Job Prospects: Good
- Bay Area . . . . . . . $34,825 - 67,111
- Central Valley . . . $30,739 - 59,237
- Sacramento . . . . . $29,899 - 57,618
Median hourly wage in California was $23.92 in 2007. Highest wages are paid in heavy industries (manufacturing, power generation and distribution); nonresidential construction and government jobs typically pay mid-level wages; and residential contractors and service providers tend to be at the low end of the range.
Effects of the recession, especially in the construction and manufacturing industries, have dampened current demand for electricians in most regions. However, implementation of the federal economic stimulus package should provide a boost, particularly with programs designed to improve energy efficiency and expand the use of green technology. Whether the alternative power source is solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear or biofuel, electrical installations are needed and electricity is generated – along with new jobs.
As the economy starts to improve, job growth for electricians in California is projected at 10 percent, about 2500 job openings each year through 2016. Demand will be driven by a surge in retirements, the expansion of both residential and commercial building projects, technology upgrades, and an increase in power-plant construction. The ‘green’ push to rehabilitate and retrofit older structures will include electrical improvements to meet modern codes, as well as the installation of more efficient HVAC systems, appliances and energy-saving devices. Job prospects should be good, particularly for workers with a broad range of expertise.
Using hand tools and power tools, electricians install and maintain wiring, circuit breakers and other components needed for residential and commercial power systems. They use blueprints to determine the specifications and locations of circuits, outlets, load centers, panel boards, and other equipment. A variety of electronic devices, such as ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters, oscilloscopes, and other equipment is employed to test connections and ensure the compatibility and safety of components.
Some electricians install low-voltage wiring systems (for voice, data and video equipment, such as telephones, computers, intercoms, fire alarms and security systems), although line installers and repairers specialize in this work. Electricians also may install coaxial or fiber-optic cable for telecommunications equipment and electronic controls for industrial uses.
Maintenance electricians repair or replace electronic equipment as needed. They also conduct periodic inspections to ensure equipment and circuits are operating properly, and to correct problems before breakdowns occur.
Electricians in large factories usually handle more complex maintenance work, including the installation and repair of motors, transformers, generators, and electronic controllers for machine tools and industrial robots. They may consult with management, engineers, engineering technicians, line installers and repairers, or industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers.
Electricians work indoors and out, at construction sites, in homes, and in businesses, plants or factories. Work may be strenuous at times, including lifting heavy objects and standing, stooping or kneeling for long periods. Electricians risk serious injury from electrical discharges and must follow strict safety procedures and regulations defined by the National Electrical Code, as well as state and local building codes.
Most electricians work a standard 40-hour week, although overtime is not uncommon. Those who do maintenance work may work nights, weekends, or be on call. Electricians in industrial settings may have periodic extended overtime during scheduled maintenance or retooling periods.
Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship programs, which combine on-the-job training (paid at 40-50 percent of the fully trained rate) with related classroom instruction. Apprenticeship programs usually last four to five years. Each year includes at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2000 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 specialized equipment, like elevators. Those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both maintenance and construction work.
Apprentices must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or GED. Good math skills are needed to perform the basic calculations that are common on the job. Other skills needed to become an electrician include manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, physical fitness, a good sense of balance, and good color vision.
A number of colleges and private vocational-technical schools 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 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.
Although licensing requirements vary from state to state, electricians must pass an exam that tests their knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electrical and building codes. Experienced electricians periodically take courses offered by their employer or union to stay current with code changes and industry advancements, as well as regular safety programs, manufacturer-specific training, and management training.
Experienced electricians can advance to supervisory roles or become electrical inspectors. In construction, they may become project managers or construction superintendents. Some choose to start their own contracting business.
For those who seek to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish 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.
Where the Jobs Are
Over 700,000 electricians were employed in 2006, about two-thirds of them in the construction industry. About one in ten electricians is self-employed. Many are union members, with a majority represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
For more information on careers as an electrician, visit these websites:
ConstructionJobs.com – Job board and resume database exclusively for the construction and building industries. Provides targeted searches by geographic region, industry, job title, education and experience.
dir.ca.gov/das/ElectricalTrade.htm – State of California’s Division of Apprenticeship Standards website includes extensive info on becoming an electrician trainee and a list of approved schools and programs
iHireBuildingTrades.com – Search for jobs in 27 different trades (currently lists about 80 electrician openings in Northern CA). Site also offers job notification via email, resume posting and a resume builder.