Traditional occupations such as secretarial work, nursing, school teaching and retail jobs are still the largest sources of employment for women, but they're not the only choices any more. Even traditionally male-centered construction trades, such as electrical work, are increasingly open to women. Electricians can work in residential construction or commercial and industrial settings, helping build or maintain a variety of structures.
When a house is constructed, its electrical system must meet local building codes. As a residential electrician you'll need to know and understand the code in detail, aside from your construction duties. You'll begin each project with a close study of the blueprints, then install 120-volt and 240-volt circuits as needed throughout the house. You'll use materials and techniques that meet or exceed both the local building code and industry standards, working alone or as part of a team of electrical tradespeople.
Inside electricians are the industrial or commercial equivalent of a residential electrician. You'd work in large buildings, factories, mines and similar environments, installing, maintaining and upgrading the electrical systems. Commercial electricians work with higher-voltage equipment and more demanding specifications, so you'll need to be knowledgeable about a wider variety of materials and installation techniques. You might work collaboratively with tradespeople in other fields, such as elevator or HVAC installation, while buildings are under construction. Some commercial electricians become certified in related fields such as network cabling or HVAC installation, as a way to be more valuable to potential employers.
In most cases, you'll start in the industry as an apprentice. You'll spend five years learning the trade through full-time work under the supervision of a qualified electrician. You'll start off earning 50 to 60 percent of a journey person's pay, and get an increase every year. You'll also spend 144 hours or more in formal classroom instruction each year, learning electrical theory, blueprint reading, computer skills and other related subjects. At the close of your apprenticeship you can take your state's journey person exam, and become a licensed journey person in your own right.
Most electricians work for building contractors, but you might also find a career with your local government, utilities companies, mining companies, heavy manufacturers or in any other industry where electricity is used. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau, only 1.5 percent of electricians were women in 2010. A number of unions, industry organizations and government programs are actively attempting to recruit women into the construction trades, so contacting your state's department of labor or industry is a good starting point. If there are programs available in your area, the department can help you make those initial contacts.
2016 Salary Information for Electricians
Electricians earned a median annual salary of $52,720 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, electricians earned a 25th percentile salary of $39,570, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $69,670, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 666,900 people were employed in the U.S. as electricians.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Electricians
- NECA/IBEW Electrical Training Center: What Does a Union Electrician Do?
- Portland Community College: Electrical Trades
- U.S. Department of Labor: Nontraditional Occupations of Employed Women in 2010
- U.S. Department of Labor: Quick Stats on Women Workers, 2010
- U.S. Department of Labor: Women In the Trades
- Engineering News-Record: Skilled Trades Are Tough To Crack; Women Fight To Gain Ground
- Seattle Woman: Women in the Trades -- What’s Keeping Them Away?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Electricians
- Career Trend: Electricians
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.