Choose Your Own Adventure

Climbing up ‘the ladder’ has been the go-to metaphor for coffee break conversations since time immemorial. Invisible and inevitable, each rung comes with additional responsibilities and associated rewards. It’s a great metaphor and applies to most industries of work…but not for electricians. Why? Because a career in the electrical field gives you options.

For those in the electrical field, shifting from one niche to another (say, from project manager to site inspector or business owner to educator) has very few barriers. To people entrenched in other career tracks the idea that such specialties should be nearly interchangeable would be foreign. But that’s not the case for electricians. Reaching Journeyworker status in the electrical field affords people the opportunity to switch tracks more easily than is possible in almost any other profession. And it is this unexpected quality that has made the industry a haven for those who seek to avoid the monotony of a stagnant career.

And unlike other industries, people can choose not only where they want to go, but also how they get there. Many positions lend themselves well as preparation for similar, yet more involved positions. For example, a Journeyworker might transition to a Foreman or a General Foreman might step into the shoes of a Project Manager, and so on.

The reason people can transition smoothly between positions in the electrical field is that most of the skills required for day-to-day work throughout the industry are built upon baseline knowledge that Journeyworkers already possess. The time needed to acclimate to a new position is limited to learning its unique demands. Not every Journeyworker will be a brilliant fit for a given position, but the most demanding credentials required are the same regardless of a person’s specialty within the industry. Not only that, but the flexibility of the electrical career path also allows these Tradespeople to more easily revisit their decision if he or she has transitioned to a position they don’t enjoy.

Electrical industry expert Dave LaPointe says to keep your licenses up to date. This allows electricians to return to an area of the industry that is a better fit if they don’t like their new role. Not only does this make for happier workers, it also makes for a more efficient industry, since people who like their jobs tend to outperform those who dislike their jobs.

It’s also worth noting that simply having these options available is a comfort to dedicated Journeyworkers who are happy where they are. The electrical industry is dominated by nimble-minded thinkers who often thrive on variety—but for plenty of Tradespeople the variety they see from jobsite to jobsite is reward enough; the mere knowledge that they have the freedom to branch out if they choose to do so is sufficient for them to be content. And there’s good cause to be content. Journeyworker electricians are some of the highest paid tradespeople, and have access to great pension plans.

In most places, those who have at least 2 years under their belt as a Journeyworker can try for master electrician status. The distinctions between a master electrician and a Journeyworker are not as simple as stepping into a new role with different job requirements. However, they do generally get paid a higher salary, and can pull permits, which Journeyworkers cannot do. Master electricians may also be hired by electrical contractors, as there must be at least one master electrician per shop.

Here is a visualization of some of the numerous positions available to Journeyworker electricians. This web is by no means an exhaustive list of the options in this industry, nor are all of the positions noted mutually exclusive. It is not uncommon for certain roles (for instance, estimator and project manager), or the duties thereof, to be combined in a single job position. One can also operate as a master electrician, or be more qualified for a given position once they have a master electrician license. These are also not mutually exclusive.

This freedom to easily branch into a variety of specialties using your core set of industry skills is uncommon in most careers. But ironically, as a pattern of career progression, it’s actually becoming more and more common to observe. Members of the emerging workforce generation are spending more of their career jumping from one path to another, and these jumps often involve more than one stint in college in order to create a new skills base for each career track they pursue.

So while it is unique in its inherent flexibility, the weblike model of the electrical industry career path is notably representative of the new career model writ large. It is, in fact, the career template for the 21st century working American. Complete with practical skills that intersect directly with technology, infrastructure, education, and business. Whether or not other industries will be able to replicate this flexibility, the electrical field continues to offer numerous advantages over the traditional college path that has dominated the public’s perception of the American career.