It’s Electric(ians)!

by Anna Johnson

April 25, 2018

It’s safe to say that nearly every building uses an electrical control system. Think about your daily activities. How many could you do if suddenly there was no power? Probably not many. Electrical systems power the lights, appliances, charge our phones, and even sometimes charge our cars. The important job of installing and maintaining the systems that power our lives falls to electricians.

While new buildings are being constructed, electricians install the electrical wiring. This requires the reading and understanding of blue prints and technical diagrams. They use many different types of hand and power tools to run and protect wiring. To maintain equipment and systems, electricians must identify problems and repair broken equipment. The equipment may be difficult to reach, so crouching or standing for long periods of time may be required. Maintenance work may include fixing or replacing parts, light fixtures, control systems, motors, and other various types of electrical equipment.

Electricians work indoors and outdoors. They travel to many different worksites, including businesses, homes, factories, and construction sites. They can work alone or in collaboration with others. If employed at a larger company, electricians are more likely to work as part of a crew. Experienced electricians may also be in charge of directing helpers and apprentices.

Earn While You Learn

A high school diploma or equivalent is required to become an electrician. Typically, an electrician learns on the job while in an apprenticeship program. The typical program is around four to five years. Each year of the program allows the apprentice to experience around 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training, in addition to classroom instruction. While in the classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety practices. In Oregon, apprentices usually start at about 40 percent of the journey electrician rate. Once the apprenticeship program is completed and the worker is properly licensed, electricians are considered to be journey workers.

In 2016, Oregon had 426 electrical trade apprenticeship completers. More detailed information about electrical trade apprenticeships can found on the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries’ Apprenticeships and Training Division’s website. Community Colleges around the state also offer electrician apprenticeship programs, including Blue Mountain Community College, Lane Community College, Mt. Hood Community College, Rogue Community College, and Tillamook Bay Community College.

Electricians earn significantly higher wages than the average occupation in Oregon. The median (50th percentile) hourly wage for electricians in Oregon was $32.96 per hour. This was higher than the median hourly wage across all occupations in Oregon, which was $18.59. Median wages varied across the state, but not by much. The Portland-Metro area (Washington and Multnomah counties) had the highest median hourly wage at $36.39. Eastern Oregon (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa counties) had the lowest median hourly wage at $26.98. The Portland-Metro area median hourly wage across all occupations was $20.94 and in Eastern Oregon it was $15.83.
Job Outlook Is Fully Charged

Employment for electricians in 2014 (8,719) was much larger than the statewide average for all occupations. The total job openings by 2024 (10,124) is expected to be much higher than the statewide average number of job openings for all occupations. Electricians are expected to grow 16 percent from 2014 through 2024, slightly faster than the 14 percent growth projected for all occupations.

The Portland-Metro area employed the largest number of electricians in 2014, with 4,311. The Mid-Valley area (Marion, Polk, Yamhill, and Linn counties) employed the second highest number of electricians, although it was a distant second at 1,140 workers. The East Cascades area (Crook, Deschutes, Gilliam, Hood River, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Sherman, Wasco, and Wheeler counties) is expected to have the fastest growth rate, with electrician employment projected to increase 23 percent from 2014 to 2024. Eastern Oregon is the only area projected to lose electricians by 2024, with a projected job loss rate of 2.1 percent. Although there is expected to be an overall decrease in electrician jobs in this area, there will still be replacement openings with workers moving into different occupations or retiring.
Electrician Licensing in Oregon

Electricians and electrician apprentices must be licensed in Oregon in order to work. There are many different types of apprentice licenses and electrician licenses, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll only outline the requirements for the apprentice and full license for general journeyman electricians. A full list of electrician licenses can be found on the occupational profile for electricians on QualityInfo.org.

The electrician general journeyman apprentice leads to the general journeyman electrician license. Apprenticeship applicants must be at least 17 years of age to apply, and 18 to begin the program. Applicants must provide proof of high school diploma or the equivalent general education development (GED) certificate. They must also have completed at least one year of high school algebra or the equivalent post-high school algebra course with the passing grade of C, or provide the equivalent math placement test results.

Apprentices are expected to pay the cost of tuition and the cost of books. This amount varies per committee. In some cases, these costs are paid by the employer or reimbursed to the apprentice by the apprenticeship committee. Many programs require that apprentices have a basic tool kit and appropriate work clothes and safety equipment such as gloves or goggles. Reliable transportation is important. A small number of apprenticeship programs charge a non-refundable application fee up to $25. The duration of the apprenticeship is 8,000 hours, approximately four years.

Once the apprenticeship is complete, you must be licensed as a general journeyman electrician. In order to receive the license, you must pass an exam that consists of 52 questions, lasts about three hours, and is open book. The license fee is $100 and must be renewed every three years, with 24 hours of continuing education required.

As electricians keep the lights on in all sorts of buildings, there will be plenty of opportunities in this critical trade. Some will result from growth in the size of Oregon’s economy and population and many workers will also be needed to replace today’s electricians as they retire. Opportunities will continue to exist in every area of the state, and in sectors from construction to manufacturing.

 


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