Types of Electricians
To a lot of folks, an electrician is an electrician. But if you're involved in the electrical industry, you likely know that there are, in fact, many different types of electricians.
If you're an electrician or an electrical contractor or are thinking of becoming one, it's important to understand the different types of electricians, the different specialties they can pursue, and the various kinds of licenses. This knowledge will help you determine where you can take your career and how to get where you want to be. Obtaining the right certifications also plays a vital role in reaching those goals.
Let's explore the many different paths that an electrician can take.
What Types of Electricians Are There?
You can break the types of electricians down into several broad categories based on the kind of work they perform. There are many variations and different levels of certification within each of these areas, but most electricians will fall into one of these two main groups: inside or outside.
- Inside Electrician
Inside electricians, also sometimes called wiremen, work with the electrical systems in buildings and structures. They may design, install, and maintain these systems to provide the building with reliable electrical power. These workers may specialize in residential, commercial, industrial, or another type of structure. They spend much of their time indoors but may also work on outdoor projects that connect to an indoor system, such as rooftop solar panels. They're likely to work fairly regular hours.
- Outside or Line Worker
Outside or line electrical workers, sometimes called linemen, work outdoors on power transmission and distribution lines. The work of these electricians ensures that the electricity produced at power plants can move safely to substations through high-voltage lines, after which it will be sent to homes, commercial buildings, and other facilities. They work with higher voltages than inside electrical workers typically do and are more likely to have to conduct emergency work at odd hours. These are the workers you see outside in protective gear working on utility poles and transmission cables.
Choosing whether to become on outside or inside electrical workers determines the overall direction of your career and will impact virtually everything you do as an electrician.
What Specializations Are Available to Electricians?
Within these two broad categories, there are many specializations that electricians can choose from. While you might not work exclusively in one of these areas, you may find that a majority of your work is in one or two of them, especially as you progress further into your career. The following are some of the specializations that exist for electricians.
The residential electrician is perhaps the most common type. They work in homes on projects that range from planning and installing new wiring to putting in a ceiling fan to fixing a broken socket. They work in houses, apartments, condos, and other residential buildings and may install lighting and other fixtures outdoors on patios, roofs, and other structures attached to homes. They may work independently or for an electrical contractor, which is a company that employs electricians.
Commerical electricians work on the electrical systems in offices, stores, and other commercial buildings. The jobs tend to be larger in scope than those of residential electricians, especially when it comes to installation. These electrical workers are more likely to work for private companies or electrical companies than as independent contractors. Their work includes installation, upgrades, and troubleshooting of electrical systems.
Industrial electricians also work on large-scale projects but do their work in industrial facilities such as factories and processing plants. They work with large machinery, manufacturing systems, and programmable logic centers, which are specialized computers used to control industrial processes, as well as features such as lighting and security systems.
Installation electricians, or construction electricians, specialize in installing the electrical systems for newly constructed buildings. They're responsible for setting up all of the electrical equipment and wiring in a building for lighting, heating and cooling, security systems, and more. They might work on residential, commercial, industrial, or other types of projects.
Rather than working on new buildings, maintenance electricians focus on the maintenance, repair, and upgrading of existing electrical systems. They could work in any area, including residential, commercial, industrial, and more. Private companies sometimes employ these workers to make sure that their electrical equipment and systems are always functioning optimally.
Sign electricians specialize in electrical work related to signage as well as awnings, signal lights, outline lights, and outdoor lighting such as parking lot pole lighting. They work on both stand-alone signs and building-mounted signage, including electric signs and lighting that illuminates non-electric signage. This signage may be seen on business buildings, on roadways, in airports, and elsewhere. They install, maintain, upgrade, and repair this lighting.
Some electrical workers specialize in motor vehicles. They maintain and repair the electrical systems that cars rely on and sometimes use computer-based repair tools. Auto electricians must understand vehicle diagnostics, performance electronics, drivetrain systems, and other aspects of motor vehicles.
Specializing in marine electrical work is rarer than many of the other specializations and often requires training at a specialized trade or seamanship school. Marine electricians work on electrical projects related to water-faring vessels, such as boats, ships, yachts, and other marine equipment.
Oil Rig Electricians
Oil rig technicians work with the machinery and electrical systems used on an oil rig or offshore oil platform. The work is similar to what an industrial electrician does but is often more physically demanding. It sometimes requires work in harsh weather conditions, at heights, or in confined spaces.
Electrotechnical Panel Builders
These electrical workers build and manage the electrical control panels that are used to operate electrical systems such as lighting, HVAC, refrigeration, and other systems. Electrotechnical panel builders sometimes play more of a management role in managing a building's electrical infrastructure.
Instrumentation electricians are responsible for commissioning, testing, troubleshooting, and repairing buildings' environmental control systems. These systems include large air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration units.
Electrical Machine Repairer and Rewinder
These electrical workers focus on individual pieces of equipment, such as compressors and transformers. They're responsible for maintaining and repairing these components either on a regular basis or whenever problems arise. They might be employed by the original equipment manufacturers of these units, building owners, or electrical contractors.
Highway Electrical Systems Electricians
These electrical professionals are responsible for installing, maintaining, repairing, and upgrading electrical infrastructure used on roadways such as street lights, signage, and traffic management systems. To ensure driver safety, this equipment needs to meet high reliability and safety standards.
Substation electricians are a kind of outside electrical worker who works in a specific substation — a facility that converts high-voltage electricity from power plants to low-voltage power that customers can use. These workers are responsible for getting electricity to customers reliably and safely.
Integrated Building Systems Electrical Workers
Integrated Building Systems, or IBS, electrical workers integrate all of a building's systems to optimize performance and maximize energy efficiency. They work mostly with low-voltage installations such as backup power, energy-efficient lighting, climate controls, telecommunications, and security systems.
What Is an Electrical License? What Are the Requirements for Licensing?
To perform electric work, you typically need a license or certification. Requirements vary from state to state and even between local jurisdictions. Some states have statewide requirements while others have statewide rules, but localities also supplement with their own. Others leave licensing requirements entirely to local governments. Some neighboring states and local governments also have reciprocity arrangements with each other regarding electrician permitting.
The terms license and certification are sometimes used interchangeably. In some states, they're the same, while in others, you need both. In these situations, the license permits you to perform electrical work while a certification recognizes your level of experience.
While requirements vary from location to location, they typically include technical training through classes and on-the-job training. Many areas also require you to earn continuing education credits to maintain your license. You must have a certain amount of job experience and pass a test to move up through the rank of electrician certifications.
What Are the Levels of Certification for Electricians?
There are typically three levels of electrician certifications: apprentice, journeymen, and master.
The first step is to become an apprentice. In most states, you only need a high school Diploma to apply for an apprentice license, and you don't need any electrical training to qualify for it. Once you receive your apprentice license, you can apply for an apprenticeship under a licensed electrician.
This apprenticeship will provide you with much of the training you need to become a licensed electrician. The number of hours required to apply for an electrician license varies from place to place, but apprenticeship programs often last around four years or 8,000 hours. You also typically need some classroom instruction. In most states, you can substitute relevant classrooms hours for on-the-job hours. One year of education is generally worth 1,000 hours, and substitution is often capped at 2,000 hours.
Journeyman or Licensed Electrician
Once you fulfill all the hours and other requirements of your apprenticeship, you can take the test to become a journeyman electrician, also sometimes simply called a licensed electrician. If you pass the test, you receive your journeyman licesnse, which allows you to work without supervision. Journeymen can also train apprentices.
A master electrician is the highest electrician's certification. It allows you to work on more complex projects and supervise journeyman electricians. Requirements vary, but most states require you to work somewhere about 4,000 hours as a journeyman electrician and pass a licensing exam to become a master electrician. Some states also have multiple levels of master electrician licensing. In Michigan, for example, you can become an experienced master electrician and then progress to an advanced master license.
An electrical contractor license is not a professional license but a business licesnse. It allows you to run an electrical contracting company that may consist of multiple electricians or just one.
In most states, you must be a master electrician to apply for an electrical contractor license. Some states, though, allow you to apply if you employ at least one master electrician. Most states require electrical contractors to have a certain amount of liability insurance and regularly renew their license.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming Certified?
Moving up the ranks in the electrical industry by earning more advanced licenses has many benefits. For one thing, it's a requirement to perform many of the tasks involved in being an electrician. You must typically have an apprentice license to learn how to become an electrician, a journeyman license to work independently, and a master license to supervise others.
Moving up the ranks also enables you to perform more advanced work, comes with higher pay, and earns you the respect of others in your industry. It will also improve your reputation among customers, give both old and new customers more confidence in your abilities, and earn you more business. By getting the experience and studying for a more advanced license, you will also learn new skills and improve your existing skills, which will make you a better electrician.
What Are the Job Prospects for Electricians?
There were 666,900 electrician jobs in the United States in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) based on national research. BLS forecasts that the U.S. will add 59,600 electrician jobs between 2016 and 2026 for a growth of 9 percent — about the average growth rate for all careers. Renewable energy industries are helping to drive this job market growth. The solar and wind sectors are some of the fastest growing in the U.S., and both require electrical workers.
Concerns have also emerged in recent years about a skills gap in the electrical industry, as fewer young people are entering the electrician workforce. This drop means there will be lots of openings for younger workers looking to join the industry in the near future. It also underscores the importance of training programs.
The median pay for the industry was $52,720 per year or $25.35 per hour in 2016, also according to BLS. The lowest 10 percent of earners made $31,800, while the top 10 percent earned over $90,420.
How Can a Continuing Education Course Help Your Career?
If you're an electrician, continuing education courses are crucial for a successful career. Many states and localities require you to complete them to work in the field and move up in the industry. You need to take training courses and pass the required tests to start working as an electrician, advance in your career, and, often, maintain your license.
If you’re ready to start your journey as an electrician or start advancing through the ranks, consider signing up for a continuing education course from StateCE. We offer state-specific programs for a variety of job classifications that are prepared by electrical professionals and approved by the appropriate licensing bodies. Browse our course catalog to find the programs you need today, or explore our website to learn more about our continuing education courses and the electrical industry. Also, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.