Industrial Electricians and Electrical Occupation

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Organization of the Industry

The electrical industry is one of the largest in the United States and Canada. In 2012, electricians held about 900,000 jobs.

Electrical-contracting firms employed about 70% of the wage and salaried workers. The remainder worked as electricians in other related industries. About 109% of the electricians were self-employed. The opportunity for employment and advancement as an electrician is one of the highest of any industry.

Basically, the entire country runs on electricity. Industry, commercial locations, and homes all employ electricity as the main source of power. It has been estimated that from 2010 to 2018 the need for qualified electricians will increase at a rate of about 13%. That represents an annual increase of over 9000 electricians over the next 10 years. The lay-off rate of electricians is one of the lowest of any occupation. If industry operates, it will require electricians to keep it running.

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Electrical Personnel

Electricians can generally be divided into several categories, depending on their specific area of employment. Each of these categories may require special skills.

Construction: Electricians working in the construction industry generally require a basic knowledge of electrical theory and an extensive knowledge of National Electrical Code requirements and wiring practices. Electricians in the construction area can generally be divided into helpers, journeymen, and masters. Many states require tests for journeymen and master levels.

Industrial Electricians: Industrial electricians are generally concerned with maintaining equipment that has already been installed.

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Electricians in an industrial environment require an extensive knowledge of electrical theory and National Electrical Code requirements for installation of motors, capacitor banks, and transformers. Industrial electricians should also possess a basic knowledge of electronics and electronic devices. Modern industry employs many electronic devices, such as variable frequency drives, solid state controls for direct current motors, and programmable logic controllers. Another area of concern for most industrial electricians is motor controls. Motor control systems are generally either relay logic or electronic in the form of programmable logic controllers or distributive control systems.

Instrumentation Technicians: Instrumentation technicians calibrate and maintain devices that sense such quantities as temperature, pressure, liquid level, flow rate, and others.

These people should have an extensive knowledge of electrical theory, especially as it pertains to low-voltage and closed-loop systems.

Related Industries: The fields related to the electrical industry are too numerous to mention but include air conditioning and refrigeration, aircraft electronics, automotive, cable TV, broadcast media, energy and utilities, and home appliance and repair, as well as many, many others. The opportunity for employment in the electrical field is almost unlimited.

Union and Nonunion Employees

The largest percentage of electricians are nonunion employees. Many construction electricians receive training at various trade and technical schools.

Some employers also sponsor apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship-type programs generally require the electrician to work on the job as well as attend classes. The advantage to apprenticeship training is that it permits a person to earn money while he or she attends class. The disadvantage is that it can create an extremely busy schedule. Most industrial electricians, and those in related fields, require special training at a trade or technical school.

The largest electrician's union is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The construction electricians who belong to the IBEW generally receive apprenticeship-type training for an organization called the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (NJATC). Union electricians who work in related fields generally belong to unions organized for their particular industry, such as United Auto Workers or United Steel Workers.

Apprentices, whether union or nonunion, attend classes several hours a week and work on the job under the supervision of a journeyman. Most journeymen have completed their apprenticeship training and a set number of hours of practical work, and are required to pass an examination to become a journeyman. Journeymen work under the supervision of a master electrician.

The master is ultimately responsible for the work performed and is answer able to the architect or owner. Most states require not only that a master pass a very rigorous examination but also be bonded for a particular sum of money, depending on the size of the job he or she bids on.


Probably the greatest document concerning ethical behavior was given to a man named Moses on top of a mountain several thousand years ago and is called the Ten Commandments. Ethics are the principles by which behavior is judged to be right or wrong. There is an old saying stating that the best advertisement is word of mouth. This type of advertisement, however, can be a two edged sword. People who do poor work, charge for work that was not done, make promises that are never kept, and cheat people at every opportunity gain a reputation that eventually catches up with them.

People who do an honest day's work for an honest wage, keep promises, and deal fairly with other people gain a reputation that will lead to success.

Many years ago I worked for a man who had a business of rebuilding engines.

He charged about twice the going rate of any other person in town and had more business than he could handle. I once asked him how he could charge more than anyone else and still have more business than anyone else. His answer was simple. He said, "There are two ways by which a business can be known. One is as the cheapest in town and the other is as the best in town.

I'm the best in town." Most people are willing to pay more for a person that has a reputation for doing quality work and dealing honestly with customers.


Appearance plays a major role in how a person is perceived. The old saying that first impressions are the most important is true. This doesn't mean that formal office attire is required to make a good impression on a prospective customer, but a professional person is expected to look professional. A person who wears clean work clothes and drives a relatively clean vehicle makes a much better impression than someone who shows up in filthy clothes with shirttail hanging out and pants sagging almost to the knees.


Communication skills are extremely important on any job. These skills can be divided into several areas such as speaking, listening, and writing.

Speaking: Speaking well is probably one of the most important skills for obtaining a successful career in any field. Generally, one of the first impressions you make concerns your ability to speak properly. Even though slang is widely used among friends, family, and the media, a person who uses proper English gives the impression of being educated, informed, and professional.

The ability to speak also involves communicating with people on the job, whether that person is a journeyman or an employer. The ability to explain clearly how a job was done or why it was done a certain way is also important, as it’s often necessary to communicate with people who have no knowledge of the electrical field. The ability to explain to a homeowner why a receptacle or switch should or should not be placed in a particular location is important.

Listening: Listening is probably the most understated skill concerning communication. You should not only listen to what a person wants but also make sure you understand what he or she is saying. Not understanding what a person wants can lead to extremely costly mistakes. The most costly work is that which has to be redone because of a misunderstanding. An example of how misunderstandings can lead to costly mistakes.

Writing: Many jobs require the electrician to fill out work reports that can include a description of the job, the materials used, and the time required to complete the job. This is especially true of a person in charge of other workers, such as a journeyman.

Maintenance electricians in an industrial environment generally submit a report on the maintenance performed on a particular machine. The report commonly includes the particular machine, the problem encountered, the materials necessary for repair, and the time spent in troubleshooting and repair.

-- 1 Listening to the customer can save money and time. What the architect drew; What was built; What the customer wanted; Working on a Team

Teamwork is essential on most construction jobs. The typical construction job may include people that pour the concrete foundation; carpenters; brick ma sons; stone masons; plumbers; landscapers; people that install flooring and carpet; air-conditioning and refrigeration contractors; and, of course, electricians. One of the key elements to a successful team effort is communication. If conduit is to be run under the slab, it’s better to communicate with the people doing the foundation and inform them that conduit needs to be run before the slab is poured.

Be respectful of other trades. If an electrical outlet box is in the way of a sewer line, the plumber may ask that it be moved. It’s much easier to move an outlet box than it’s to reroute a sewer line. If electrical boxes are to be placed in an outside brick wall, ask the brick mason how he would like the box to be placed. A little respect for other trades plus communication can solve many problems before they happen.

If possible, help other people. If you are already in an attic and the air- conditioning contractor asks whether you would be willing to do a small job that would save him time and effort, it’s good working relations to do so. Grudges and hard feelings don’t happen in a work setting where kindness is practiced.

Building Codes

Many cities, counties, and states have their own building codes that supersede the National Electrical Code. The National Electrical Code is law only if the local authority has adopted it as law. Always check local codes before beginning a construction project. Local codes often specify the manner in which wiring is to be installed and the size or type of wire that must be used for a particular application.

Green Building

"Green building" basically means making buildings more energy efficient. This can encompass many areas of the construction such as using "low E" energy efficient windows, adding extra insulation, adding solar collectors to assist the water heater, and installing solar panels and/or wind generators to assist the electrical service. For the electrician, it may be installing larger wire than necessary to help overcome voltage drop, or installing energy-efficient appliances such as heat pump-type water heaters. These water heaters use about half the amount of power of a standard electric water heater. Energy-efficient appliances are generally identified by an Energy Star label. Energy Star is a government-backed symbol awarded to products that are considered energy efficient. Energy Star was established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by inefficient use of energy, and to aid consumers in identifying and purchasing energy-efficient products that will save money with out sacrificing performance, features, or comfort.

Before a product can receive an Energy Star label, it must meet certain requirements set forth in Energy Star product specifications:

• Product categories must produce significant energy savings nationwide.

• Qualified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by customers as well as increase energy efficiency.

• If the qualified product cost more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers must be able to recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings, within a reasonable period of time.

• Energy efficiency must be achievable through broadly available, nonproprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.

• Product energy consumption and performance must be measurable and verified with testing.

• Labeling should effectively differentiate products and be clearly visible to purchasers.

-- 2 Solar water heaters mounted on a roof.

-- 3 Some solar water heaters use a solar panel and special tank with a heat exchanger. Solar collector Pump; Cold water inlet; Hot water outlet; Heat exchanger

-- 4 Four solar panels are often mounted on the roof or in an open area.

-- 5 Inverter changes the direct current produced by the solar cells into alternating current.

-- 6 One meters records the power supplied by the utility company, and another records the amount of power supplied by the solar panels.

Solar Energy

One of the primary sources of green energy is solar power. Solar energy is the primary source of heating water in many countries and can be as simple as a dark colored container mounted on the roof of a structure.

Other types of solar water heaters involve a solar collector, a special tank that contains a heat exchanger, and related equipment. Most of these types of water heaters contain backup electric heating elements for cloudy weather when the solar collector cannot supply enough energy to heat the water.

-- 7 Generation of electric power over a 24-hour period. kWh, Production

Some solar systems generate electricity and are generally called PV (photovoltaic) systems. In these types of systems solar panels are mounted on the roof of a dwelling or in an open area on the ground. Photovoltaic cells generate direct current, which must be changed into alternating current by an inverter. The home remains connected to the utility company at all times. The solar panels augment the incoming power to help reduce the energy supplied by the utility company. There are various methods of supplying power to the utility company, depending on the requirements of the utility company and state laws. Some systems cause the electric meter to run backward during times that the solar panels are producing more energy than is being supplied by the utility company. Other systems require the use of two separate meters. One records the amount of power supplied by the utility company and the other records the amount of power supplied by the solar cells. The utility company then purchases the power from the homeowner or in some cases gives the homeowner credit for the amount of power generated. Other systems employ batteries to store the electricity produced by the solar panels. An uninterruptable power sup ply (UPS) converts the direct current into alternating current. In the event of a power failure, the UPS continues to supply power from the storage batteries.

The amount of electricity produced by the solar panels is directly proportional to the intensity of sunlight striking the panels. The graph shown illustrates the power output over a 24-hour period. The information was gathered during the month of March. Solar cells have a very long life span, generally considered to be 50 years or more. Most manufacturers of solar panels cover the cells with a material that is designed to remain clear in direct sunlight and is strong enough to withstand the average hail storm.

Solar panels connect cells in series and parallel to obtain the desired voltage and current capacity.

Regardless of the type of system, there are generally specific procedures that must be followed during the installation of solar systems. Special circuit breakers designed for direct current and high amperage interrupt capability are often required. Manufacturers' recommendations as well as national and local electrical codes should be followed.

-- 8 Wind turbine types. Horizontal axis Vertical axis Rotor blades Rotor blades Tower Gear box Gear box Generator; Nacelle

Wind Power

Another widely used form of "Green" energy is wind. Wind is actually a product of solar energy. The Sun heats different areas of the Earth's surface at different rates. Hot air rises at a faster rate than cool air. As the hot air rises, cool air rushes in to replace the void left by the rising hot air, and wind is created. Air has mass, and moving air can contain a lot of energy. Wind generators convert the kinetic energy of moving air into electricity. Wind energy increases by the cube of the speed, which means that each time the wind speed doubles, the amount of energy increases eight times. This is the reason that the shape of many automobiles is designed to move through the air with less friction. The wind resistance of an automobile traveling at 60 miles per hour will be eight times greater than when traveling at 30 miles per hour.

-- 9 Wind farm.

-- 10 12kW; Wind Power; Inverter

Wind generators are often referred to as wind turbines. There are two basic designs of wind turbines, the horizontal axis and the vertical axis. Vertical axis turbines are often called "egg beaters." The main advantage of vertical axis turbines is that they are omnidirectional, meaning that they will operate regardless of wind direction. Although horizontal axis turbines must turn to face the wind, they are mostly used for producing electricity. The size of wind turbines can vary greatly depending on the amount of electricity they are intended to produce. Utility scale turbines used in land based wind farms can have rotor diameters that range from 50 meters (164 feet) to 90 meters (295 feet). The tower height is generally the same as the rotor diameter. Utility wind turbines generally feed the electricity they produce directly into the power grid to aid other electricity-generating plants that use fossil fuels.

Wind turbines intended for residential or small commercial use are much smaller. Most have rotor diameters of 8 meters (26 feet) or smaller and are mounted on towers of 40 meters (131 feet) or less. As with solar installations, wind-powered systems can be installed to connect directly to the power grid or to charge a bank of batteries. An inverter is used to convert the direct current of the batteries into alternating current to supply the home. Inverters used to couple the wind turbine to the power line must be able to maintain a steady power flow with varying wind speeds and varying voltages. They must also be able to shape the waveform to that of a sine wave.

Similar to solar installations, some wind-powered systems cause the electric meter to run backward when it’s producing more power than is required by the home. Some utility companies will give credit for the amount of power generated, and some will purchase the power from the customer. Other utilities require the use of two separate meters to determine the amount of wind power produced.

As with solar systems, when installing a wind-powered system, manufacturers' instructions and utility requirements should be followed. Before installing a wind-powered system, check to make certain that the area has a high enough average wind speed to justify the cost of the system.


Electric lighting began in 1879 when Thomas Edison invented the first incandescent lamp. He employed the use of a carbon filament that was heated to a temperature that produced a dim light by today's standards. In 1906, the incandescent lamp was improved by replacing the carbon filament with one made of tungsten. Tungsten could be heated to a much higher temperature and therefore could produce a much brighter light. Incandescent lamps today still use tungsten filaments. Incandescent lamps have the advantage of being inexpensive to purchase, but they also have a disadvantage in that they are very energy inefficient. These lamps are basically room heaters that produce light as a byproduct. At best, incandescent lamps are about 5% efficient, which means that a 100-watt lamp actually produces about 95 watts of heat and about 5 watts of light. They consume about 400% more energy to produce the same amount light as a standard fluorescent lamp.

Light is measured in lumens. The lumens, a metric measure of light intensity as perceived by the human eye, is based on the English measurement of a candela. Basically, a light source that uniformly radiates 1 candela in all directions is equal to 4p lumens. Lighting efficiency is measured by the lumens produced by 1 watt of electricity (lumens per watt). The chart lists the average lumens per watt for different types of lighting. The actual light output per watt can vary greatly for each type of lamp, depending on many conditions such as temperature, age, wattage, and so on. The range is listed for each type.


Lumens per Watt

Incandescent Halogen White LED Mercury Vapor Linear Fluorescent; Compact Fluorescent High Pressure Sodium Metal Halide


The chart indicates that some types are much more energy efficient than others, but all are not suited for use inside buildings. High-pressure sodium is the most efficient, but it has a very orange color, making it unsuitable for many applications. These lamps are generally used in outdoor applications such as parking lots and street lamps. Metal halide is also very efficient and has a near white color. These lamps are often used in large buildings like factories, warehouses, and commercial locations such as building supply stores.

Florescent lighting is probably the type most used for homes, office buildings, and retail stores. Compact fluorescent lamps are replacing incandescent lamps in many homes. Although compact fluorescent lamps have an initial cost that is greater than incandescent lamps, they use about one-fourth the energy to produce a similar amount of light, and their average life expectancy is about 10 times longer. Because compact fluorescent lamps are more energy efficient, they produce less heat for the same amount of light, reducing the load on air conditioning systems. Over the life expectancy of the lamp, the average cost of the compact fluorescent lamp will be less than a similar incandescent lamp.


The electrical field offers many avenues that can lead to success. Most electricians work in the construction industry, but many are employed as maintenance technicians in industry and other related fields. The demand for qualified electricians is expected to increase at a rate of over 9000 new jobs per year over the next 10 years. The lay-off rate for electricians is one of the lowest in the country. Electricity is the power that operates homes, businesses, and industry. If industry runs, it will require electricians to keep it running.

Also see:

Single-Phase Motors: part 1 -- part 2 -- part 3 -- part 4 -- part 5

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Monday, February 25, 2013 14:32