What does an electrician do?
Electricity is something we take for granted. Not too long ago we relied on candlelight instead of lightbulbs, and had no electrical outlets. These days, even a short power cut grinds things to a halt!
We can thank electricians for a huge range of aspects of modern life. Their skills are what enable us to use lights, televisions, appliances and many other things that are considered essential nowadays. But what does an electrician actually do to enable all of this? Read on to find out.
Duties of an Electrician
Electricians are tradespeople, with a wide range of duties. Despite over 40,000 electrical contracting companies in the UK, and around 180,000 electricians, there is still a huge deficit of qualified electricians due to skills shortages.
Basically, an electrician’s job is to plan, install, and maintain electrical wiring and power systems across a range of environments, including carrying out domestic electrician jobs in homes, offering commercial electrician services to businesses, designing property safety and security systems, or working with industrial machinery and equipment. However, the wide range of duties of an electrician means that their work can change from day to day. Depending on what area they work in, and the location of their current job, an electrician could be doing anything from rewiring a home, to laying cables on a building site, to testing electrical systems in a factory, CCTV Installation or lighting systems in an office… and the list goes on! This huge variety of jobs means that there’s always the chance to learn, understand, and master new skills.
Unlike many employees who have a regular place of work, electricians often work on a remote site for a certain period of time – anything from a single day to a few months – before moving on to another job. In some cases, these job sites can be far from electricians’ homes.
Electricians can typically expect a working week of 30-40 hours. As numerous electrical jobs cannot be left unfinished, there’s also the potential for overtime work now and then. The nature of the job, however, also means that some 24-hour emergency call out electricians will be on-call, even when they’re not working.
A typical day could see an electrician installing outdoor lighting and power systems or installing burglar and security alarms in a home, business or factory, or doing maintenance work on the systems in place. They may have to interpret blueprints or electrical diagrams to determine where wires and components need to go, or they could be installing these wires and components using tools such as screwdrivers, drills, pliers, knives, hacksaws, conduit benders and wire strippers. They’ll also use technical equipment like ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters and harmonic testers to ensure that connections are sound, and components are working safely.
Most electricians tend to focus on either construction or maintenance; however, many do both. Construction specialists will typically be installing wiring systems for lighting, performing fire and smoke alarm installations in factories, businesses or homes. They will often have to follow architects’ drawings and could also have to work on building sites.
Maintenance electricians typically have a regular 40-hour week, working regular business hours from Monday to Friday, and tending not to have to work weekends, holidays, or late nights. Maintenance electricians are more likely to be fixing or upgrading existing electrical systems or repairing equipment, and their work can vary hugely depending on where they work. In residential settings, they could be rewiring homes, replacing outdated or broken systems such as old fuse boxes with circuit breaker boxes, or installing lighting or other electrical items like fans. Energy efficiency services are becoming more and more important these days too. In factory settings, they may be performing complex maintenance work on specialised equipment, such as repairing motors, transformers, or generators in machines, specialised tools or industrial robots.
Another type of electrician is a production electrician. They are responsible for constructing complicated electrical and electronic appliances. To do this, they need to be able to understand and interpret complex wiring diagrams. Other types of electrician include independent electrical contractors, who manage teams of junior electricians and liaise with clients directly to determine the scope of a job and to arrange invoicing and securing payment for completed jobs. Their working hours tend to be less regular, leading to some particularly busy weeks and other less busy ones. Working as an independent contractor can let you enjoy a more flexible schedule.
Electricians can work individually or in teams. Sole traders have more control over the jobs they take on, higher levels of customer interaction and the freedom of ‘being their own boss’. Working in a team or for an electrical business gives electricians a safety net of accountancy and support. There are benefits to both approaches, and it mostly just depends on personal preference.
How to Become an Electrician
If you’re thinking of becoming an electrician, there are a few things you need to know first. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the skills and requirements to become an electrician.
The Skills You’ll Need
As with any job, there are a range of skills you’ll need if you want to become a great electrician.
One important requirement to be aware of is that you need to have colour vision. All wiring is identified by the colour and line markings on the insulation. Wiring schematics are key to working out which coloured wires attach to certain specific devices or power supplies. If you’re unable to tell apart different colours, this could pose a huge safety risk to any electrical work you do.
For this reason, electrician apprentices are commonly required to pass a colour blindness test and have full colour vision. However, since 2004, modern wiring insulations use different coloured wiring for live, earth and neutral wires. This change helps to avoid issues with the most common forms of colour blindness such as red/green colour blindness. Nowadays, you can still become an electrician in some cases if you have a common form of colour blindness. However, it’s still important to be aware of this restriction.
Alongside colour vision, there are a range of skills that you’ll need to become an electrician. An understanding of electrical standards, mathematical and scientific principles is essential to any electrician. Recognised standards must be met for all installations and repairs, and whilst advanced math or science skills are not necessary, basic principles will need to be applied to many areas of electrical work. Strong comprehension skills are also important, as often you’ll need to interpret technical documents and blueprints quickly and accurately, and these will be different for each new job. Critical thinking and problem-solving are also helpful, alongside the ability to use your initiative. In most cases, there is a logical solution to electrical failures, so electricians must apply the data they have collected to diagnose and fix issues. One particularly challenging area for domestic electricians is smart home design and home automation, due to the complex nature of the systems in place and the devices that manage them.
Due to the precise nature of working with electrical components and systems, a good level of hand-eye coordination is also necessary. Physical strength and endurance come in handy too – dealing with heavy components and machinery is a big part of the job, and often you’ll be standing or kneeling for long periods of time, sometimes in confined places. An awareness of safety procedures is also critical in the potentially dangerous working environments that electricians must navigate, to avoid any accidents.
The job of an electrician also depends on the ability to work independently or as an effective member of a team, depending on whether you work in a solitary role or as part of a larger construction team. Either way, time management skills are essential to ensure that you complete projects on schedule. As you’ll be working with members of the public as well as people in industry and commerce, customer service and people skills are also very useful. Finally, leadership skills are beneficial to electricians who have progressed in their careers and are looking to start their own company or help to manage apprentices or juniors in their current workplace.
There’s no single road to becoming an electrician. In fact, there are a few different qualifications that could help you on your way to becoming an electrician in various different ways. You’ll need an industry recognised Level 3 qualification, such as a Level 3 Diploma in Electrotechnical Services. Most people get this through an apprenticeship, which can take two to four years. You could take a college training course too – there are a range of part-time and full-time options available. Either way, GCSEs at a 3 (grade D) or above in Maths and English would be useful. Some college courses also have their own grade requirements.
Newly qualified electricians can earn up to £20,000 a year, which is a pretty decent starting salary. In addition to this, experienced and more specialised training can lead your salary to rise to between £30,000 and £40,000 within just a few years. As well as your salary, however, you’ll also have many of the skills you need to renovate and upgrade your own home as and when you want to.
As with any job, the greater your specialism, the higher your salary can be. Current eco-friendly trends for renewable energy sources means green tech such as wind turbines or photovoltaic cells (used in solar panels) could be good areas to specialise in.
We hope that after reading this article, you’re more aware of the wide range of duties of an electrician. Their work behind the scenes enables us to enjoy essential aspects of modern life every day. If you’re in need of some electrical work, get in touch with Ecolux!
 Ibis World (23 April 2021), ‘Electricians in the UK – Market Research Report’. Accessed at: https://www.ibisworld.com/united-kingdom/market-research-reports/electricians-industry/.
 National Careers Service (date unknown), ‘Electrician’. Accessed at: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/electrician
 UCAS (date unknown), ‘How to Become an Electrician’. Accessed at: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/after-gcses/find-career-ideas/explore-jobs/job-profile/electrician
 National Careers Service (date unknown), ‘Electrician’. Accessed at: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/electrician.
 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (8 April 2021), ‘Energy Trends: UK renewables’. Accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-trends-section-6-renewables.