Whether installing a new breaker box in a home or fixing a light fixture in a factory, electricians can handle a variety of tasks with the systems that provide power and lighting for buildings. They undergo extensive hands-on training to begin working as apprentices and continue gaining experience to progress to journeyman and master electrician roles with more responsibilities and job opportunities. Electrician wages can be lucrative depending on a person's job title, location and industry. While experienced electricians can make over $1,000 a week, apprentices can expect to make significantly lower weekly wages while they're still learning the trade.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the May 2017 median pay for an electrician as $51,880 annually, which is about $997.69 a week. Wages vary for apprentice, journeyman and master electricians, and location and work arrangement also affect weekly pay.
Electricians rely on their expertise and technical drawings showing a building's electrical system wiring to perform necessary installation, repair and maintenance work. They might replace worn electrical components such as switches and breakers, use tools to determine what causes an electrical system or appliance to fail, and upgrade old wiring in a home. Some even redesign entire electrical systems when the current setup does not support the usage required.
Job duties can also vary at different stages in an electrician's career. An apprentice electrician spends time as an electrician helper; this can involve getting the necessary equipment for the supervising electrician and completing installation and maintenance tasks with help. In contrast, a journeyman apprentice is capable of doing work alone while sometimes helping a crew with shared projects and training apprentices. Master electricians have the authorization to completely design electrical systems and teach other apprentices and journeymen the trade.
While many electricians are generalists, some specialize in working with residential, commercial or industrial equipment; others focus on maintenance work. All electricians benefit from having strong troubleshooting and critical-thinking skills, color vision and good physical ability. Familiarity with home appliances, air conditioning systems, building regulations and alternative power generation can help electricians on the job.
The route to becoming an electrician usually begins with finishing high school or obtaining an equivalent. After graduation, aspiring electricians need extensive training before they qualify to begin working in the trade independently. Specific requirements for experience and education widely vary by city, county or state. One route to get started is to take some courses in electrical technology at a community college or trade school. This provides initial classroom and hands-on training in doing technical math, reading blueprints and safely working with and troubleshooting electrical components. In addition, these course credits often count toward a formal electrician apprenticeship program.
Completing an electrician apprenticeship of up to five years is the most common way to learn the trade and qualify for certification and licensure. These programs are available at unions, trade organizations and technical colleges, and the admissions process requires assessing candidates for physical ability, mechanical skills and suitability for working as an electrician. They contain a mix of instruction and paid hands-on work as an electrician helper under an experienced electrician, known as a journeyman. Before doing hands-on work in the program, apprentices may need to obtain an apprentice electrician license or register as an apprentice in their locale.
Apprentices who successfully complete the program can qualify to take their location's journeyman electrician exam and begin working for licensed contractors. They often take additional courses to keep their license and work toward becoming a master electrician who is eligible to work independently as a licensed contractor and train others. While locations vary in their requirements, becoming a master electrician often involves taking an additional exam and showing proof of several years of work experience.
About 65 percent of electricians work for contractors who install electrical systems and wiring. Other notable employers include manufacturing companies, the government, employment services and utility system construction firms. Around 8 percent are self-employed; this typically includes master electricians who either work as contractors or run their own electrical services companies.
Working as an electrician can require traveling extensively when doing work assignments away from home or handling multiple clients. Physical demands include working outdoors in unpleasant weather, navigating tight spaces in buildings and facing loud noise when operating equipment. While those who are self-employed have more flexibility to work fewer hours, most electricians deal with some irregular shifts and overtime in their full-time roles.
Years of Experience and Salary
As of May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the electrician median pay annually is $51,880, which works out to $997.70 a week and $24.94 an hour. Half of these electricians make lower wages than this, and half make higher wages. The lowest-paid 10 percent of electricians make under $31,410 a year ($604.00 a week), and the top 10 percent of earners make more than $88,130 a year ($1,695.00 a week). This shows that the electrician hourly rate for most ranges is from $15.10 to $42.37.
Industries have different pay rates for electricians. The largest three employers – building equipment contractors, local government and employment services – offer respective average weekly wages of $1,053.08, $1,213.65 and $920.19. Electricians working in natural gas distribution make the top average weekly wage of $1,692.50. Average weekly earnings for other lucrative industries include $1,675.38 for amusement and recreation industries and $1,598.08 for transportation equipment manufacturing.
Electricians tend to earn higher wages in Hawaii, on the West Coast and in the Northwestern United States than they do in the South. Alaska, New York and Hawaii are the states offering the best average weekly wages of $1,527, $1,395 and $1,358. This contrasts with $804.40 a week on average for electricians in North Carolina and $878.60 for those in Texas. Large cities also come with higher wages. The average weekly electrician salary in NYC is $1,487.69, and it's an even higher $1,791 in San Francisco.
Electricians can hold different titles depending on their experience, and their salaries reflect this. In October 2018, PayScale reported that apprentice electricians earned the lowest median weekly wage of $590.48. Journeyman electricians saw their weekly median wages rise to $999.63, and master electricians did the best with a median weekly salary of $1,218.40. Broken down into years of experience, electricians overall earned average weekly wages of $730.77 with up to five years of experience and $942.31 with five to 10 years of experience. They averaged $1,019.23 with 10 to 20 years of experience and $1,153.85 with more than 20 years in the field.
Job Growth Trend
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a good outlook for electricians, with 9 percent employment growth between 2016 and 2026. This average level of growth adds around 59,600 opportunities over those 10 years, increasing electrician employment from 666,900 to 726,500. Economic conditions, the level of construction activity and changes to government regulations all can affect job creation.
Electricians can expect the best job prospects if they stay up to date with technologies such as wind and solar power system installation and electronics repair. Those who can work with industrial components and are located in cities with a lot of building construction activity can also benefit.