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Electrician

Electrician

Electricians install, commission and maintain electrotechnical technology in a wide variety of buildings and systems, such as:

  • complex developments, like shopping malls, sports stadiums, hospitals and new housing projects
  • advanced data cabling, data-handling systems and fibre-optic systems
  • computer-controlled building management systems
  • renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines or photovoltaics (solar panels)
  • control equipment for complex industrial manufacturing and processing.

Electricians normally work standard hours, Monday to Friday. They need, however, to be flexible as the actual hours worked will depend on the project, priorities and deadlines. Many electricians are self-employed and their working hours can vary from week to week.

The job can involve working inside and outside, sometimes in cramped and uncomfortable positions.

Salaries may range from £17,000 to over £35,000 a year.

Electricians should be:

  • practical and have good hand skills
  • able to follow technical drawings, building plans and other instructions
  • careful, methodical and work safely at all times
  • good at problem solving
  • reasonably fit and have normal colour vision
  • analytical
  • interested in electronics.

There are around 23,000 electrical contractors in the UK, employing just under 200,000 electricians. Employers range from small family businesses to large national, multi-service companies employing thousands worldwide.

To become a qualified electrician requires an appropriate NVQ Level 3 and a technical certificate. Many electricians start as apprentices straight from school or college. There are no set entry requirements for the electrotechnical Advanced Apprenticeship. It helps, though, to have at least three GCSEs (A*-C) or the Higher Diploma in construction and the built environment or engineering.

Apprentices combine training with an employer with off-the-job training at a college or training centre. Apprenticeship training normally takes around 42 months.

Some local colleges and private training organisations have their own training schemes. These can only lead to qualification as an electrician if students have the opportunity to achieve NVQ Level 3. To do this they must be able to be assessed on- site, carrying out practical work on real installations.

Once qualified at Level 3, there are opportunities to gain higher-level qualifications. Some progress to NVQ Level 4, or even to degree level, leading to further job opportunities at technician or management level.

Some electricians may move into design consultancy, teaching or management. Self-employed electricians may set up their own business.

What is the work like?

Electricians are responsible for commissioning, installing and maintaining electrotechnical technology in a variety of buildings and systems. From domestic work to major engineering projects, the electrotechnical industry provides a wide range of job settings.

The work of an electrician may involve:

  • complex developments, such as shopping malls, sports stadiums, hospitals and new housing projects
  • advanced data cabling, data-handling systems and fibre-optic systems
  • computer-controlled building management systems
  • renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines or photovoltaics (solar panels)
  • control equipment for complex industrial manufacturing and processing.

The job may include the following activities:

  • installation work - installing power systems, lighting, fire protection, security and structured cabling
  • electrotechnical panel building - building control panels that control building management systems and industrial processes
  • machine repair and rewinding - repairing and maintaining electrical motors, winch drive equipment and machinery such as compressors, pumps and fans within buildings
  • instrumentation - commissioning, testing, fault finding and repairing building management and industrial processing systems
  • maintenance - maintaining modern electrical systems and the equipment they serve to ensure effective and efficient operation
  • highway systems - installing and maintaining street lighting and traffic management systems.

Electricians need to be technically proficient, work safely at all times and carry out their work in an environmentally friendly manner. The work often involves a preparatory stage, identifying the work to be done through rigorous inspection and testing. Communication skills are important, as electricians regularly have to provide functional and technical advice to colleagues and customers. Electricians may sometimes be responsible for overseeing the work activities of others and for awarding safety certificates.

Hours and environment

Electricians normally work standard hours, Monday to Friday. They need, however, to be flexible as the hours worked will depend on the project, priorities and deadlines. They may sometimes have to work at weekends and at night. An increasing number of electricians work freelance or on short-term contracts and, as a result, working hours can vary from one week to another.

The job can involve working inside and outside, sometimes in cramped and uncomfortable positions. For some projects, ladders and scaffolding may be required.

The electrotechnical industry usually involves working locally and travelling from one project to the next, so a driving licence is useful. Some firms may require electricians to stay away from home for varying lengths of time.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Newly qualified electricians may earn between £17,000 and £20,000 a year.
  • Qualified electricians earn an average of £26,000 a year.
  • Some experienced electricians earn over £35,000 a year.

Some employers may pay higher wages, or reward workers through the use of bonus schemes. Overtime is often available. National rates are set for travelling time, travel expenses and the cost of accommodation.

Skills and personal qualities

Electricians should be:

  • practical and possess good hand skills
  • able to follow technical drawings, building plans, wiring diagrams and other instructions
  • careful, methodical and work safely at all times
  • able to measure accurately
  • comfortable working at heights and prepared to work in all sorts of weather
  • willing to work in confined spaces
  • presentable, with a pleasant manner
  • good at written and verbal communication
  • able to motivate others
  • a good team player but also able to work on their own initiative
  • able to adapt to change
  • good at problem solving and have the ability to plan and organise the work of others
  • reasonably fit and have normal colour vision
  • analytical, with good evaluation skills.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • maths
  • electronics
  • using practical skills.

Getting in

The electrotechnical industry is cyclical. This means it has periods of sustained growth followed by downturns and periods when there is less work available. In the current recession the demand for electricians has decreased. At present there are around 23,000 electrotechnical businesses in the UK employing just under 200,000 electricians.

The electrotechnical industry is keen to attract male and female entrants from a diverse range of backgrounds. Information on the opportunities for women is available from SummitSkills and Women and Manual Trades.

Employers of electricians range from small family businesses to large national, multi-service companies that employ thousands worldwide. They include:

  • electrical contractors
  • construction companies
  • manufacturers
  • engineering companies
  • local authorities
  • the National Health Service.

Some electricians are self-employed.

Vacancies for qualified electricians may be advertised in local newspapers and Jobcentre Plus offices. Many vacancies are advertised on recruitment agency websites.

Entry routes

To become a qualified electrician requires an appropriate NVQ Level 3 and a technical certificate. Many electricians start as apprentices straight from school or college and train on the job. This is the most common entry route.

There are no set entry requirements for the electrotechnical Advanced Apprenticeship that leads to NVQ Level 3. It helps, though, for applicants to have at least three GCSEs (A*-C), or the Higher Diploma in construction and the built environment or engineering. Applicants have to pass a selection test and are tested for normal colour vision. Entry to these Apprenticeships is very competitive.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Some local colleges and private training organisations have their own training schemes but they can only lead to qualification as an electrician if students have the opportunity to achieve NVQ Level 3. To do this they must be able to be assessed on- site, carrying out practical work on real installations.

Training

Training to become a qualified electrician involves:

  • off-the-job training at a college or training centre
  • on-the-job training with an employer, applying the skills and knowledge gained at college or training centre. This is essential to becoming qualified as an electrician.

The electrotechnical Advanced Apprenticeship normally takes 42 months to complete. It provides training to NVQ Level 3 in electrotechnical services, electrotechnical panel building or electrical machine rewind and repair. Apprentices also complete a technical certificate at Level 3.

Getting on

Once qualified at Level 3, there are opportunities to gain higher-level qualifications. Some electricians progress to NVQ Level 4, or even degree level, leading to further job opportunities at technician or management level.

Some individuals may move into design consultancy, teaching or management positions. Self-employed electricians may set up their own businesses.

Further information

Electrical Contractors' Association (ECA), ESCA House, 34 Palace Court, London W2 4HY. 020 7313 4800. Website: www.eca.co.uk

Joint Industry Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry (JIB), Kingswood House, 47/51 Sidcup Hill, Sidcup, Kent DA14 6HP. 020 8302 0031. Website: www.jib.org.uk

SummitSkills, Vega House, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes MK15 0DF. Careers Helpline: 0800 068 8336. Websites: www.summitskills.org.uk and www.goodday.org.uk

Women and Manual Trades, 52-54 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8RT. 020 7251 9192. Website: www.wamt.org

Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE), 2nd floor, Weston House, 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0408. Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

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