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How Electricians Can Find the Best Jobs

Close up of electrical wire ends

Electricians: There aren’t enough of them to go around.

The simple fact is, there aren’t enough working electricians to fill all the jobs that are available right now. And there definitely aren’t enough new ones entering the field to replace all the experienced electricians who will be retiring over the next decade.

The result: lots and lots of job opportunities for electricians. If you want to make a good living but aren’t sure how, you might want to look at this option. If you’re already an electrician, know that the market is in your favor.

How should electricians and would-be electricians best position themselves to maximize their value? For an answer to that question, we spoke with Lachlan Savage, a skilled trades account manager for Aerotek. Based in Detroit, he has spent years recruiting electricians and working with the companies that employ them.

Here’s what he had to say:

What’s the job market like for electricians?

“There are way more openings than there are qualified candidates for them,” Savage said. “It’s definitely an employee’s market, and the electricians hold the power.”

Looking to the future, he cites studies predicting that tens of millions of skilled tradespeople will be retiring in the next 10 years.

“This is definitely a career; this isn’t just a job. The work is there and it’s not going away.”

How much money are electricians making?

Compensation for electricians can vary. In Lachlan’s market, electricians are making anywhere between $20 and $45 per hour, with most making between $25 and $35 per hour. So, why is there such a broad range in compensation? Here’s what goes into it:

  • Years of experience: More years on the job can get you more cash.
  • Licenses and certifications: These are proof of your skills. Skills that companies will pay more for.
  • Industry-specific knowledge: Similar to the licenses and certifications. What you know can differentiate you from other electricians.
  • Company size: Bigger companies often have bigger budgets, and more to pay their employees.
  • Union agreements: Agreements often stipulate compensation rates.
  • Job responsibilities: What you’re actually required to do on the job plays a big role in determining pay.

One other thing to keep in mind: The job title “electrician” can apply to different jobs depending on your industry, organization and specific responsibilities. Each industry has different advantages and disadvantages — it all depends on what YOU want. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a recruiter to discuss career options if you are interested in learning about different work environments and responsibilities.

What’s the difference between a $25-an-hour electrician and a $35-an-hour electrician?

The most common difference is that the higher-paid electricians have a journeyman’s license, card or certification. Becoming a certified journeyman requires you to work a certain number of hours under a master electrician — typically a couple of years’ worth.

Depending on where you’re located, you can obtain such a certification from your local union or from your state. You also have to pass a test to renew your license every year. “The electrical code changes from year to year,” Savage noted.

Additional certifications and licenses are sometimes required, typically for larger companies. Even if it is not a requirement for the position, certifications and licenses can not only separate you for others but may also increase your starting pay.

Another differentiating factor can be your abilities with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and robotics. The manufacturing industry has increasingly become more automated and those automation lines hinge on the electrical capability of electricians and maintenance personnel to keep production running. Electricians with strong PLC and robotics experience will register higher on the pay scale given the importance of that experience.

PLC software commonly used in the automotive industry is Allen Bradley, and the most common robots are Fanuc or ABB. There are numerous PLCs, Allen Bradley, Fanuc, and ABB courses that can be obtained via schools, unions, community colleges, independent programs and internal company resources. Not only will it look favorable on a resume and help increase interviews, but the knowledge and experience gained from additional education and certifications will help with on the job results.

Why are electricians so valued?

To illustrate this point, Savage cited a Detroit-based example. He supplies electricians for what are called “just-in-time” manufacturing facilities. These deliver auto parts and components to major automotive manufacturers like Ford, GM or Chrysler on demand, on tight deadlines.

 “At a just-in-time supplier, they are billed thousands of dollars every minute the line is down. If they’re down for an hour, it’s probably costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the agreement they have with Ford, GM or Chrysler.”

“If there’s a lot of downtime at the auto plant, there’s a heavy price to pay for that supplier. If you shut a production plant down, you’re going to pay for it.”

What are the different kinds of electricians, and is there crossover between them?

Savage splits them into four categories: Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Automotive.

Being based in Detroit, Savage works with more Automotive electricians than you’d find in most other parts of the country.

According to Savage, job skills tend to be most transferable between:

  • Residential and commercial electricians, who install wiring and electrical panels during the construction of stores, offices, homes and apartment complexes.
  • Industrial and automotive electricians, who maintain production lines in manufacturing facilities.

How can I become an electrician?

If you’re fresh out of high school, go to trade school. Work a job and go to school after hours if you have to. Get an associate’s degree. Then get involved with your local electricians union. If you’re still in high school, take advantage of and tech offerings, or make acquaintance with a local electrician.

If you’re already working in manufacturing, see if your employer offers any training programs for electricians. There may be opportunities with the company you’re currently working for.

What do you mean by that?

If you want training to become an electrician, a lot of larger manufacturers and industrial companies offer apprenticeship programs for their employees, or tuition reimbursement for classes.

Consult with your manager and/or HR about how you can take the next step up. “Companies want that and, quite honestly, companies aren’t seeing enough of that,” Savage said. “The managers I talk to tell me about these programs — and then they follow that with, ‘But no one takes advantage of them.’” 

He added some hard-won perspective: “Opportunities will come for those who strive for them. Opportunities aren’t going to present themselves to those who are just waiting for them to happen.”

How should electricians approach job interviews?

Aerotek can help you with that!

For interviews, we tutor job applicants to use the STAR method — situation, task, action, result. When you’re asked for a good example of your work, describe the situation, explain the task you had to complete, go over the specific actions you took and sum up the result of your work.

“Lots of interviewees leave out the ‘result’ part,” Savage said. Your resume gets you the interview, and the interview gets you the job. But don’t overstate your qualifications, because you’re not going to able to just “squeak by” and talk your way through the interview. They’re looking for someone who’s really qualified to perform specific tasks.

Also: Research the company that’s interviewing you. Study its website — the “About” page, the company’s products, any company news.

“It just shows a genuine interest in the opportunity that many candidates miss out on,” Savage said.

Curious about what else is out there? Now is the time to visit our job board to find your next great opportunity. Create a free career account today to customize your search. Upload your resume and customize your job search based on your skills and interests. Finally, consider contacting an expert career advisor. Our recruiters are available to provide advice that you can use.