Taking Charge – Your Career As a Construction Electrician

Thank an Electrician Today

If you turned on your computer, switched on a light, or just got a cold drink out of the refrigerator, chances are there’s a construction electrician out there that you owe thanks. Construction electricians are in charge of installing the conduits and wiring that bring electricity into buildings, offices, and residential structures. Construction electricians are also responsible for installing signal communication systems, alarms, and other electrical equipment needed to make a structure livable.

What’s the Job Like?

Although construction electricians usually work inside on construction sites, where they are responsible for installing the electrical hardware of a building or worksite, they may occasionally need to work outside in the elements. Construction electricians usually begin work shortly after the structure is framed, as their job requires threading metal electrical conduit (a type of pipe that protects the building wiring) through the walls and floors of the building. As the conduit goes in, they also link electrical plugs, switches and other electrical management hardware to it, threading wires through the conduit, and connecting it to these power points. Construction electricians use screwdrivers, pliers, and other hand tools, as well as electrical test meters to check voltages and pipe benders and hacksaws to cut and bend the conduits they install.

Construction electricians are more than just pipe fitters and wire cutters. They must also know how to read the blueprints that describe the locations of where electrical wiring runs in a building. They need to be familiar with all local and state building codes and the specifications for all types of residential and commercial electrical hardware. They also need to know the best ways to prevent short circuits or other electrical dangers that may come up in the wiring of a structure.

Since construction electricians sometimes work outside, they may be exposed to wind, rain and other inclement weather. Working conditions require standing many hours on ladders, work platforms, or in cramped workspaces. Construction electricians must also be careful to avoid dangerous shocks and injuries from the high voltage equipment they must install. In the case of factory or commercial construction, they may have to deal with extremely powerful transformers, switch systems, and circuit breakers handling hundreds of watts of electricity.

Qualifications

While many construction electricians learn their trade as apprentices to senior electricians, others learn the ropes through formal training programs available through community colleges and vocational schools. These programs typically require a high school diploma or GED equivalent. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association both offer four-year programs, as well as assigning apprenticeships between locations and providing work programs that bring experienced electricians and apprentices together.

Under these formal programs, apprentices are expected to master 144 class hours per year, as well as four years of on-the-job training under a senior electrician. Classes include training in wiring layout, electronics, blueprint reading, mathematics and electrical theory and applications.

Salaries

The median salary for a construction electrician is $20.33 an hour, with some variation based on location and experience. In general, since these positions are usually union-affiliated, salaries are pretty much equal across a geographical area.

Employment Outlook

About two thirds of the 659,000 electricians working in the United States are employed in the construction field or related jobs. With the expansion of computers, smart houses and other sophisticated electronic systems, the projected need for skilled construction electricians is expected to be very good through the next decade, although recent downturns in the housing construction market may have a cooling effect on this growth. Even so, job growth is expected to hold equal with the national average through 2014.

How to Find Work

While some construction electricians enter the field by working as helpers under a senior electrician at a local job site, the most effective way to start a career as an electrician is though one of the many apprenticeship programs offered through a union or the National Electrical Contractors Association. As most construction electricians are also union members, they are often referred by the union for jobs in a local area.

Potential for Advancement

The potential for skilled construction to advance is usually quite good, with experienced electricians frequently moving up to management jobs as estimators, superintendents, and job site supervisors. From this point, they may decide to start their own contracting businesses or work as consultants, handling electrical bids for other contractors. Many senior electricians are able to parlay their experience into related fields, such as factory, aircraft construction, or shipbuilding electrician roles.