How to Become an Electrician (Duties, Salary and Steps)

Find out everything you need to know about pursuing a career as an electrician with the help of our guide.

Illustration of three electricians wearing blue overalls, one is standing on a ladder and holding a lightbulb

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Do you have a knack for tinkering and fixing things? Do you enjoy taking things apart and figuring out how to put them back together? Do you like using tools and working with your hands? Do you want to take your DIY skills out of the living room and into a career with great pay, high demand and long-term security?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, then becoming an electrician could be the perfect career move for you.

Whether you’re trying to figure out what to do after school or you’re considering a career transition, this guide will introduce you to the work of electricians and walk you through the process of becoming one.

What electricians do

Electricians are skilled tradespeople who work in the construction industry. They specialise in wiring, testing, installing, calibrating, repairing and maintaining electrical power, communications, lighting and control systems.

There are four main types of electricians (each one with its own various subspecialties):

  • Commercial electrician: Commercial electricians work in commercial buildings, such as offices, retail stores, shopping malls and restaurants, where they perform repairs and installation of specific electrical equipment. This includes generators, breaker panels, receptacles and transformers.
  • Industrial electrician: Industrial electricians typically work in plants and production and manufacturing facilities within the automotive, chemical, food processing, mining and pharmaceutical sectors. They specialise in maintaining more complex electrical systems, including micro-currents and high-voltage components.
  • Low-voltage electrician: This type of electrician specialises in low-voltage cabling for voice, data and video systems, such as cable and digital TV, security and fire alarm systems, broadband internet, and fibre optic networks. They are often also known as voice-data-video, or VDV, electricians.
  • Residential electrician: Also known as home electricians, residential electricians specialise in the repair and installation of electrical systems tied to heating, cooling and lighting in home settings, such as single family dwellings, apartment complexes and condos. They may also work on security, fire alarm and computer systems.

Though day-to-day activities vary depending on the type of electrician you are, general duties and responsibilities include:

  • Reading technical diagrams and blueprints to determine the location of outlets, circuits, panel boards and other equipment
  • Preparing preliminary sketches and cost estimates for materials and services
  • Executing plans for wiring of well-functioning electrical systems
  • Installing electrical wiring, fixtures and equipment according to job specifications
  • Troubleshooting electrical issues using appropriate testing devices
  • Inspecting systems, components and equipment to identify hazards and defects
  • Repairing or replacing wiring, fixtures and equipment using hand and power tools
  • Sourcing, constructing or fabricating parts for electrical systems
  • Ensuring work is carried out in accordance with relevant national and local regulations and codes
  • Directing or training workers to install, repair and maintain electrical systems

What the job is like

Where do electricians work? What occupational hazards do they face? What is their typical work schedule? All those questions, and more, are answered here.

Work environment

Electricians work in varied workplace settings. Depending on their specialty, they work in homes, businesses, factories and construction sites. Unlike many workers who have a regular place of work, electricians generally work on a remote site for a certain period of time (varying from a few hours to a few months) before moving on to the next project. Job sites can be far from electricians’ homes — it’s not uncommon to travel hundreds of miles away from home to complete work.

They mostly work indoors but may need to work outdoors on occasion. When outdoors, they can be exposed to all types of weather conditions including hot and cold temperatures. They are often required to work at great heights, particularly when working on construction sites and renewable energy projects, and may be exposed to dust, dirt, debris and fumes.

The job of an electrician is also physically demanding, often being required to work in cramped spaces, spend long periods of time standing and kneeling, lift and carry heavy equipment, break through walls, and dig holes.

Working as an electrician can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal — with common injuries including electric shocks, burns and falls. That said, risks of injury can be significantly reduced by wearing protective clothing and glasses and following standard safety protocols. Hearing protection, meanwhile, is essential when working in factories where electricians are subjected to noisy machinery.

Work hours

For the most part, electricians work a regular 40-hour week, amounting to 2,800 hours a year. Their schedule can be a typical 9-to-5, but it might start as early as 6am.

They usually keep their business hours to weekdays, and generally don’t work on weekends, public holidays or evenings. That said, some electricians may be on call to respond to emergencies, which can lead to a significant number of hours in overtime.

Independent contractor electricians, on the other hand, don’t have such regular hours and generally get to set their own schedule. This provides them with greater lifestyle flexibility, but it also means they have no guaranteed set of hours — they may have a busy schedule one week, for example, and work only a few hours the next.

Job satisfaction

Working as an electrician can be a fairly rewarding career in terms of job satisfaction, with 54% of respondents to a 2019 EC&M survey of electrical professionals reporting they were ‘extremely satisfied’ with their line of work. Although electricians and other similar professionals earn above-average salaries, few respondents actually listed pay as a factor to their job satisfaction. Indeed, most put it down to other ‘positives like responsibility, autonomy, the chance to learn, coworkers and empowerment’.

Job market

Electrical work is a growing trade. Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed electricians is projected to grow from 729,600 to 795,700 between 2020 and 2030 — a 9.1% increase in total employment.

The 10 industries that will see the biggest increase in employment of electricians, based on BLS data, are:

  • Information (38%)
  • Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services (13.5%)
  • Other services (except public administration) (12.4%)
  • Construction (9.9%)
  • Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (9.8%)
  • Transportation and warehousing (8.8%)
  • Professional, scientific and technical services (8.5%)
  • Education services (7.6%)
  • Healthcare and social assistance (7%)
  • Real estate and rental and leasing (6.9%)

Overall, about 84,700 new job openings are projected each year over the decade, largely due to existing workers retiring or changing careers.

Salary

Electricians are among the highest-paid workers in the construction industry. On average, they earn just north of $60,000 per year, largely due to the ongoing shortage of skilled professionals and the unique technical skills and knowledge that they possess.

Below is an overview of potential earnings for electricians, including by level of experience and geographic location.

Mean wage

The overall mean wage for electricians in the US is a little over 9.3% higher than the national average for all occupations ($56,310), according to official data compiled in the BLS’ ‘Occupational and Wage Statistics’ survey:

Annual mean wage

Hourly mean wage

$61,550

$29.59

Median wage by experience

Electrician earnings vary depending on level of experience, as described in the table below:

Experience

Annual median wage

Entry level

$33,810

Junior level

$42,790

Mid level

$56,900

Senior level

$75,380

Top level

$98,720

Mean wage by state

The following table shows the top five states in the US with the highest annual mean wage:

State

Annual mean wage

Oregon

$76,040

District of Columbia

$79,030

Hawaii

$79,280

New York

$81,340

Illinois

$81,650

Median wage around the world

Outside the US, electricians also command a fair salary. The table below describes the average salary for electricians in the five largest English-speaking markets, based on data compiled by Payscale:

Country

Annual median wage

UK

£29,630 ($39,590)

Australia

AU$71,960 ($51,890)

Canada

C$71,620 ($56,060)

Ireland

€40,740 ($46,510)

New Zealand

NZ$68,100 ($46,450)

Steps to become an electrician

Convinced that becoming an electrician is the right path for you? These are the basic steps you can take to start your journey.

1. Determine if it’s the right job for you

The first step to becoming an electrician is to figure out whether it’s something that you will enjoy doing and that you actually want to do. Indeed, working as an electrician requires a unique set of professional skills and personality traits, including:

An online career assessment, like our very own over at CareerHunter, can be immensely valuable in determining your suitability to a career as an electrician. For just $29.99, you’ll get:

  • lifetime access to the complete six-part test
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  • relevant job and course recommendations
  • a personalised downloadable report highlighting your top results

2. Focus on the right subjects at school

If you’re still in high school and you’re hoping to one day become an electrician, it’s a good idea to take classes that are directly relevant to — and which will help you prepare for — your future career path. These include:

  • Mathematics: While you don’t need to be a natural numbers whiz to become an electrician, the job requires a solid grasp of mathematics, including sums and geometry. Most states in the US, meanwhile, require aspiring electricians to take and pass at least one year of geometry classes.
  • Physics: High school physics will provide you with the theoretical foundation to your future career, as you will gain a strong understanding of the physics of electrical currents and circuits.
  • English: Though the job is much more hands-on in many respects, developing strong English skills will be particularly useful when reading technical documents and interpreting complex information and instructions.
  • Practical courses: If your school offers courses in subjects like woodworking, be sure to sign up, as they will help you become comfortable with working with your hands. Electronics and automotive mechanics will also be immensely valuable.

3. Complete formal training

While you don’t need a university education to pursue a career as an electrician, you will need to complete an apprenticeship to become qualified.

Apprenticeship programmes typically take between four and five years to complete, and offer you the unique opportunity to get paid while you train. Generally speaking, you will receive between 500 and 1,000 hours of classroom instruction (which includes electrical theory, mathematics and blueprint reading), as well as 8,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. 

There are several ways you can find an apprenticeship, including:

  • through a trade school
  • through a union
  • through a non-union

Many electricians start their training by attending a technical school, but still need to finish an apprenticeship in order to become licensed. You will generally be able to transfer any credit you receive from technical school programmes toward your apprenticeship.

4. Get licensed

Once you’ve qualified as an electrician, you will generally need to become licensed by the relevant regulatory body in the area you want to work in. Licensing requirements vary by region and sometimes even by city, and typically include holding a high school diploma, taking and passing a board-certified exam, and providing documented proof of sufficient work experience.

You can learn more about licensing requirements at the following resources:

You’ll typically need to maintain your licence by completing continuing professional education coursework so that you remain up to date on ever-changing electrical codes and national, regional or jurisdictional regulations.

Meanwhile, you may choose to obtain specialty licensing if you want to focus on a specific area such as photovoltaic/solar power or refrigeration, heating and air conditioning.

5. Earn professional certification

Though not required, earning an electrical certificate is recommended if you want to work in specific industries or businesses. Plus, including certifications in your CV can be extremely valuable in improving your overall job prospects.

Some areas in which you can obtain certification include:

  • health and safety
  • first aid
  • inspection and testing
  • heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • security systems
  • fire alarm systems
  • computer systems

Many organisations offer such courses as classroom-based training, but you can also complete courses online on sites like Coursera and FutureLearn. Always make sure that the courses you complete are accredited by an authorised professional body.

Final thoughts

Although the journey to becoming an electrician requires time and commitment, it pays off in the end, as it leads to a highly rewarding and lucrative career. There are certainly disadvantages to the job, just like any other profession, but the advantages make this truly electric career worthwhile.

Join the conversation! Got a question about becoming an electrician or want to share some insider tips? We’d love to hear from you — just drop us a comment below.