Electricians are tradesmen whose responsibilities are to design, install, maintain and troubleshoot electrical wiring systems. These systems can be located in homes, commercial or industrial buildings, and even machines and large pieces of equipment. Electricians work either inside or outside to make possible the use of lights, televisions, industrial equipment, appliances and many other items essential to life.
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Electricians are either inside wiremen or outside linemen. These are the main concentrations of a practicing electrical professional, but there are various areas of specialization within each category. Duties also vary widely with each type of position or specialization.
Electricians who fall into the inside wiremen category focus almost solely on the wiring of buildings. Structures range from a newly built home to an aged industrial building that's being repurposed for a new use. Inside wiremen, as their name implies, spend most of their careers working indoors. Working with blueprints, they install new electrical systems in new buildings and troubleshoot problems or replace older systems.
Outside linemen, by contrast, work outdoors most of their careers. They must exhibit a moderate amount of physical fitness due to the requirement of climbing telephone and power poles when a lift bucket is not available. Outside linemen must also endure inclement weather in order to repair power outages for all the homes, businesses and other structures in the area affected by the outage. These electricians work with transformers, transmission lines and traffic signals. They may also be required to trim trees or assemble electrical substations.
These main categories are subdivided into several areas. Service electricians, for instance, specialize in troubleshooting wiring problems and making repairs. Construction electricians, in contrast, focus on laying wiring for new buildings and rarely perform maintenance. Electricians also specialize in marine, air, research, and hospital-specific applications.
All electricians earn their position by undergoing three to five years of an apprenticeship program. Due to the sometimes dangerous nature of their work, the electrician's apprenticeship is overseen by a master electrician and directly supervised by a journeyman electrician. Master electricians are those who have already passed through apprentice and journeyman positions and have exhibited a high degree of technical skill in their trade. A journeyman has completed their apprenticeship, but has not yet earned the skills or experience necessary to become a master.
During their apprenticeship, electricians are required to complete instruction in electrical theory and electrical building codes. In most cases apprentices must pay for these classes, though some programs offer trades, exchanging free training for a commitment to work for that company in the future. Electricians are also given practical training on all types of electrical installation and maintenance. Apprentice electricians will work with masters and journeymen to complete projects on residential, commercial and industrial buildings.
Generally, apprentice electricians are paid for their practical work. After around 8000 hours of practical work, 700 hours of classroom instruction, and the passing of any required state and local licensing exams, candidates can move up to journeyman status. After becoming a journeyman, an electrician is allowed to work on most types of electrical systems, but is usually barred from the design of those systems. Restrictions vary by city, state, and country of residence.
Aside from technical certifications, electricians must be able to work with a wide variety of tools and testing equipment. Common tools, like diagonal and needle-nose pliers are just as essential to an electrician's work as more complicated equipment like multimeters and insulation resistance testers. Other tools for which electricians must maintain competency include cable cutters, tube benders, knockout punches and ground fault indicators. Different specialties require different tools. Outside linemen require both manual and electric saws to cut away trees and foliage from their workplace while inside wiremen rarely make use of these tools.
Depending on their area of specialty, electricians work either indoors or outdoors year round. In either case, their work is often labour intensive and requires manual physical manipulation of electrical wiring, cabling conduit and, in some cases, even telephone wire. A growing number of electricians gain competency in several types of electrical work, allowing them to work both indoors and outdoors.
In many cases, travel is an essential part of the day. Electricians may travel to upwards of 100 miles to a job site and may only work that job for a few days before travelling to another location. These electricians generally fall into the independent contractor category or work under an electrical contractor. Their hours of work vary from week to week.
Maintenance electricians, by contrast, work a standard 40-hour week. In some instances, these electricians may work on an on-call basis, commit to overtime hours or work night shifts. Their work is steady and regular and consists mostly of routine maintenance and troubleshooting.
Because of the universal presence of electrical systems and a growing population, the job outlook for electricians is extremely good. In addition, the growth of technology requires many buildings to be pre-wired for computer and automated systems, necessitating more electrical work and increasing the demand for these tradesmen. The current median salary for a master electrician is upwards of $40,000 annually. Factors like experience and geographic location have a great impact, and general electrician's salaries range anywhere from $34,000 to $56,000 per year.