If you have great fine-tuning skills and an interest in light construction, you might be a good candidate for a job as an electrician. Electricians are professionally trained – through classrooms or apprenticeship programs – to install and maintain all aspects of electrical wiring in buildings, equipment and machinery in a wide variety of industries.
Many electricians belong to unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers. Unions ensure proper training and certification and favorable benefit plans and electrician union wages. There is even an IBEW electrician apprenticeship to help you gain the needed experience and skills. A union electrician salary is generally higher than the salary of other electricians.
A union electrician performs all tasks related to the electrical systems of buildings. That includes the installation and maintenance of circuit boxes, circuit breakers and light switches. In addition to lighting, electricians install security systems, air conditioning units and intercoms. They may even repair machinery, equipment controls and transformers, depending on their role.
A union electrician must ensure that any job he does conforms to the code of the county he's in, the National Electrical Code and the specifications of the particular building. A union electrician needs to be aware of any potential safety issues with a job, including improper connections and incompatibility with other systems. Safety and attention to detail are high priorities for any electrician.
A union electrician must also be familiar with a variety of tools to properly do the job. Tools include basic ones like wire strippers, drills, saws and screwdrivers, as well as more involved tools such as thermal scanners, cable testers and voltmeters. An electrician must be comfortable reading through technical blueprints that will help to guide projects.
Becoming a union electrician requires at least a high school diploma and some hands-on experience. If you want to become an electrician, you should either attend a technical school or apprentice under an experienced electrician through a program like the IBEW electrician apprenticeship. Both take several years to complete and give you a solid understanding of what it takes to be an electrician, including how to read blueprints and comply with electrical code requirements. Specialized training is also available in areas such as fire alarm systems and elevators.
Once you complete an apprenticeship like the IBEW electrician apprenticeship, you can work as an electrician. Most states require that you be licensed to do so. Each state has its own requirements for licensing, but you must typically complete a certain number of hands-on training hours, complete specified coursework and take a written test that shows your knowledge of things like building and electrical codes. States may also offer more than one type of license for electricians, such as nonresidential lighting technician, fire/life safety technician and general electrician. If you have a particular area that you’d like to become licensed in, it’s good to take courses and do an apprenticeship that's more focused on that field.
Once you become licensed, you can then opt to become a member of your local electrician’s union. Becoming part of a union offers a lot of support and can help you find jobs, complete any required continuing education and provide you a community of like-minded individuals. Since many electricians work on their own all day, it can be helpful to have a group of people to discuss any issues or concerns with or even to gain some camaraderie.
In addition to technical training, you should also have good communication and critical-thinking skills to become an electrician. You'll have to do a lot of problem-solving and interact with many people in your day-to-day business. Since being an electrician is a physically demanding job, you want to be in good shape so you have the physical strength and stamina needed to complete your daily workload.
Electricians work in a variety of industries including construction, manufacturing and government. They work both inside and outside at any location that requires their services. You may often work in small, cramped spaces with very little available lighting. You may also have long daily commutes to get to your jobs, often needing to travel between different worksites each day.
Many electricians work for bigger companies, while others choose to be self-employed and set their own schedules. Being an electrician is a full-time job that can be demanding and require a lot of evening and weekend work. Given the physical nature of their job, electricians tend to have a high rate of injuries and illnesses from things like electrical burns and falls.
A large portion of electricians belong to a union. Unions provide many benefits to members, including higher electrical union wages and benefits like paid vacations, holidays, sick days, health insurance and pensions. Electricians who belong to unions are generally referred to certain companies for specific jobs, leading to increased job security and more professional work arrangements. Union contracts also mean safer work environments since you can more easily file a grievance about any unsafe conditions.
Years of Experience and Union Electrician Salary
Those working as electricians earn a median annual salary of $54,110 as of May 2017, which means that half earn more than this, while the other half earns less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,690. A union electrician salary tends to be on the higher end of the spectrum since unions participate in collective bargaining that typically means higher electrician union wages. Generally, a union electrician salary is about 15 percent higher than nonunion electricians.
You do get paid as an electrician apprentice, but the pay is less than for those who are fully trained. As you gain more skills and experience, your pay increases. It increases more once you're licensed and even more when you're part of a union and earning a union electrician salary. With a union, you also get access to overtime pay, generous benefits, pensions and life insurance, all of which increase your union electrician salary.
Job Growth Trend
Jobs for all electricians, including union electricians, are expected to increase 9 percent in the next decade, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. More construction and a need for alternative energy sources, such as solar power and wind power, means more demand for skilled electricians who can install and maintain newer electrical systems.
Electricians with experience in a variety of areas and across a variety of industries will have more access to jobs in the future. As with most jobs tied to the construction industry, those for electricians ebb and flow with the economy. However, there's always a need for new electricians to enter the industry to learn from those who are aging out. From large construction projects to homeowners needing new lighting systems or solar panel installation, there will never be a shortage of projects for union electricians to work on.