Electricians install, test, troubleshoot and repair components of electrical systems, working with 110- and 220-volt systems in homes and other buildings. High-voltage electricians, however, work with electrical voltage systems of 480 volts or more, climb electrical towers or work from hydraulic lifts. It takes several years to learn the trade and become a high-voltage electrician.
Prerequisites and Other Requirements
You must be at least 18 years old to become an electrician. You'll need a high school diploma, and some states have more specific requirements. Washington, for example, requires both a high school diploma or GED, and at least one year of high school algebra or one term of college algebra with a grade of C or better documented on either transcript. You might also need to pass an aptitude test to become an apprentice with some companies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a drug screening test is typically required.
What You'll Learn
Some electricians choose formal education to learn the basics of the trade. These programs are found in colleges and technical-vocational schools. The military also offers basic electrician training. Most high-voltage electricians, however, learn their trade through an apprenticeship. In all cases, you must learn electrical theory and how to read blueprints, and study mathematics, electrical code requirements and basic safety. Students also learn how to deal with electrical shock emergencies. High-voltage electricians must also learn how to climb and descend electrical towers.
Become an Apprentice
An electrician's apprenticeship program typically takes four to five years, according to the BLS. Each year, you must complete a minimum of 144 hours of technical training and spend 2,000 hours in paid on-the-job training. You might also need additional training, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration courses on high-voltage electricity. At the end of the apprenticeship program, you become a journeyman high-voltage electrician, qualified to work without direct supervision. The BLS notes that most states require you to pay a fee and pass a test to become licensed. Each state sets its own licensing fees. Certification is available but not required, though it may increase job opportunities.
Job Outlook and Salary
The BLS projects demand for electricians to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022 -- a growth rate almost twice as fast as the 11 percent average for all occupations. Alternative power generation from solar and wind energy, and the need to connect new installations into the high-voltage power grid, should provide the best opportunities for high-voltage electricians. However, demand for electricians tends to fluctuate and is often related to construction activity. The BLS reports that the median salary for all electricians, including high-voltage electricians, was $49,840 in 2012. Job site Indeed reports that the average annual salary for high-voltage electricians was $50,000 in 2014.
2016 Salary Information for Electricians
Electricians earned a median annual salary of $52,720 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, electricians earned a 25th percentile salary of $39,570, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $69,670, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 666,900 people were employed in the U.S. as electricians.