America runs on Dunkin’. That’s the only “things powering other things” motto that I could come up with in my floundering attempt to think up a funny, introductory joke about electricians. It did not work out, so from here on out, let’s pretend it didn’t happen.
There are over 625,000 electricians employed in America, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that there will be almost 715,000 by 2024. That’s a rate of growth that almost any industry would envy. The driving forces behind all that growth are an increase in home building and overall growth in the maintenance and construction industries.
We’ll take a closer look at the numbers, talk about how much folks are getting paid, and take a look at the paths into the industry.
The state of electricians in America
Those 625,000 electricians are making $51,880 at the median. That is a stellar setup, with the average American making just $36,200 and the average trades worker pulling in $41,020 annually. In classic style, an increase in demand has led to an increase in cost.
It’s not as easy as just showing up. Working with electricity requires an incredible amount of knowledge, as mistakes can lead to damaged property, broken machinery, and severe injury. As a result, electricians in the US follow a fairly prescribed professional path.
Starting electricians are called apprentices, and they must work under the supervision of a master electrician for a number of years. Over that time, they’ll learn the profession, get classroom training on the technical aspects of the job, and study the National Electric Code (NEC), which lays out the standards for electrical work in the US.
After passing the required classes and logging some time, apprentices can become journeymen. These electricians are authorized to work without direct supervision, though they’ll still have some limits on the work they can do – they can’t get permits or design wiring systems, for instance.
If you spend a decade – give or take – as a journeyman, you’ll be eligible to become a master electrician. This is the upper tier and it allows you to make designs, run your own shop, get permits, and just generally work for yourself.
All of this takes time and access. You can’t get into the business without spending time working under another electrician, so you’ll have to know someone to get into the game. Many electricians join a union to get that access, along with all the traditional union perks.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is the biggest name in the game with over 750,000 members, worldwide. For budding electricians who can’t or don’t want to join a union, there are many large, non-union corporations that provide some of the same benefits. They pay for apprenticeships and training courses.
Much of the decision to join a union or not may come down to an electrician’s locale. Areas have better and worse union member density, making it easier or harder to find master electricians to work with. Some parts of the country also have a higher density of non-union jobs, making the choice more complex.
Regardless of the approach, apprentices can expect to spend three to five years working before they can move on to become journeymen. From start to finish, it’s a 12-to-15- year project to rise through the ranks.
The future of electricians
While the US fell way, way, way back in new housing starts when the market crashed, that trend is beginning to get itself back into familiar territory. As construction demand continues to grow, the demand for skilled electricians is going to grow.
For some context, in the mid-1990s, the US was building roughly 1,300 houses each month. That’s a little lower than the demand we saw in the mid-80s and roughly in line with the 1960s. After the market crashed in 2009, the US was seeing just about 500 new homes being built in a month.
That’s been rising steadily since 2012, and we’re now sitting on about 1,200 starts in a month. It’s likely to continue increasing over the next few years, though we’re unlikely to get back to the level we were experiencing right before the collapse – over 2,000 units a month.
The truth is, electricians benefit from this no matter how things go. If new houses start flying off the shelves, more master electricians will have more work, designing new buildings. If the market stagnates, more people will refurbish old homes, increasing the demand for journeymen and apprentices.
In short, it’s a good time to be an electrician or even to be on the road to being an electrician.
As with most of the professions we’ve covered on the Capterra field service blog, being an electrician comes with a built-in bonus – you don’t need to spend four years racking up debt before you start working. While there are educational requirements and classes to take when you’re an apprentice, they’re nothing like the $100,000+ requirements of the American college system.
When you’re done, you’re sitting on an incredible career path with plenty of room for growth and the chance to start your own business. As American universities get more and more expensive, working a trade looks like a smarter and smarter move.
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