An electrician is a tradesman specializing in electrical wiring of buildings and related equipment. Electricians may be employed in the installation of new electrical components or the maintenance and repair of existing electrical infrastructure.
In the United States electricians are sometimes referred to as Inside Wireman as opposed to Outside Linemen who work on electric utility company distribution systems at higher voltages.
"Electrician" is also used as the name of a role in stagecraft, where electricians are tasked primarily with hanging, focusing, and operating stage lighting. In this context, the Master Electrician is the show's chief electrician. Although theater electricians routinely perform electrical work on stage lighting instruments and equipment, they are not part of the electrical trade and have a different set of skills and qualifications from the electricians that work on building wiring.
In the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia "spark" or "sparky" is slang term for an electrician.
Training and regulation of trade
In most countries, the job of an electrician is a regulated trade for safety reasons due to the many hazards of working with electricity, requiring testing, registration, or licensing. Licensing of electricians is controlled through government and/or professional societies.
In the United States licensing requirements for construction work are controlled by local building officials. Typically, certain types of electrical work are only permitted to be performed by a Journeyman or Master electrician. The requirements for becoming a journeyman or master electrician, and the types of work they are permitted to do, vary between states; however, there are often interstate reciprocity agreements. Not all states offer a statewide journeyman or master electrician license.
Before electricians are allowed to work without supervision, they are usually required to serve an apprenticeship lasting from 3 to 5 years under the general supervision of a Master Electrician and usually the direct supervision of a Journeyman Electrician. Schooling in electrical theory and electrical building codes is usually required to complete the apprenticeship program. A Journeyman electrician is a well rounded craftsman trained in all phases of electrical construction installation in various building styles and maintenance of equipment after installation. A Journeyman is usually permitted to perform all types of electrical work except design of electrical systems.
In most Canadian jurisdictions a supply authority will not connect power to a new building unless a licensed electrician has applied for the electrical permit (some provinces allow a homeowner to obtain his own electrical permit).
Similarly to the United States, training of electricians follows an apprenticeship model, taking four or five years to progress to fully qualified journeyman level. Typical apprenticeship programs emphasize hands-on work under the supervision of journeymen, but also include a subtantial component of classroom training and testing. Training and licensing of electricians is by province, but many provinces recognize qualifications received in others.
Restricted electrical licenses are also issued for specializations such as motor winder, appliance repair, audio/visual installation, HVAC installation, and similar jobs.
The electrician's trade requires use of a range of hand and power tools and instruments. Usually an electrician will have a personal set of hand tools and general-purpose test instruments, with the more costly power tools or instruments provided by the employer or business.
Some of the more common tools are:
- Lineman's pliers are heavy-duty pliers for general use in cutting, bending, crimping and pulling wire; electricians commonly use the tool as a hammer, as well.
- Needle-nose pliers feature a namesake long, tapered gripping nose and are of more various size, with or without side cutters, generally smaller and for finer work (including very small tools used in electronics wiring).
- Wire strippers come in many sizes and designs, but those intended for electric power wiring feature special blades to cut wire insulation on American Wire Gauge (AWG) #16 to #10 while leaving the conductor wire intact and without nicks. Some wire strippers include cable strippers among their multiple functions, for removing the outer jacket of NM cable (also known as Romex).
- Cable cutters are highly-leveraged pliers for cutting cable larger than #10/3.
- Rotosplit is a brand-name tool designed to assist in breaking the spiral jacket of metallic-jacketed cable (MC cable).
- A multimeter is a small, battery-powered instrument for basic electrical testing and troubleshooting; features voltage-, resistance-, and current [under 10 amps] -reading settings, maybe other measurements.
- portable ammeters may have a split torroid coil which may be opened then closed around a single conductor.
- step-bit is a metal-cutting drill bit with stepped-diameter cutting edges, generally at 1/8-inch intervals, for conveniently drilling holes to specification in stamped/rolled metal up to about 1/16" thick; for example, to create custom knock-outs in a breaker panel or junction box. [Keep bit perpendicular to metal!]
- Wires are "fished" into closed cavities using includes cord or rope, fish tape. Small chain is useful in vertical cavities. The fishing tool is pushed, dropped, or shot into the installed racway or stud-bay or joist-bay of a finished wall or in a floor or ceiling. Then the wire or cable is attached and pulled back.
- Other, general-use tools with applications in electric power wiring include screwdrivers, crimpers, hammers, reciprocating saws, drywall saws, metal punches, flashlights, chisels, adjustable slip-joint pliers (for example, Channel-Lock (R) pliers), drills.
- Crimping tools are used to apply terminals or splices. These may be hand or hydraulic powered. The better hand tools have ratchets to insure proper pressure. Hydraulic units achieve cold welding, even for aluminum "locomotive" [many fine strands] cable.
- Megger insulation tester applies several hundred to several thousand volts to cables and shows the insulation resistance value
- Solenoid voltmeter simple go/no go to indicate the presence of voltage.
Many unions represent electricians such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
; the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
; United Auto Workers
; and the United Steelworkers
Many merit-shop training and apprenticeship programs also exist, including those offered by such as trade associations as Associated Builders and Contractors
and Independent Electrical Contractors.
These organizations provide comprehensive training, in accordance with U.S. Department of Labor regulations, for this challenging but fulfilling career.