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Electricians install and maintain wiring, fuses and other electrical components needed to bring electricity into homes, businesses and factories. They use blueprints, or electrical diagrams, that show the location of circuits, outlets and panels. Electricians must meet national standards, as well as state and local laws, in order to become licensed.
According to JobProfiles.org, most electricians begin as apprentices. They learn in class and on the job while training under skilled professionals. It takes about four years, with 2,000 hours of actual work experience, to become licensed or board-certified. The only prerequisite before the training is a high school diploma or GED certificate. Also, the apprentice must be at least 18 years old. Basic skills learned in the classroom environment include blueprint reading, math, code requirements, safety and first aid.
Beginning apprentices, working with and under the supervision of experienced electricians, learn to drill holes, set up anchors, attach conduits, install, connect, and test wiring, outlets and switches. They are also taught how to draw diagrams for entire electrical systems. Later on, they learn to connect wires to circuit breakers, handle transformers, and use different types of equipment that will measure circuit connections and safety factors of installations. Bilingual skills can come in handy; in some regions, many contractors are Spanish-speaking, even though instructions and other training materials are mostly written in English.
An electrician or electrical contractor must have dexterity, hand-eye coordination, be physically fit and have a sense of balance. They must be able to bend, stoop, stand or kneel for long periods of time, and be able to travel long distances to get to work sites. They must also have color vision, to see wires that are coded in different colors.
Licensing requirements are met through the state in which the electrician lives or does most of his or her work. The National Electrical Code (NEC) is a licensing examination that tests the candidate’s knowledge of electrical theory, as well as local building and electricity codes. Continuing education is required in order to keep a license up to date, and for experienced electricians to stay abreast of changes to the NEC. Special licensing is required for contractors who work for the public, and in some states, a master electrician certification is required.
Experienced electricians can become inspectors, supervisors, project managers or construction superintendents. Some become independent contractors and start their own companies, but they may be required to get a special contractor’s license in order to do so. The main skill needed by a contractor is the ability to “job cost,” or estimate and come up with a proposal on the cost, price and materials needed to get a project done.
Renee Greene has been writing professionally since 1984 when she began as a news clerk for "The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer." She has written nonfiction books and a book of Haikus. She holds an associate degree from Phillips Junior College and is an English major at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.