How to become an electrician
Electricians are specialists in creating, repairing and maintaining various electrical products, circuits and services. From domestic work through to the construction sector, an electrician has a highly responsible job that can be extremely varied and is subject to rigorous regulations.
If you have an eye for detail, enjoy physics, and get a buzz from managing literal power, a career as an electrician may be perfect for you. Whether you work on the fitting and maintenance of electronics within the home or design circuit boards for machinery, you can enjoy an ever-changing career that allows you to use creativity, practical skills and electrical knowledge on a daily basis.
£18,000 to £45,000
37 to 42 hours
The following guide explains how you can become an electrician, including what qualifications you will need, the potential for progression within your career, how you are regulated and what your day-to-day life might be like.
What are the qualifications needed to become an electrician?
Embarking on a career as an electrician in the UK involves navigating a pathway of qualifications and practical training. Several routes can lead you to become a fully qualified electrician, each with its own advantages. Below are the main pathways:
For most diploma courses and apprenticeships, you’ll typically need at least grade 4 (or a ‘C’ in the old grading system) in GCSE English and Maths. Some courses may also require a Science subject.
College or University Route
- Level 3 Diploma in Electrical Installations (Buildings and Structures): This course, which requires the GCSEs mentioned above, provides both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. It’s ideal for those new to electrical work.
- Advanced Diploma in Electrical Installation: This Level 3 qualification is more intensive and is designed for those who have completed a Level 2 course and wish to develop their skills further.
- Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2): Suitable for school leavers with the required GCSE grades, this programme offers a balanced mix of academic and on-the-job training and usually takes around two years to complete.
- Advanced Apprenticeship (Level 3): Generally, for those who have completed a Level 2 apprenticeship or have some relevant experience, this apprenticeship lasts between three to four years and provides in-depth training.
- Higher Apprenticeships (Levels 4 and 5): These apprenticeships are tailored for individuals aiming for managerial roles and may take up to five years to complete, sometimes including studies at a college or university.
Intensive Courses: Some training centres offer intensive electrical courses for those looking to fast-track their qualifications. These courses are often more expensive and may not provide as much practical experience.
- Solar PV Installation: Courses in areas like solar panel installation are available for those interested in renewable energy.
- Industrial Electrical Installation: For those looking to work in industrial settings, there are specialised courses that focus on large-scale electrical systems.
These are Level 1 or Level 2 qualifications aimed at providing you with basic electrical skills and knowledge. They can improve your chances of securing an apprenticeship. These courses might include:
- Level 1 Certificate in Basic Construction Skills (Electrical)
- Level 2 Certificate in Electrical Installation Theory
Regulatory Bodies and Certifications
It’s essential to ensure that your electrical qualifications are recognised by the industry. Regulatory bodies like the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) or the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) are crucial for your career as an electrician. After completing your qualifications, you’ll often need to secure accreditation from one of these bodies, which may include additional assessments or ongoing professional development requirements.
Essential skills needed to become a fully qualified electrician
Because electricians have a lot of considerations to make in their role, they will need to possess certain basic skills. With each job, an electrician must ensure that the project they are working on is safe, efficient, reliable and compliant with all relevant regulations. To do this, drawing on the knowledge and skills below will be of great help:
- Attention to detail and an eye for minor errors or potential obstacles.
- The ability to follow stringent rules and regulations.
- The ability to write reports and certificates and to maintain records.
- The ability to communicate clearly verbally and in writing.
- An ability to offer advice on electrical safety and maintenance to clients of all types.
- An enthusiasm to continue learning about developments within the field.
- The ability to interpret and follow technical drawings and instructions.
- Excellent planning and organisational skills.
- Strong time management skills.
- Problem solving skills.
- Practical application skills.
- Strong analytical abilities.
What will day-to-day work look like for an electrician?
Once you become a qualified electrician in the UK, your day will revolve around the project you are working on. This could vary from wiring a house for a domestic customer, planning the power supplies to a large commercial building or offering advice on electrical safety for an entertainment event.
Working as an electrician could lead to you working in a number of areas, such as on domestic homes through to engineering projects for multinational businesses. You may specialise in a specific area, such as renewable energy, solar systems or appliance repairs.
Your day-to-day work will depend on what type of electrician you are and what your specialisms might be. Your day, depending on your role, could contain activities such as:
- Installation Electrician – This type of electrician will spend their day installing new lighting systems, power systems, security networks or fire protection appliances. They work in a variety of buildings, including domestic and commercial.
- Machine Repair Electricians – These electricians will spend most of their day analysing errors within machinery and creating repair plans before working to fix issues on electrical motors.
- Maintenance Electrician – A maintenance electrician will spend the bulk of their day checking electrical systems to ensure that they work effectively and that all systems are safe and compliant. They will fix errors as and when necessary.
- Highway Electrician – a highway electrician will install electrical road signs and lighting and maintain them to ensure they always work efficiently and safely.
Depending on your seniority, you may also manage a team of other electricians or supervise apprentices training to become an electrician.
How much does an electrician earn?
The amount of money that you will earn as an electrician will vary depending on several factors, including:
- What type of electrician you are (e.g. domestic electrician or commercial electrician)
- What specialisms you have
- Your reputation
- Where you work (London electricians tend to earn more)
- Your level of experience.
As a newly qualified electrician, you can expect a starting salary of around £18,000 to £23,000. With experience and good feedback from previous customers, your salary should increase to between £25,000 and £35,000.
Once you have worked in the role for several years and have a wealth of experience, your salary can be expected to increase to over £40,000.
What is the potential career progression with a career as an electrician
The pathway for career progression as an electrician can be highly diverse and offers multiple avenues for growth and specialisation. Here are some of the options you could consider:
- Supervisory Roles: One of the earliest steps up the ladder is moving into a supervisory position. Here, you would manage a team of junior electricians, ensuring their work meets the necessary standards and timelines.
- Managerial Positions: With further experience and perhaps additional management training, you can aim for managerial roles, overseeing larger projects or even entire departments.
- Electrical Engineering: With a degree in electrical engineering, you could move into more complex roles, such as system design or electrical planning for large infrastructure projects.
- Consultancy: Experienced electricians often choose to offer their expertise on a consultancy basis, helping to plan and oversee projects or advising on best practices and compliance.
- Business Ownership: Starting your own electrical contracting business is another option. This entrepreneurial route would require business acumen and a different set of responsibilities like marketing, client acquisition, and financial management.
- Specialisations: The electrical field is broad and continuously evolving. You can choose to specialise in areas such as renewable energy systems, home automation, or industrial machinery. These specialist areas might require additional certifications.
- Teaching and Training: If you have significant experience and a passion for educating others, teaching in colleges or private institutions could be a rewarding career choice.
- Project Management: Advanced roles in project management involve not just overseeing the electrical aspects but also coordinating between different departments to bring a project to completion. This could require additional qualifications like a PRINCE2 or PMP certification.
- Public Sector or Utility Companies: With the right experience and credentials, you can also aim for roles in public services or utility companies, overseeing electrical systems on a larger scale, like power grids.
- International Opportunities: For those interested in travel or international work, many qualifications can be transferred or recognised globally, allowing you to work on projects around the world.
- Industry Advocacy and Regulation: Joining a regulatory body, either in an advisory or inspectorate capacity, is another option for seasoned professionals who wish to affect industry standards and practices.
- Research and Development: If you’re inclined towards innovation, a role in R&D could be fulfilling, enabling you to contribute to advancements in electrical systems and technologies.
By considering additional education, certifications, and networking, career progression in the electrical field can be both lucrative and fulfilling.
Working hours and environment for an electrician in the UK
The work settings and hours for electricians in the UK can be quite varied, depending on the type of employment and the specific projects they are involved in. Here are some general considerations:
A typical work week for an electrician in the UK usually consists of 30 to 40 hours, spread across five days. This is common for those who are employed full-time. However, some circumstances may require longer hours or evening and weekend work, such as:
- On-Call and Emergency Services: Some electricians offer emergency electrical services, which could mean being on-call during evenings, weekends, or public holidays. These roles often command a premium rate of pay.
- Self-Employed Electricians: For those who work on a freelance or self-employed basis, the hours can be more flexible but could also be longer, especially when trying to establish a client base.
- Project-Based Work: Electricians may work extended hours on construction sites or during major installations to meet deadlines, including weekends and evenings.
The working environment of an electrician will vary depending upon the type of electrician you become. It could consist of the following:
- Indoor Work: This could be in homes, offices, retail spaces, or industrial settings, where the primary tasks might include installing or maintaining electrical systems, lighting, or appliances.
- Outdoor Work: Some electricians specialise in outdoor electrical systems such as street lighting, electrical substations, or power lines. These roles might require working in various weather conditions.
- Varied Locations: Electricians might work on a local, regional, or national basis, depending on their role and the scope of their company’s operations. Some roles, particularly in large engineering or construction projects, may even require international travel.
- Physical Demands: The job can be physically demanding, requiring you to work in confined spaces, climb ladders, or lift heavy objects.
- Team Collaboration: Electricians often work as part of a team, especially on larger projects. This could mean coordinating with other tradespeople, such as plumbers, builders, and architects.
- Customer Interaction: Those in domestic service roles will interact frequently with clients, requiring good communication skills and a professional demeanor.