Looking for a hands-on trade that has great prospects? Becoming an electrician in civvy street could well be the switch you’re looking for.
The world we live in is an increasingly wired-up one, and our lives are ever more dependent upon the unending flow of electrons that power everything from our alarm clocks and cookers to street lights and offices. But at the same time, fewer people than ever seem to be able to even change the fuse in a plug. Of course, electricity can be dangerous, particularly when combined with people who don’t know what they’re doing. So it’s clear that those in the know when it comes to the installation, maintenance and repair of our electrical systems can have a very positive future!
CAREERS FOR ELECTRICIANS
The electrician’s trade offers a range of career opportunities in civvy street, focusing on either domestic or industrial settings. As their name suggests, installation electricians install, inspect and test wiring systems in all types of buildings. In new constructions this means installing electrical systems in their entirety, from the laying down of the main power lines (this is referred to as the “first fix” before the plasterers and interior decorators get to work) to the connection of switches, power points and light fittings (called the “second fix” in the trade). Renovation work on existing buildings, meanwhile, will focus on the stripping out and replacement of old wiring – possibly re-running it along wall cavities, and through ceilings and floors. Installation electricians working on commercial projects such as shops and offices will carry out much the same tasks as in a domestic settings, except often on a larger scale – and with additional responsibilities including the installation of security systems such as CCTV.
Electricians have an important role to play in construction, engineering and manufacturing. Panel building electricians work from wiring plans and put together complex electrical and electronic control panels using programmable logic controllers; these control panels are usually used to manage a building’s infrastructure – typically, the heating,
air-conditioning and ventilation systems.
Electricians can also find themselves testing and repairing electrical components in machinery – such as transformers, motors, compressors and pumps – or involved in the installation and maintenance of tracking systems used to record and monitor machinery. Some industrial electricians test and maintain the electro-mechanical equipment used in factories and the construction industry, while others will focus on the UK’s highway systems – testing circuits and diagnosing and repairing faults to street lighting and motorway message signs, for example.
ARE ELECTRICS FOR YOU?
Electricians need to be good with their hands and sufficiently skilled in the use of a range of hand and power tools. Although much of the work is indoors, they must be able to work in physically demanding locations while following often complex technical drawings and instructions. Almost certainly the job will involve travel from one site to another, all of which can take time. This is a profession where you must be alert and cautious (electricity is dangerous, after all); you need a methodical approach, and to have the determination to not just get the job done, but done well. Close attention to detail is vital. In short, you need to be practical, methodical, independent, personable, good at solving problems and physically fit. Perfect colour vision is also a requirement.
Electricians are expected to have knowledge of the latest industrial developments and will need a thorough understanding of the safety rules and regulations covering electricity and electrical systems. Depending on the size of the job, they need to be able to work unsupervised as well as taking instructions as part of a larger construction or renovation team; verbal communication skills with both colleagues and customers are therefore important.
Although most electricians will work between 37 and 40 hours a week, some will work shifts, overtime (particularly at weekends) or be on call in order to ensure 24-hour coverage.
Unlike in some professions, there is nothing to stop anyone with a bare minimum of knowledge from calling themselves an electrician. However, since the introduction in 2005 of Part P of the Building Regulations (which covers electrical work in the home in England and Wales), the potential to carry out electrical work without experience and qualifications is severely limited. Working in compliance with Part P requires a lower level of qualification than that expected of fully qualified electricians, but limits your employment potential to the domestic market.
Since the beginning of 2005, Part P of the Building regulations (England and Wales) has required most household electrical work to be notified to the local authority building controller or for the work to be carried out by a qualified electrician who can certify that their work meets the required standards. This change to the building regulations was designed to help reduce the number of deaths, injuries and fires caused by faulty installations and to make it harder for incompetent and rogue installers to leave electrical installations in an unsafe condition. Electricians can survey and approve their own work provided they have successfully completed a short Part P training course as part of their ongoing professional development.
Fully qualified electricians possess the industry-recognised qualification – a Level 3 S/NVQ in Electrotechnical Services (Electrical Installation – building and structures), which warrants professional recognition with an ECS ‘gold card’ from the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme. However, getting a Level 3 S/NVQ takes time and potentially money; this is an important consideration for anyone thinking about becoming an electrician in civvy street without any prior experience from the Services. Of course, if you are already an electrician by trade – for example a Military Engineer (Electrician) with the Royal Engineers – then you will likely have qualifications and experience that will allow you to move into the civilian industry much more easily.
If you don’t already have such trade experience, you can significantly improve your career prospects as an electrician by gaining qualifications before you leave the Armed Forces. The Career Transition Partnership runs several courses, ranging from a week-long Basic Electrics course for beginners, to more advanced courses that can lead to City & Guilds certificates and provide the knowledge required to achieve registration on a Part P competent person scheme. Further information on these courses is available from the CTP. Much of the training available in civvy street is administered as apprenticeships geared towards 16 to 19-year-olds. While this particular framework may not be open to you as a Service leaver, there are vocational alternatives, particularly if you are already working within the industry. In Scotland, the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust administers an Adult Training Scheme for anyone aged 22 or older who has a minimum of one year’s relevant site experience in the industry and is in full-time employment with an electrotechnical contracting company. In England and Wales, the Electrical Contractors Association has its own NVQ scheme.
PAY AND PROSPECTS
According to the Construction Skills Network there is a growing shortage of new, qualified electricians coming into the sector to replace those moving on or retiring; while this is not necessarily good news for either employers or customers, it does mean there’s a good level of job security and career choice. Although income will vary according to experience, location and employer, the Joint Industry Training Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry recommends an average basic salary of roughly £17k a year, with experienced electricians with Part P earning £23k upwards.
Electricians are employed by a wide range of organisations including electrical contractors, building firms, manufacturers, engineering companies, kitchen/bathroom/shopfitting companies, local authorities and public institutions such as hospitals. Promotion may well be possible to supervisory and managerial levels, assuming the successful undertaking of approved training and the gaining of necessary qualifications. Highly experienced electricians can even apply for professional registration as an Engineering Technician (EngTech). Alternatively, many electricians choose to become self-employed, or set up their own contracting businesses; this allows them a greater say about where, when and for how long they work.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
The job of an electrician has lots of potential when it comes to future career prospects; thanks to our increased reliance upon electrical power throughout our daily lives, electricians will be increasingly looked to as people with a valued and valuable trade.
Career Transition Partnership
020 7484 1851
Electrical Contractors Association
020 7313 4800
Scottish Electrical Charitable Trust
0131 445 5659