When you’re at the start of your work life it can be daunting to decide which path to take. There are so many trades to choose from, and you want to pick the one that will suit you in the long run. The electrician career path may be one of your best options.
Is Being an Electrician a Good Career Path?
In a word, yes. Becoming an electrician is an excellent career choice. Electricians have one of the highest average incomes of all the trades. Most have the option to work regular hours, and because there are job positions for electricians in so many fields, work opportunities for electricians abound.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the job outlook for electricians is higher than most occupations; estimated job growth in the field is 9% through 2030. This is higher than the average expectations for growth in the job market overall (estimated at 8%) and tops the other trades (estimated at only 5%) by a wide margin.
Typical Career Paths and Positions
If you follow the electrician career path, you can choose to work on a wide range of projects, both indoors and out.
Residential or Commercial
Residential electricians work in houses to install, maintain, repair, or upgrade wiring and other electrical structures. Responsibilities include working with the service panel and heating or water systems for the home. This is one of the most common positions in the electrical field. As a licensed electrician, you may do this work as part of a company or as an independent contractor.
Commercial electricians perform very similar services to those in residential work, but their jobs find them in large commercial buildings instead of private homes. The pay scales for both of these electrician career pathways are comparable. Commercial work is most commonly done by teams rather than an individual, so most commercial electricians work for an electrical company rather than independently.
Industrial and Maintenance
Industrial and maintenance electricians work in factories and power plants, often with heavy machines and equipment. This work is specialized. It can be difficult or even hazardous, and the pay for these positions is generally higher than for residential or commercial electricians.
Alternative Career Options for Electricians
If the traditional electrician career pathways don’t interest you, you still have a wide variety of options to choose from. There are myriad ways to use your skills as an electrician.
Vehicles include very complex electrical systems. Designing, installing, analyzing, and diagnosing these specialized electronics is an ever-expanding field.
With the growth of hybrid and electric vehicles, automotive electronics are evolving rapidly. Demand for skilled electricians who understand the dynamics of automobiles is likely to remain high. If you have an interest in emerging technologies, this could be a great specialization for you.
This is possibly the least common type of electrical work, but boats large and small have electrical components on board that need maintenance and repair. You would be required to complete training specific to marine systems for this work. Pay varies widely for these rare positions, but most are at least at the median pay range for electricians.
Lineman or Highway System Engineer
Linemen work outdoors on high-tension power lines. This is dangerous, strenuous work that requires extensive safety training. Linemen are often called on during an emergency, so hours are less predictable than with traditional electrical occupations. Pay for these positions is about 50% higher on average than for a commercial or residential electrician.
Highway system engineers design and maintain systems for roadways. This electrician career path isn’t dangerous, but it requires extensive study and specialized licensing and certifications.
The work involves handling all aspects of the electronics required to safely manage traffic flow, such as signage and street lights. As a highway system engineer, you can expect to earn about 15% more than a residential electrician, and you’ll generally still work regular hours.
Solar and wind power are growing industries. Currently, there is great demand for electricians with the necessary skills for the installation and maintenance of renewable energy systems. Electricians are needed to wire converters and tie the resulting energy from photovoltaic fields and wind turbines into the power grid or battery banks.
These jobs are mostly outdoors and may require you to travel more than a residential electrician does. Pay varies widely depending on your level of expertise and geographic region. The lower end of the pay range is about average for an electrician, while the top end of the scale for renewable energy engineers is two to three times higher.
What is the Highest-paying Electrician Job?
So now that you are aware of some of the widely varied positions you might pursue if you follow the electrician career path, you’re probably wondering about pay ranges and other aspects of these occupations.
Highest Salaries, Generally
As with other trades, the highest-paid positions are generally the most dangerous or those that are hardest to become qualified for, sometimes both. Linemen and Highway Engineers for example earn higher salaries than most residential electricians.
There are also some great income opportunities that you can achieve through your experience on the job, such as becoming the foreman on a construction crew or opening your own business.
Average Salaries, Specifically
Average salaries for electricians in the United States range from around $60,000 for a residential or commercial electrician up to well over $150,000 for top-level linemen. The career options that are not physically perilous but that require more advanced education such as highway system engineers and solar power engineers also pay very well. These salaries average $72,000 to $85,000 per year.
What Is the Best Electrician Career Path?
It’s important to balance salary figures with other things you want from life. The best career for you is the one that suits your needs and can provide you with the kind of life you want. Money is only one aspect of what makes a great occupation.
For example, if you want a steady career with regular hours, becoming a lineman isn’t going to be a great choice; you probably won’t be very happy working 100 feet in the air during an emergency in the middle of the night.
Similarly, if you don’t particularly like to study, positions requiring engineering credentials may not be at the top of your list; and if you get seasick, marine-based jobs are probably out.
There is such a wide variety of career options for electricians, that it may be difficult to decide at the beginning of your career which will fit you best. That’s okay because you don’t have to know where you will end up in order to begin. Most electricians start out doing the predictable work of a residential electrician and decide as they go along what other work interests them.
You can add certifications or additional coursework for engineering at any time if you want to take your career in a specific direction. This is a very common electrician career path to follow: Start with general electrical work, and focus on what interests you most as your career evolves.
Be realistic about what you enjoy and be honest with yourself about what you don’t enjoy. No amount of money can compensate you for being miserable.
You will be learning on the job and you will probably find that you like one type of work more than another as you gain broad experience in the field. Keep your mind open as you work and learn, and you will find what suits you best.
Being a licensed electrician gives you a foundation that keeps your options open; you can always choose another electrician career path as you learn and develop more skills.
How Do You Become an Electrician?
Licensing requirements for electricians vary by state. Typically, however, becoming an electrician will take between four and five years of on-the-job training in addition to some classroom time. You will also be required to pass exams for each license you wish to attain.
You must be able to differentiate colors to be an electrician; wires are color-coded and you are required in every state to be able to tell them apart.
You may start on one of the electrician career pathways by studying at a technical or trade school and then continue with further education as necessary while working in the field. This is a common approach to becoming an electrician.
The costs for this education vary a great deal, depending on the type of program you attend, and for how long. Trade schools tend to cost more than community colleges for similar course work, but they often include more hands-on training. A trade school might be a good place to begin if you have no experience with electrical work.
Some states require only an associate’s degree, but in others, you will need four years of classwork before you can take your journeyman’s license exam.
In addition to school work, you will be required to get on-the-job training under a licensed electrician or through an apprenticeship program. In most states, you will be required to attain thousands of hours of work experience before you can take your exam.
Once you’ve successfully attained your journeyman’s license, you’ll need to work up to another two years full-time before attempting your master electrician’s exam. As a master electrician, you will qualify for the highest pay grades, and you will be able to have your own electrical company, through which you can hire and train other electricians.
What’s a Good Career Change for an Electrician?
As an electrician, you will gain experience that qualifies you to shift your career in countless ways if you choose to make a change. After years on the job, you may again find yourself at a crossroads, looking for a new challenge or direction in your life.
You can choose to work in another aspect of electrical installation and maintenance, or maybe you feel ready to try something entirely new. You’ve made connections in your work life. You’ve dealt directly with customers and suppliers, bosses, and trainees. You know what it takes to orchestrate a job site, and how to calculate costs on a large project.
You have a variety of excellent options at this point in your career.
- Management: Project or site manager
- Sales: Marketing or sales for electrical supplies or components
- Education: Teaching at a trade school or apprentice program
- Business: Start your own company
If you want to shift into another area of electrical work, all you need to do is decide what interests you.
Perhaps you are fascinated with solar power and you want to explore this growing market. Maybe you’d like to learn more about electric cars and work on the technical advances making them competitive. Or possibly you’ve just had enough of climbing poles and the idea of working indoors as a project manager sounds appealing.
At any point in your career, being an electrician offers you flexible options for whatever you decide to do next.
Is an Electrician Career Path Right for You?
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics recommends the following qualities for electricians:
- Physical strength and stamina
- Critical thinking and troubleshooting abilities
- Customer-service skills
- Color vision
Electrical work requires you to be physically able to move around, and sometimes to get into small cramped spaces or lift heavy objects. Most electricians don’t sit at a desk all day.
You need to be able to think about a situation or diagnose a problem and come up with a reasonable course of action. Being agreeable and feeling comfortable working with customers and co-workers will help you thrive in this line of work as well.
If you’re looking for a career that provides you with a lifetime of opportunities to earn a good living, expand your experience and education, and choose from a wide variety of job options across the nation, then pursuing one of the many electrician careers pathways is an excellent choice.
Ready to get the ball rolling? Start with a visit to General Contractor License Guide, where you will find the licensing requirements for your state and be able to research the educational programs available to help you pursue your career as an electrician.