Electricians are responsible for testing, fitting and repairing wiring and circuits and installing new electrical infrastructures.
An electrician is a tradesman responsible for the maintenance and installation of electrical wiring and related equipment. Electricians usually work in residential homes, public buildings or offices, ensuring that wires and circuits are safe, repairing faults in the electrics and installing new circuits after building work is complete.
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Apprentice electricians usually start on £10,000 per annum which rises to between £16,500 and £19,000 once they qualify. With experience the typical salary can rise to between £20,000 and £25, 000 and electricians with specialist grading can earn up to £28,000.
Depending on the size and nature of the projects, electricians will be responsible for any of the following:
- Assessing plans to work out where wiring and plug sockets will need to be fitted.
- Installing initial wires along the ceilings, walls and floors – this is known as the ‘first fix.’
- Fitting fuse boxes, earth terminals and circuit breakers
- Mounting back boxes on walls for the points and sockets
- Connecting initial wiring to sockets, switches, light fittings, power supplies, computer networks and appliances – this is known as the ‘second fix.’
- Installing alarms and security systems
- Testing wiring and electric equipment for faults
- Fixing faults that come to light through testing – this is known as ‘remedial repair work.’
- Installing telecommunications networks
- Laying cabling (particularly in offices) to connect computers and other equipment to power supplies.
To be a fully qualified electrician it is necessary to have an NVQ level 3 in Electrotechnical Services, awarded by City & Guilds or EMTA Awards Limited. For school leavers up to 19 years of age the best way to become an electrician is to train as an apprentice, which incorporates the relevant NVQ into the training and offers a small wage throughout the apprenticeship period. To become an apprentice, trainees may be required to have a GCSE (grade A – C) in Maths, English and Science although they will usually still be allowed to train if they don’t have academic qualifications but pass an initial aptitude test. For trainees over the age of 19 it is important that a work placement with a trained electrician is found as soon as possible after enrolling in a college because practical training is the second part of the NVQ.
As an alternative to the NVQ in Electrotechnical Services, it is also possible to take a City & Guilds Technical Certificate in Electrotechnical Technology. This provides training in electrical theory and some practical skills but without completing a placement or apprenticeship the certificate does not give trainees a full electrician qualification.
Being an electrician is a technical and highly skilled job. As well as being hard working and committed to the job, electricians need to have:
- Good practical skills
- Confidence when using power tools
- The ability to analyse technical drawings
- Close attention to detail
- The ability to focus for long periods of time
- The ability to follow instructions
- A methodical approach to work
- Problem solving abilities
- Up-to-date knowledge of the electricity industry
- A commitment to health and safety and a knowledge of specific electrical safety regulations
- Good communication skills
- Good interpersonal skills
- Some administrative skills – the job involves filling in paperwork for each different job
- The ability to work independently and as part of a small team
- Normal colour vision (this is crucial as electricians need to be able to distinguish between the different coloured wires in a circuit)
- A reasonable standard of physical fitness
Working conditions as an electrician can be uncomfortable as the job often involves working in small spaces for long periods of time or in cold, damp conditions.
The job can also be quite hazardous not only because it involves working with electricity but also because electricians are often required to work on half-finished building sites. With the correct training, equipment and knowledge of safety regulations, however, the dangers can be kept to a minimum.
Electricians usually work around 40 hours per week, Monday to Friday, although the job can involve working shifts or being on-call depending on the size and nature of a project. As electricians move from site to site, travelling is a big part of the job and on occasions they may be required to work away for short periods of time. The work can also be strenuous and may require the electrician to install wiring at height. For this reason electricians must be physically fit and be able to work effectively on ladders or rigs.
Electricians are needed in a wide range of industries and there are good job prospects for employees with the appropriate qualifications, particularly as there is currently a recognised shortage of electricians in the UK. Electricians often work on a contract basis, being employed on a job by job basis by large construction companies or building firms. Manufacturing and engineering companies commonly employ electricians, as do public institutions, private residents and local authorities. Many electricians are self employed, meaning they are responsible for building up their own network of clients. Whilst this can be more profitable in the long run, it can also be quite risky as there is never any guarantee of work.
There are always new things to learn as an electrician and the potential to gain more money and responsibility with professional development courses. On completion of an NVQ level 3 in Electrotechnical services, electricians can go on to complete various more specific qualifications. This includes City & Guilds certificates in Inspection, Testing and Certification of Installations, Wiring Regulations and In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment. It is also useful to complete a short training scheme known as ‘Part P’ which allows electricians to certify all their own electrical work, rather than requiring a contractor or building inspector to approve their work.
With training and experience there is the potential to be promoted to a supervisory or management position or to become a self-employed electrician. Highly experienced electricians may also be able to progress to an engineering technician, a skilled worker who solves technical problems in engineering or construction companies.
Also known as…
- Domestic Electrician
- Installation Electrician
- Electricity Distribution Worker
- Inside Wiremen (mainly in the US)
What’s it really like?
Roy Francis is 50 years old and works as an Electrician for AM Electrical Contracting, an electricity company in Greater Manchester. He gives us the inside story…
I have been working as an electrician since leaving school at 16. This is the only job I have had since leaving school and for 30 years I worked for the same firm before leaving to join my current employers. I have gathered numerous qualifications during my time as an electrician which began with an apprenticeship period completed in my first four years in the job. During the apprenticeship I spent time studying at college as well as undertaking on site learning which was separated into six week blocks.
Due to the type of work I do I wouldn’t say I have a typical day; each day is different dependent upon what job I am doing. For example, today I was in Wales working in a hospital, fitting lighting strips in the ceiling; other days I will do different types of work which could be in either commercial or private residential buildings. I like the fact that the job is always different and that it provides different challenges on a daily basis. The worst thing about the job is that at times it is very draining physically and you are sometimes required to work in damp and cold conditions. There is also a lot of paperwork involved in the job e.g. testing sheets and risk assessments. People who want to become electricians need to be interested in the subject, they need to be hard working and being out going will also help.