Electricians are licensed and specialized tradesmen, whose job is to ensure the effective running of electrical systems, including lights, equipment, and appliances, in our homes, offices, industries, power plants and almost all types of buildings and infrastructures.
Although electricians remain very underappreciated, their jobs are essential for us to live comfortable lives. Electricians perform a wide variety of tasks including reading technical electrical system blueprints, using different types of hand and power tools, like conduit benders, wire strippers and voltmeters and troubleshooting to ensure all components of an electrical system work perfectly.
Although many of us choose to ignore this fact, the job of an electrician is quite challenging and often very dangerous. A lot of electricians work alone, but sometimes they collaborate with building engineers and architect to make new electrical systems for new sites.
In large companies, experienced electricians work as part of a large crew and may have several apprentice or junior electricians working under them.
Types of Electricians Based on Specialization
Although electricians can be divided into two main fields, residential and commercial, there are dozens of different specializations which require various certification and specialized training.
The most “common” type of electricians, these electricians work to install and maintain anything from lights to a complete wiring system of our home. Depending on experience, a residential electrician may instruct a team of workers and plan and draw electrical projects. Some of their basic responsibilities include:
- Reading technical blueprints
- Ensuring proper functioning of electrical components in the house
- Installing and maintaining lighting, wiring and other electrical systems
- Diagnosing and fixing issues in wiring and electrical systems
- Replacing broken down or old electrical components
- Being aware of local and national electrical safety regulations
Commercial installation electricians work in much larger projects than our homes, like offices and malls. The power systems in these establishments require a lot of electrical power as compared to residences. To work in a commercial setting, electricians need to complete a certain number of hours of apprenticeship training
Some of the duties of commercial electricians include:
- Installing and maintaining electrical components and wiring into commercial buildings
- Inspecting electrical systems to make sure they are in line with regulations and safe for work
- Diagnosing and repairing wiring or electrical issues
- Reading and interpreting technical drawings and plans
- Leading teams of junior apprentices, depending on experience
- Being aware of local and national electrical safety regulations
Maintenance electricians ensure the safe and efficient working of large and critical electrical systems in plants and factories. This may involve maintaining complete utility electronics and power grid in building complexes or fixing heavy machinery in factories. They also make routine inspections of equipment to check their operating conditions and make proactive replacements and repairs.
In accordance with local and national codes, maintenance electricians also repair programmable logic functions.
Electrotechnical Panel Builder
Electrotechnical panel builders, as the name suggests, construct and manage electronic panels, such as those found in HVAC systems. These electricians use information technology and programmable logic controls to the wire and assemble large electrical control boxes for industrial machinery. They also have the ability to read electrical schematics and panel layout blueprints.
Electrical Machine Repairer and Rewinder
These specialist electricians are required to maintain and make repairs to machinery like fans, pumps, compressors, and transformers. They also dismantle and put back together electrotechnology components, wind and connect coils and rewind single-phase and three-phase induction machines for low power.
Highway Systems Electrician
Highway systems electricians have specialized training in installing and maintaining electronics for road systems to ensure a safe and sustainable transportation system. Highway systems electricians install, repair, revise, and maintain traffic lights, roadway lighting, and ITS system while ensuring they meet government standards. These electricians are often exposed to the elements and may have to work at heights up to 70 feet.
They also need to have training operating heavy equipment and motor vehicle, like aerial trucks, trenching equipment and zip saw, on and off the road.
Electrical Instrumentation Technician
An electrical instrumentation technician commissions, tests, diagnoses, and repairs building control systems like refrigeration, heating, and air conditioning. They also carry out installation and calibration of measuring instruments, transmitting and controlling devices and sensors. The measurement of these devices enables products to be manufactured according to exact specification, taking into account the safety of the personnel and the environment.
An industrial electrician works in giant power plants, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities and other types of large-scale building. These facilities require a lot of heavy machinery and equipment and more electrical work and power than residential or regular commercial buildings. Industrial electricians frequently have to move from one job site to another and need to get certified as an experienced industrial electrician, either during their apprenticeship or journeyman status.
Low Voltage Electrician
Although these electricians have much of the same tasks as residential and commercial electricians, they do it while working on systems with low voltage, usually not more than 49 volts. This includes installing, diagnosing issues, repairing and maintaining internet systems, land-line telephone systems, closed circuit television systems, home entertainment system, fiber optics network, LAN and WAN networks, cable television and fire and security alarms. Some electricians also specialize in electronics for ships, planes, trucks, and trains.
As the name indicates, automotive electricians receive specialization to work with the electrical systems of cars, buses, trucks and other transport vehicles. These electricians can work on a car’s lighting, ignition systems, air conditioning and heating system, anti-lock brake systems, anti-theft systems, fuel injection systems, transmissions, and others. Although working with a car electrical system may not require one to become a fully-licensed electrician, it largely depends on the company and state where you are working
The role of an aviation electrician is critical for aircrafts to function safely. Aviation electricians work on airplanes rather than on buildings. They install, inspect, test, repair and maintain a plane’s electronic systems and wirings and electronic and electrical components, including aviation communication devices, navigation systems, radar equipment, and other instrumentations in the plane.
Because the job is very specialized and demands extreme responsibility, they also earn good money.
Marine electricians do the same sort of tasks as other electricians; however what sets them apart is that they work on systems of aquatic vessels, like yachts, tankers, cruise ships, and boats. These electricians may handle emergency repairs on docked ships or vessels in port or out to sea. Since water and electricity do not mix, therefore these marine electricians must be aware of the physics of water on electrical systems and need to be extra-vigilant when installing and fixing components.
Outside of linemen, line repairers or line installers are electricians who work on the power lines that run between residential and commercial buildings and power plants. Linemen check on these electrical power supply lines to make sure they are in proper working conditions. If a line is faulty, they are responsible for replacing them and stringing new lines between poles and large towers.
With enough seniority, outside linemen may also lead teams and develop and implement work projects, in accordance with safety regulations.
Powerhouse and Substation Technician
These specialized electricians ascertain that electrical current is relayed safely and efficiently form powerhouses and substations. These electricians may work in three different areas:
- The powerhouse: this is the main source where high-voltage AC electricity is generated and carried to substations
- Substations: Technicians working in substation have to lower the high voltage of electricity coming from the powerhouse to a low voltage so that it can safely be transmitted to homes and offices.
- Relays: The relays are complex electrical equipment that requires careful operation and maintenance. They are used to step electricity voltage up and down between the powerhouse, substation, and buildings receiving the electricity
Powerhouse and substation technicians also find out issues and fix problems related to power outages.
Security and Fire Alarm Installer
These electricians are specialized in installing and repairing fire, smoke and security alarms in residences, commercial and industrial settings. These electricians only work with low-voltage systems. Their job responsibilities include upgrading security systems, maintaining close circuit TV systems, installing security CCTV cameras, performing inspections of security systems and educating customers on how to use the systems.
Solar technicians will be in high demand in the future. These technicians install, maintain and repair solar systems that are an alternative source of electricity to homes and commercial buildings. These electricians work on passive systems like using heat from a window or active systems like solar panels that gather solar energy, convert it to electrical energy and store it in batteries.
They make sure your solar panels work at their maximum capacity and perform proper maintenance like replacing fans or pumps or exploring efficient designs.
Wind Turbine Electrician
Wind turbine electricians, also known by the cool name of “wind techs,” are responsible for assembling, maintaining and wiring the tower and turbines that generate clean electricity by harnessing the power of wind. Their jobs usually take them to remote areas and require them to work in confined and very high areas. Sometimes, they have to climb as high as 200 feet above the ground.
Their work responsibilities include feathering the turbine blades or turning them into airflow so that they perform with maximum efficiency.
Telecommunications Line Installer and Repairer
These electricians are tasked with installing, fixing and repairing telephone, internet and cable lines that run between poles, towers, and buildings. Their specific duties include replacing old, broken lines with new ones, putting overhead as well as underground lines and cables, diagnosing problems with lines and using equipment to work on lines. Their job often takes them to new heights — literally.
Electrical inspectors examine electrical components and systems. They work in the construction industry, making sure new buildings have properly installed wiring that is according to code and safety guidelines. They also inspect electrical systems when people are doing renovations or buying a new home.
They keep records and documentation of inspection and can stop the crew from working if they detect any problems with the electrical system.
Electrical contractors are small business owners who have a crew of electricians that can perform jobs in residential, commercial and industrial settings. States regulate licensing of contractors and usually require them to either become a primary electrician or hire one to supervise them. They also require a certain level of insurance
Types of Electrical Certifications
Apart from the above specializations, there are three stages of electricians based on their experience levels. They are categorized into apprentices, journeymen and primary electricians.
To be an apprentice, an electrician must acquire an apprenticing license. In most states, you only have to graduate high school to apply for an apprentice license. It does not require any formal education, and once it is obtained, the electrician is eligible to be supervised by a journeyman electrician or primary electricians.
The next level of experience is a journeyman. Journeymen have more experience and hence are qualified to work on larger and more complex projects, without the need for any supervision. To become a journeyman, an electrician needs to have worked as an apprentice for at least two years and have completed the required coursework.
They can then take the journeyman certification exam, after which they are given their license. These electricians are usually found in utility facilities construction companies and manufacturing plants. Once they receive their license, they can work on any system unsupervised as well as train other apprentices who are working towards a journeyman certification.
This is the highest qualification for an electrician. They do not just work on commercial and industrial jobs; they can also manage a team of journeymen and apprentices. They also plan projects and assign tasks to other workers.
To become a primary electrician, one needs to work certain hours under the supervision of a primary electrician and must be working in the field for several years. After he has acquired expert knowledge, the electrician can take the state-approved Primary Electrician Certification program and a state-specific exam to be certified as a primary electrician. Who knew there were so many types of electricians?
Regardless of what niche they specialize in, the job of an electrician is extremely difficult, potentially dangerous and requires long periods of learning and training. It is time we give electricians the respect and appreciation that they deserve.