As electrical business owners and contractors, you are at the forefront of the electrical industry, providing vital services that power homes, businesses, and industries. To succeed in this dynamic field, it's crucial to understand the various types of electrical jobs available and how they can expand your business opportunities.
Here we will discuss the importance of training and diversity in the electrical job market. We will discuss which electrical jobs are most often performed, who performs them, and why skills and experience are so important to a successful project.
Most common types of electrical jobs
In the electrical industry, several common types of electrical jobs are essential for maintaining, installing, and repairing electrical systems across various settings. Here are some of the most common types of electrical jobs:
1. Residential electrical jobs
In most instances, residential electricians are licensed by the state in which they operate. These individuals are usually required to have experience as an apprentice and pass a standard test to qualify for licensing.
Roles and Responsibilities
Residential electricians are typically licensed to perform any electrical work, including high and low-voltage installations. Many licensed residential electricians will design and install an entire electrical system in a home, including connections to the local power grid.
Some states offer limited electrical licenses as well, like those that work with 24 volts or less. Known as low voltage electricians, are licensed to install systems like security, home automation, telephony, and computer networks, but not standard 200 amp electrical services.
Fully licensed electricians are typically permitted to perform any electrical work, including low voltage, commercial, and industrial projects, within the scope of their license. Many states set a dollar limit for each electrical licensee, meaning projects they perform cannot exceed a certain dollar amount. This is to prevent electrical contractors from exceeding their financial ability to resolve potential problems they might accidentally cause.
Depending on the scope of the project, this can include:
- Infrastructure wiring, such as trunk lines.
- Fixture, outlet, and switch installations.
- Main panels and subpanels.
- Buried or aerial (pole-supported) wiring.
Typical projects performed by a residential electrician
A typical electrical job will involve the repair, replacement, or installation of new wiring, networks, and circuits. This includes working with the main panel, subpanels, outlets, switches, and fixtures.
Repair jobs, like replacing an outlet or switch, generally do not require a permit, but there are exceptions. New installations that require added services and infrastructure, like a home addition, will typically require one.
Since many residential electricians work inside people’s homes, many are also bonded. Bonded residential electricians will have a contract with a bonding company, which essentially provides financial compensation to a customer should the electrician become liable for damage.
2. Commercial electrical jobs
Commercial work performed by licensed electricians will usually be held to a stricter standard than residential electricians. The National Electrical Code (NEC) differentiates commercial electrical jobs from residential jobs because commercial spaces are typically public access buildings.
Roles and responsibilities
Commercial electricians tend to tackle projects larger in scope than residential electricians, so they often spend more time planning the project. A typical commercial electrician’s day often involves working with or managing, a crew.
However, they also commonly perform small repair projects in a commercial setting. For example, many retail businesses forbid (or limit) their employees' involvement in infrastructure repairs, so a commercial electrician is hired.
Commercial electricians are well-versed in working with building managers, facilities coordinators, and building owners. These pros are very conscious of the need to keep a business operating while work is being performed, and will often work over a weekend when the business is closed.
They must follow more strict codes when performing electrical work in a public structure because spaces can be interconnected.
For example, plenum spaces are common in large structures like office buildings, hospitals, and restaurants. Plenum spaces are clear areas above a ceiling used to circulate air from one space to another. The cover (or jacket) on wires and cabling used in this plenum space must not emit toxic fumes if they ignite and burn.
Commercial electricians often use special tools, like mechanical scissor lifts, booms, and bucket trucks, in their daily tasks. A commercial electrician will often work with very high voltages compared to residential electricians, so attention to safety is always at the forefront. As such, commercial electricians must adhere to OSHA workplace safety regulations at all times.
Commercial electricians are called when a business’s power goes out, a circuit fails, or when physical damage makes a space unsafe to occupy. These pros can solve any electrical problem, regardless of the cause.
3. Industrial electrical jobs
Industrial electricians are often employed by a manufacturer operating a factory and are responsible for maintaining the infrastructure daily. Machines break, get moved, and wear out regularly, so having an in-house electrician is often the most effective strategy.
Like commercial electricians, industrial electricians often have a crew or maintenance department that is always on call. Industrial electricians are typically very aware of the timeframes they must work within because unexpected factory downtime can affect the entire company’s profitability.
Roles and responsibilities
Industrial electricians typically work closely with production management and plan their work during a scheduled hiatus, such as a holiday, when the factory will be closed anyway. However, industrial electricians must also be ready at a moment’s notice when an important piece of machinery or circuit fails and requires repair.
Typical Projects performed by an industrial electrician
Industrial electricians are often experts in electrical service distribution as well. Manufacturing and industrial settings can include direct burial cabling, pole-to-pole connections, and installing support equipment, like a backup generator.
4. Maintenance electrical jobs
Maintenance electricians are often trained to work mostly on specific machinery as it applies to the business. Maintenance electricians are commonly employed by apartment complexes, factories, and other businesses where constant upkeep is critical.
Maintenance electricians are often factory-trained for this reason and become well-versed in every aspect of a machine’s operation. In contrast, a residential electrician often performs the work once, receives approval from an inspector, and never sees the job again.
5. Electrical design engineers jobs
Electrical design engineers are responsible for the types of electrical engineering jobs they design. Electrical design engineers make sure the entire system is designed to work with itself and is sized correctly for the job it is to perform.
They are created by electrical design engineers, but instead of designing structures with wood and steel (like an architect), electrical engineers work with volts, amps, and ohms.
Electrical design engineers ensure that the system has the power requirements and safety elements appropriate for the job and that the system operates reliably, safely, and to a common standard.
6. Power system electrical jobs
Power system electricians, also known as linemen, are the electricians who restore power when a storm or other event causes a power grid failure. These electricians work with enormous voltages, so attention to safety is paramount.
They often must be mobile, so they tend to use bucket trucks and other mobile tools. Power lines can run underground or aerially, so these professionals are trained to work in challenging environments, including severe weather.
Power system electricians often work in and around local power stations as well. Power stations regulate the electrical services to a geographical region and adjust the power as needed to account for the voltage drop in long (often miles-long) cabling.
7. Specialized electrical jobs
Specialized electricians often focus on specific industries, like marine, military, automotive, and lighting applications. For example, a theatrical electrician may have special skills for working with lighting, motorized props, and motors that retract a stage curtain.
Military electricians are typically trained to work in high-security environments and work with unique equipment, like communications radios and radar stations. Military electricians are often the most highly trained electrical specialty, so private sector opportunities are abundant as well.
Marine electricians are often trained to work with electricity underwater, which is an extremely dangerous job. Marine electricians are also divers in many cases, so attention to safety is the top priority.
Deciphering electrical job roles
Electricians are typically required to have either documented experience in the field, a formal education, or both, before applying for a license. It means these professionals have achieved a standard of skill and experience you can trust.
Education and training required
Electricians aren’t typically required to have a college degree, but they are required to have an appropriate education in working with electricity. Many serve as apprentices first and eventually take the licensing test to allow them to work independently.
Most types of electrical engineering jobs, like those performed by a design engineer, will require a college degree in electrical or mechanical engineering. However, modern technology makes electrical design easier every day, so this may not be the case in the future.
Career progression and opportunities
Electricians often begin their careers as an apprentice, but they might also have an associate’s degree or certificate from a trade school. Some electricians use their skills to enter the design field, while others go into business for themselves. Still, others may spend an entire career with a single organization, like a university.
An electrician’s career path often begins as an apprentice, graduating to a journeyman electrician. However, this does not mean a journeyman electrician is licensed to perform work an apprentice cannot. Both are required to pass licensing requirements if they plan to offer their services directly to an end consumer.
Job safety and risks
Electrical work can be extremely dangerous. This is why electricians must know the essential electrical safety tips to stay safe on the jobsite. The simple act of reversing a wire can cause a fault that results in a fire, so electrical components are designed first and foremost for safe operation.
For example, electricians often work with one hand in their pocket, especially when working with high voltages. This eliminates the potential for them to accidentally touch a live wire and the ground simultaneously.
These pros also wear PPE, or personal protective equipment, such as rubber boots, insulated gloves, and hard hats. Electricians always use insulated tools as well, which helps reduce the flow of electricity in case a metal tool touches a live wire.
Understanding the types of electrical jobs is a useful skill
Understanding the role of an electrician can help projects move smoothly and efficiently. Knowing to differentiate between the different types of electrical jobs will help prevent misunderstandings, and help you hire the right electrician for the job the first time.
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