Education and training.
Apprenticeship programs combine paid on-the-job training with
related classroom instruction. Joint training committees made up of
local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors
Association; individual electrical contracting companies; or local
chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the
Independent Electrical Contractors Association usually sponsor
Because of the comprehensive training received, those who
complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both maintenance and
construction work. Apprenticeship programs usually last 4 years.
Each year includes at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and
2,000 hours of on-the-job training. In the classroom, apprentices
learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical
code requirements, and safety and first aid practices. They also may
receive specialized training in soldering, communications, fire
alarm systems, and cranes and elevators.
On the job, apprentices work under the supervision of
experienced electricians. At first, they drill holes, set anchors
and attach conduit. Later, they measure, fabricate, and install
conduit and install, connect, and test wiring, outlets, and
switches. They also learn to set up and draw diagrams for entire
electrical systems. Eventually, they practice and master all of an
electrician's main tasks.
Some people start their classroom training before seeking an
apprenticeship. A number of public and private vocational-technical
schools and training academies offer training to become an
electrician. Employers often hire students who complete these
programs and usually start them at a more advanced level than those
without this training. A few people become electricians by first
working as helpers—assisting electricians by setting up job sites,
gathering materials, and doing other nonelectrical work—before
entering an apprenticeship program. All apprentices need a high
school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D.).
Electricians also may need additional classes in mathematics because
they solve mathematical problems on the job.
Education continues throughout an electrician's career.
Electricians may need to take classes to learn about changes to the
National Electrical Code, and they often complete regular safety
programs, manufacturer-specific training, and management training
courses. Classes on such topics as low-voltage voice and data
systems, telephone systems, video systems, and alternative energy
systems such as solar energy and wind energy increasingly are being
given as these systems become more prevalent. Other courses teach
electricians how to become contractors.
Licensure. Most States and
localities require electricians to be licensed. Although licensing
requirements vary from State to State, electricians usually must
pass an examination that tests their knowledge of electrical theory,
the National Electrical Code, and local and State electric and
Electrical contractors who do electrical work for the public, as
opposed to electricians who work for electrical contractors, often
need a special license. In some States, electrical contractors need
certification as master electricians. Most States require master
electricians to have at least 7 years of experience as an
electrician or a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or a
Applicants for apprenticeships usually must be at least 18 years old
and have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. They also may have to
pass a test and meet other requirements.
Other skills needed to become an electrician include manual
dexterity, eye-hand coordination, physical fitness, and a good sense
of balance. Electricians also need good color vision because workers
frequently must identify electrical wires by color. In addition,
apprenticeship committees and employers view a good work history or
military service favorably.
electricians can advance to jobs as supervisors. In construction,
they also may become project managers or construction
superintendents. Those with sufficient capital and management skills
can start their own contracting business, although doing so often
requires a special electrical contractor's license. Supervisors and
contractors should be able to identify and estimate costs and prices
and the time and materials needed to complete a job. Many
electricians also become electrical inspectors.
For those who seek to advance, it is increasingly important to
be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to relay
instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited
understanding of English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large
part of the construction workforce in many areas. Spanish-speaking
workers who want to advance in this occupation need very good
English skills to understand electrician classes and installation
instructions, which are usually written in English and are highly
Electricians held about 694,900 jobs in 2008. About 65 percent
of wage and salary workers were employed by electrical contracting
firms, and the remainder worked as electricians in a variety of
other industries. In addition, about 9 percent of electricians were
growth is expected. Job prospects should be
for workers with the widest range of skills, including voice, data,
and video wiring.
Employment change. Employment
of electricians should increase 12 percent between 2008 and 2018,
about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the population
grows, electricians will be needed to wire new homes, restaurants,
schools, and other structures that will be built to accommodate the
growing population. In addition, older buildings will require
improvements to their electrical systems to meet modern codes and
accommodate higher electricity consumption due to the greater use of
electronic equipment in houses and workplaces.
New technologies also are expected to continue to spur demand
for these workers. Robots and other automated manufacturing systems
in factories will require the installation and maintenance of more
complex wiring systems. In addition, efforts to boost conservation
of energy in public buildings and in new construction will boost
demand for electricians because electricians are key to installing
some of the latest energy savers, such as solar panels and motion
sensors for turning on lights.
Job prospects. In addition to
jobs created by the increased demand for electrical work, openings
are expected over the next decade as electricians retire. This will
create good job opportunities, especially for those with the widest
range of skills, including voice, data, and video wiring. Job
openings for electricians will vary by location and specialty,
however, and will be best in the fastest growing regions of the
Employment of electricians, like that of many other construction
workers, is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. On the one
hand, workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment
when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand,
shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak
periods of building activity.
Although employment of maintenance electricians is steadier than
that of construction electricians, those working in the automotive
and other manufacturing industries that are sensitive to cyclical
swings in the economy may experience layoffs during recessions. In
addition, in many industries opportunities for maintenance
electricians may be limited by increased contracting out for
electrical services in an effort to reduce operating costs. However,
increased job opportunities for electricians in electrical
contracting firms should partially offset job losses in other
In May 2008, median hourly wages of wage and salary electricians
were $22.32. The middle 50 percent earned between $17.00 and $29.88.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13.54, and the highest 10
percent earned more than $38.18. Median hourly wages in the
industries employing the largest numbers of electricians were as
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution
Nonresidential building construction
Building equipment contractors
Apprentices usually start at between 30 and 50 percent of the
rate paid to fully trained electricians, depending on experience. As
apprentices become more skilled, they receive periodic pay increases
throughout their training.
About 32 percent of all electricians are members of a union,
especially the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Among unions representing maintenance electricians are the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the International
Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture
Workers; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace
Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and
Agricultural Implement Workers of America; and the United
Steelworkers of America.
The above wage data are from the
Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For
the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the
Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your
convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.
For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in
this trade, contact the offices of the State employment service, the
State apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors or firms
that employ maintenance electricians, or local union-management
electrician apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is
available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll free help line:
(877) 872-5627. Internet:
Information may be available as well from local chapters of the
Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc.; the National Electrical
Contractors Association; the Home Builders Institute; the Associated
Builders and Contractors trade association; and the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
For information about union apprenticeship and training
National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, 301 Prince
George's Blvd., Upper Marlboro, MD 20774-7410. Internet:
National Electrical Contractors Association, 3 Bethesda Metro
Center, Suite 1100, Bethesda, MD 20814-6302. Internet:
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 900 Seventh
St. NW., Washington, DC 20001-3886. Internet:
For information about independent apprenticeship programs,
Associated Builders and Contractors, Workforce Development
Department, 4250 North Fairfax Dr., 9th Floor, Arlington, VA
Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc., 4401 Ford Ave.,
Suite 1100, Alexandria, VA 22302-1464. Internet:
National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders
Institute, 1201 15th St. NW, 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20005-2842.
National Center for Construction Education and Research, 3600
NW. 43rd St., Bldg. G, Gainesville, FL 32606-8134. Internet:
For general information on apprenticeships and how to get them,
see the Occupational Outlook Quarterly article
"Apprenticeships: Career training, credentials—and a paycheck in
your pocket," online at
http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2002/summer/art01.pdf and in print
at many libraries and career centers.
O*NET provides comprehensive information on key
characteristics of workers and occupations. For information on a
specific occupation, select the appropriate link below. For more
information on O*NET, visit their
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2010-11 Edition,
Electricians, on the Internet at
http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos206.htm (visited February 28,