What are the pros & cons of an electrical apprenticeship/career?
October 11, 2007 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Any electricians/electrician's apprentices out there (or anyone with appropriate knowledge) mind sharing their thoughts about the field?

I stumbled across this post a few days ago and couldn't believe the coincidence. I have been working in the IT field for the past seven years or so (mostly desktop support with a little low level database/application support thrown in at the end) and am slowly coming to the conclusion that I don't really enjoy the work (which is kind of disheartening because I really wanted to.) However, as luck may/may not have it, my company will be announcing layoffs the first week of November and, should I get the tap on the shoulder, it could end up being a blessing in disguise. I, too, have been thinking about an electrical apprenticeship but have some questions/concerns that hopefully some of you MeFites who know anything about the process would be willing to address.

Firstly, what's the work like? Obviously, it's physically challenging but do you find it mentally challenging as well, particularly once you've finished your training? I am, quite literally, starting at square one here so my reasons for wanting to explore the field are based largely on speculation. To that point, it's my understanding that electricians make very good money (one just recently charged a family member $75/hour to do work on his home) and that is a huge factor in my wanting to explore this. However, should I expect to get paid next to nothing as an apprentice? The base salary I could find by research, but did you find, as an apprentice, there was much opportunity for overtime? Given that it's a five year commitment and I'm 32 years old now, I'm wondering if, financially, this is a stupid move (FWIW - I'm single with no children now, but I could envision both scenarios changing within five years.) I make a slightly better than adequate living now as an IT professional (although low by industry standards), and that's nice, but I see my career/salary progression within IT as something of a crap shoot. Lastly, what kind of job security is there in the field? Should I worry about not having any work when/if there's a housing market crash (as there well could be soon) or is there pretty much steady demand for skilled electricians? Does location matter? (I'm in the Boston area should that make any difference.)

Any other advice/thoughts that come to mind that you'd be willing to share would be appreciated as well. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read/respond.
posted by Rewind to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ack! Apologies for the long question on the main page. Kind of screwed up the format. Meant to have that long paragraph after the jump... Sorry!
posted by Rewind at 1:08 PM on October 11, 2007

Don't have much time right now, will come back and post more later if needed, but don't get persuaded by that $75/hr stuff. There are HUGE overheads that electricians deal with. Vehicles, tools, shop, employees, one of the highest insurance and workmans comp payments of all fields etc. It can be a nice living, but you are going to work for it.

If you have the background you have, stick with it. I have been in the electrical field for 13yr (masters license) and have been trying to get out of it for almost as long. Use your brain, not your back if you can.
posted by wile e at 1:24 PM on October 11, 2007

We had an electrician in our was-knob-and-tubed house this summer. He went home for long lunches with his children, knocked off early to take them to soccer games or what-have-you, didn't work every day, etcetera. He had a MSc, interestingly. Said he never had a problem collecting on bills because he only worked for people he liked. Hell of a nice fellow. Anyway, if you're going to be a father, keep that in mind. Even if it was a worse job than it looked, hours like that are a good dad's dream.
posted by kmennie at 2:20 PM on October 11, 2007

Not an electrician, but the son of one - and I knew/worked with/dealt with plenty in a previous life as a comms tech.

The electrical game is at least as varied, if not more so, than "IT". Repair / installation / manufacture / distribution / generation? Small / medium / large equipment? Residential / commercial cabling? Air con / heating / lifts / lighting / control systems? The field you learn/specialise in determines, to a large degree, the amount of physical/mental work involved and opportunities for income.

And, as wile e said, don't be blinded by that $75/hr you see. It's likely less than 1/2 that after overheads, and that's per billable hour - there ain't 8 of them in a day.

Anecdote: Electricians seem to wish they were plumbers or mechanics; plumbers seem to wish they were electricians or mechanics; and mechanics seem to wish they were electricians or plumbers. The grass is always greener, cleaner, and richer over there...
posted by Pinback at 2:51 PM on October 11, 2007

Where I am, one of the nearby two-year colleges offers an AA that leads into being a licensed electrician. If there is a program like that where you are, the instructors might be able to give details about how much their graduates earn, career possibilities, etc. At least here, the tuition at community colleges is dirt cheap, and the programs are scheduled with the assumption that the students will be working full- or part-time while earning their degree.
posted by Forktine at 3:23 PM on October 11, 2007

A friend of mine is an electrician, but got out of it to get into renovations. No, electrical work will not be mentally challenging or interesting, I don't think. It's quite routine, unless that kind of thing fascinates you. I mean there are people out there that say they enjoy typing and fabricating, right? This is not much more, though of course you have a body of knowledge that you have to get right and be good with some careful details. The worst of it is you will be crawling in small and dirty spaces much of the time. If you're a large person at all, just forget it. You can learn basic wiring from a library book. Why not give that a shot and see if you like it doing electrical work.
posted by Listener at 5:55 PM on October 11, 2007

Pinback's point about specializations in the electrical field is spot on.

Industrial electricians typically spend a lot of time cutting, shaping, and running conduit, building and modifying power distribution busswork, changing out motors and motor controls and service distribution panels, trouble shooting, repairing, modifying and installing machine and process control panels, etc. A lot of their work involves hanging work boxes, switches and conduit from steel framed buildings, and then pulling wires through conduit, to supply power where it is needed. Industrial electricians may be called upon to regularly use lifts or scaffolding to reach work locations at heights over 1 story. A fair amount of knowledge of the National Electrical Code is required, along with specific industry knowledge of devices, machinery and electrical theory, in order to properly plan and conduct the installation of electrical services safely, or to troubleshoot and repair electrically controlled machinery. As control systems for industrial machine processes are becoming largely electronic, industrial electricians are expected to know both older electro-mechanical controls based on switches and relay logic, as well as the latest programmable controller systems, and control devices which maybe photo-electric, magnetic, infra-red, proximity based, or operate on dozens of other principles, entirely. Industrial electricians may work either for industrial employers directly, or as independent contractors, or employees of contractors. Industrial electrician jobs are more likely to be unionized, than other specialties.

A residential electrician rarely touches conduit, except at the main panel, or service entrance, and is either putting in new construction services, or extending/upgrading/repairing existing home services. Much of a residential electrician's work will be done attaching standard devices and work boxes to wooden or light steel stud home structures, and running approved cable types through dead spaces in walls, attics, and basements. Speed is valued more than technical nicety, in most residential electrician jobs. Much of the work related to new construction will be done outdoors, so that weather and season can be a factor in the regularity and conditions of work. Residential electricians generally work as independent contractors, or as employees of independent contractors. Some large residential developers may employ residential electricians for punch work, or to oversee other contractor crews and liason with utilities. Residential electricians are less often union workers, than are industrial electricians.
posted by paulsc at 6:21 PM on October 11, 2007

« Older Getting from point A to B (the right way)   |   Maps on a Mac Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.