What Hours Do Electricians Work?
There’s no two ways about it: Americans work hard. In fact, Americans work really hard: according to recent data, more than half of us work more than 40 hours per week, with some of us working a lot more. Hours vary depending on your industry and even the specific company you work for, but on the whole, it’s fair to say: we’re not a nation of slackers.
But let’s get to the real questions: if you become an electrician, how many hours per week can you expect to work? What does an electrician work schedule look like? Will you end up working more than the average American, or less?
In this post, we'll go over what the average work week looks like for an electrician, along with some factors that sometimes add or subtract from an electrician's work hours.
Most Electricians Work a 40-Hour Work Week
What hours do electricians work? For the most part, electricians work a normal 8-hour day. That can mean a regular 9am-to-5pm timeframe, but most of the time it skews a little earlier than that, and many electricians start work at 6am or 7am or 8am. There are plenty of times when you may work more than that 8-hour day (and we’ll talk about that in a moment), but that’s a good starting point.
On an annual basis, those hours add up to between about 1,800 hours and 2,080 hours per year (and according to the federal government, employees usually end up at 2,087 hours per year). On many electrician jobs, overtime is available, so that number can increase, but the average numbers of hours per year is between those two estimates.
So, to keep things simple, electrician working hours are similar to the rest of the business world.
Your Hours Depends on Where You Work
Electrical work tends to fall into a few broad categories (residential wiremen, inside wiremen, telecommunications techs, and outside linemen), and work in a wide range of locations, under many different types of work agreements. Hours tend to vary depending on where each type of electrician works, and what the arrangement is.
There are electricians who work for a specific company or facility (such as a plant or a hospital), who may have a set schedule every day and work exactly 40 hours a week. An electrician in a union—or one with a specific work agreement—may also have a set number of hours that he/she will work each week. The hours are specifically set out, and part of the agreement is to work those hours specifically.
There are other electricians who go to many different job sites, and whose hours will vary slightly from job to job. Sometimes the jobs will require less than 40 hours per week, and sometimes the job will require more. That’s very common for independent electricians, or electricians who do residential work—sometimes they’ll have a few light weeks where they’re working 20 or 30 hours a week, and there will be other “peak” periods where they’ll work 40 or 50+ hours. In these types of arrangements, the hours vary job-to-job.
Both of the electricians in this example can make a fine living, but the one will work 40 hours exactly, week-in/week-out, whereas the other will have hours that vary depending on the job he or she is doing.
Your Hours Will Also Depend on Where You Live
In some parts of the country, work for electricians can be plentiful, and electricians can work more than 2,000 hours a year. These can be the case in metro hours, where there’s a lot of business and a lot of commercial growth.
In other areas, work may be harder to come by. There are many factors that contribute to the availability of work, including the geographic location, the strength of the local economy, and the strength of the national economy.
That is a reason why many electricians choose to travel (which is partially where the term "journeyman electrician" comes from). Traveling can be a great option, and can lead to many great job prospects. Those jobs usually offer great overtime, and while they're not for everyone, they can be very profitable.
As a general rule of thumb, work is a little more reliable in metro areas, and a little less reliable in rural areas—and that can affect the number of hours per week you can work.
Union Electrician Work Hours vs. Open Shop Electrician Work Hours
There are a lot of electricians who are part of a union—and plenty who aren’t!—and the union work/non-union work can affect your work schedule.
One of the perks of being in a union is that the union negotiates the hours that you'll work. You are guaranteed to work a certain number of hours per week, and any overtime you work will be paid at a negotiated rate, usually above the normal hourly rate you're being paid at time-and-a-half. And, because union jobs are usually much larger in scale than non-union jobs, that work can last for a while.
There are, however, perks of non-union ("open shop") work as well. Because open shops are able to negotiate work with more flexibility, there can be much more opportunity for overtime, and because non-union shops often get hired for smaller jobs that are finished more quickly, and it can be easier to find work if there is "down time" between jobs.
Again, in both situations, the base is usually 40 hours per week, and the "generally accepted" idea is that non-union electricians are able to get more hours, but may sometimes end up earning a little less per hour on the job (or get fewer benefits), and that union electricians have a little bit more downtime where they're not earning, but earn more per-hour on the job (and/or get more benefits).
There are a few other irregularities that can provide for more---or fewer---hours during the workweek. They include:
- Weather Conditions. It's not uncommon for inclement weather to make work opportunities unpredictable. If you work outside, your jobs may be delayed because of rain, snow, sleet, or fog. If reliability is your thing, indoor work—especially salaried work—can be more reliable.
- Maintenance Jobs. While most electrician work is done during regular business hours, some maintenance jobs need to be performed and completed when facilities are closed and the regular non-electrician workers are not there. This can be also be very reliable work, and if you’re the type of guy/gal who prefers to work alone, maintenance and night-hour work may be right up your alley.
- Emergencies. As with all the construction trades, there are times when systems crash, and experts are needed to immediately fix the problem. These problems can arise during a shift---or during the middle of the night when you're at home sleeping!
- Self-Employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 9% of electricians in the United States are self-employed. Being self-employed allows you more flexibility to set your own hours, and work the schedule that you choose. It should be noted, however, that running a small business comes with a lot of responsibilities, and most people who own their own shop work more than 40 hours per week. The opportunity to dramatically increase your income comes with a price: self-employed electricians must seek new business, advertise their services, and maintain business relationships. All that takes time, and is in addition to the regular electrician work that needs to be done.
- Time of Year. This is more specific to electricians who do residential work, but home improvement projects tend to pick up during certain months (the spring and summer months) and get more sparse during others (the fall and winter, and particularly over the holidays).
Apprentice Electrician Work Hours
We talked at length in another post about the workweek hours of an apprentice electrician, but it's basically the same 40 hours as qualified electricians---but with some additional hours for classes. As we mentioned, apprentices need to work a specific number of hours per year in order to complete each state of their apprenticeship, but they also need to complete a specific number of classroom hours, as well. For some apprentices, there is one day a week of classes; in other apprentice programs, classroom learning is done at night, after the day shift is completed.
There is occasionally "down time" between jobs, and that can affect the number of hours you work in a given year. It may be that an electrician is waiting on the union to assign him or her to the next job, or work for an open shop has dried up for a little bit. In some areas of the United States "down time" happens rarely; in other parts, it's a little more common. There is an excellent discussion on Electrician Talk board about it here.
Some electricians plan their careers to avoid down times (and these guys tend to like salaried jobs, where they may make a little less, but have more security), whereas others may be a little more comfortable with down time, and having some “off time” between jobs.
We hope that helps give you an idea of the hours you can expect to work! Unlike "office jobs" where the 9-to-5 grind is common, there are a lot of variables and a lot of variety in an electrician's workweek. The average work day is about eight hours—just like most other professions—but there are a number of variables that can add or subtract from that number.