Broadly speaking, electricians can work on maintenance projects or on new construction projects. Maintenance work deals with repairing or replacing wiring and components in existing structures or systems. Electrical work in new construction projects deals with installing systems, wiring and components in newly-built factories, office buildings, shopping centers and homes. In either case, work can be done inside and outside of the building site.
Most electricians tend to specialize in a particular category of work. Outside linemen, as the name implies, work outside on things such as utility poles, transformers and cables that connect utilities with residential, commercial and industrial properties. This work can be physically challenging as it involves climbing utility poles and dealing with harsh weather. Inside wiremen work indoors and focus on wiring for new construction or on the re-wiring of existing structures. This work can involve homes, commercial properties or industrial properties. Often times, inside wiremen specialize in either new construction or work on existing buildings.
Many skills are required of electricians. You must have a good understanding of electrical infrastructure (the grid, transmission systems, circuit breakers, panel boards, appliances, etc.). You must be able to read blueprints, and work with specialized equipment such as ohmmeters, voltmeters and oscilloscopes. And much more. This all comes with on the job training and experience.
Becoming an electrician requires years of apprenticeship and training. The first step is to serve as an apprentice for several years where you receive a combination of “on the job” training and classroom training. The next step is to become a licensed journeyman where you can work without direct supervision. After years as journeymen, some electricians choose to advance further and become master electricians. This involves years of exposure to specialty work, passing an exam and providing letters of reference to a local governing board. Some master electricians decide to take the next (and final) step up by becoming independent electrical contractors. This allows you to have your own business, to employ other electricians and to bid directly on work. Becoming an independent electrical contractor involves a lot of responsibility but can be very rewarding.