The Electrician Trade

An emphasis on rules and safety

If your interest is sparked by constant change and the ability to try new things, you might find yourself attracted to a career as an electrician. Advancing technology means there's always something new to learn and do, such as wiring automated "smart homes" or working with new and alternative energy systems such as wind or solar power.

For those interested in the bigger picture, becoming an electrical linesman can take you to new heights as you travel and work with your crew.

An electrician or linemen is a serious worker who knows the rules and regulations, making sure to follow them as if his or her life depended on it. And of course it does. Safety is of the utmost importance and a person who doesn't take precautions can put themselves and others in danger.

How long will it take?

Becoming a licensed electrician or electrical line installer generally takes between four and five years. The recommended approach for training is often apprenticeship, where the student works and earns money while taking blocks of time off from the job for in-class instruction. In most cases applicants for apprenticeship programs must meet certain requirements including testing before being accepted. Each year of apprenticeship may see students in the classroom for almost 150 hours and on the job for several thousand hours. In many areas, after you've completed one of the electrical schools, you must take final exams with questions related to the National Electrical Code as well as state building and electric codes.

The electrical worker's job can be a dirty one, with tasks completed indoors or out, sometimes in cramped or hard-to-reach spaces. There is always a risk of shock or electrocution, although that's avoidable with proper precautions.

The Electrician

Electrician students learn skills such as blueprint reading and schematic writing to assist them in installing wiring, fixtures or equipment. They must be able to use hand tools and have good manual dexterity, as well as hand-eye coordination and balance, to get the job done. Color vision is absolutely critical as electricians have to identify wires by color. Once work is complete they use test equipment to ensure the job was done correctly, meeting fire codes and safety standards. Depending on the program, in-class instruction may also include electrical theory, math, safety and first aid, as well as instruction on specific systems such as fire alarms or communications systems.

Possible electrician jobs

  • Construction - This work can include installing, connecting and testing electrical systems for climate control (heating and cooling), lighting, security and power.
  • Maintenance - This work can differ from one job to another. Residential maintenance workers replace fuse boxes, rewire and install lighting. Factory maintenance workers inspect, install and repair electronic equipment and controls, working quickly to minimize machinery downtime. These electricians monitor the safety of equipment and advise management if it needs fixing or replacing.

Electrical line installers and repairers

These workers often live way outside most people's comfort zones, in bucket trucks or climbing up the side of a hydro pole. Their tasks can include anything from installing and maintaining transformers and insulators, stringing wire, repairing transmission lines and erecting towers to hold electrical wires. They can also be found working on traffic signals, trimming trees and working with underground electrical distribution systems.

Like electricians, they work with hand and power tools, and must have good balance and hand-eye coordination. Further, they work with heavy equipment such as lifts, backhoes and cranes. Line installers and repairers must be able to handle heights well - they may even be called in to work during weather-related emergencies.

Students take classes on fiber optics, microwave transmission and electricity. There are strict rules about training requirements for this job as workers must be extremely safety conscious at all times.