Who is an electrician and what do they do

Electrical engineering is a field of engineering that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. The field first became an identifiable occupation in the late nineteenth century after commercialisation of the electric telegraph and electrical power supply.

Branches of electrical engineering include power engineering, control engineering, electronic engineering, microelectronics, signal processing, telecommunications engineering, instrumentation engineering, computer engineering, electro-optical engineering, and distribution engineering. Other related disciplines include biomedical engineering, mechatronics, and engineering physics.

An electrician is a tradesman specialising in electrical wiring of buildings, transmission lines, stationary machines, and related equipment. Electricians may be employed in the installation of new electrical components or the maintenance and repair of existing electrical infrastructure. Electricians may also specialise in wiring ships, airplanes, and other mobile platforms, as well as data and cable lines.

The Australian Context

In Australia, an electrician's license entitles the holder to carry out all types of electrical installation work without supervision. However, to contract, or offer to contract, to carry out electrical installation work, a licensed electrician must also be registered as an electrical contractor. Under the Australian law, electrical work that involves fixed wiring is strictly regulated and must almost always be performed by a licensed electrician or electrical contractor. A local electrician can handle a range of work including air conditioning, light fittings and installation, safety switches, smoke alarm installation, inspection and certification and testing and tagging of electrical appliances. To provide data, structured cabling systems, home automation & theatre, LAN, WAN and VPN data solutions or phone points, an installer must be licensed as a Telecommunications Cable Provider under a scheme controlled by Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Electrical licensing in Australia is regulated by the individual states. In Western Australia, the Department of Commerce tracks licensee's and allows the public to search for individually named/licensed Electricians. Currently in Victoria the apprenticeship last for four years, during three of those years the apprentice attends trade school in either a block release of one week each month or one day each week. At the end of the apprenticeship the apprentice is required to pass three examinations, one of which is theory based with the other two practically based. Upon successful completion of these exams, providing all other components of the apprenticeship are satisfactory, the apprentice is granted an A Class licence on application to Energy Safe Victoria (ESV). An A Class electrician may perform work unsupervised but is unable to work for profit or gain without having the further qualifications necessary to become a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC) or being in the employment of a person holding REC status. However, some exemptions do exist.

In most cases a certificate of electrical safety must be submitted to the relevant body after any electrical works are performed. Safety equipment used and worn by electricians in Australia (including insulated rubber gloves and mats) needs to be tested regularly to ensure it is still protecting the worker. Because of the high risk involved in this trade, this testing needs performed regularly, and regulations vary according to state. Industry best practice is the Queensland Electrical Safety Act 2002, and requires six-monthly testing.

Career pathway of an electrician

This is a profession with a very long history, beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s electrical discoveries in the 1700s. Fast forward to the 21st century, electricians literally keep our societies running. With so much of our day-to-day lives relying upon electricity and electrical technology, we are at the mercy of those who possess the skills and the knowledge to keep them going. It also means that there are now more career opportunities than ever for someone looking to become an electrician. So, what are the study and career options of an electrician and what is involved with becoming a licensed practitioner?

Getting started as an electrician

Depending on the state you live in, you will either require a year 10 or year 12 level qualification as a minimum to pursue an electrician apprenticeship. Searching for an employer to take you on as an apprentice can be challenging, which is why some students opt to enrol in an electrician training program to ensure they have an adequate level of industry understanding and practical experience. This will also give them the opportunity to plan out their career in advance and take steps to choosing a specialty they would like to work towards.

Apprenticeship programs

Serving as the foundations for your career pathway, an apprenticeship program will typically span four years and be split between working for an experienced electrician and attending weekly classes. Each year of the apprenticeship equates to roughly 2,000 hours of work experience and 144 hours of classroom-based instruction. Once this program is completed, the electrician will be designated a ‘journeyman’ – in other words, a skilled worker who has completed an official apprenticeship trade qualification and is authorised to work without supervision.

Why you need to become a licensed electrician

Obtaining a licence is a must for any newly minted electrician hoping to launch a successful career in the industry. Not only does it make you more appealing to prospective clients, but it also makes it easier to join electrician associations and organisations to help network with like-minded individuals. No matter what state you are in, you must be licensed to carry out electrical work without supervision.

Career pathways for a licensed electrician

Once you have obtained your licence, there are many career streams you can take, depending on your interests and particular qualifications. A Certificate III will open up pathways to becoming a telecommunications technician, general electrician, or machine repairer. Other qualifications such as a Diploma, or Advanced Diploma in Electrotechnology will allow you to become an electrical engineer and work on exciting projects such as renewable energy. There are many study opportunities available for electricians to pursue a wide range of immensely rewarding careers. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, further specialised studies open up opportunities in other branches of electrical engineering include power engineering, control engineering, electronic engineering, microelectronics, signal processing, telecommunications engineering, instrumentation engineering, computer engineering, electro-optical engineering, and distribution engineering.

How to choose an electrician for you job

There is a little more to choosing the right electrical contractor than just tracking someone down and throwing money at them to get the job over and done with. In fact, if you are careless about who you hire or what you try to do yourself, it could easily end up burning your house down or really hurting someone.

It is not all that complicated, but to protect your own interests there are a few things you should consider when hiring an electrician. Consider the following:

  • what sort of work is being done?
  • whether you need an electrician in the first place
  • whether the electrician is licensed and registered as an electrical contractor
  • where the electrician is based
  • how reliable and trustworthy the electrician is
  • what the electrician will charge for the job

When do I need an electrician?

We all know that electricians install and repair electrical systems. What you might not know, though, is just what kinds of electrical work you will need to call an electrician in for. In Australia, you are legally allowed to change your own light bulbs and operate your appliances in the manner for which they are designed. For pretty much any electrical work beyond that, you will need to hire a qualified and licensed electrician.

This includes for small things like:

  • installing a power point
  • changing the plugs on an electrical appliance from overseas
  • installing transformers for downlights
  • fixing a broken fitting

Even if you think it is basic and that you know what you are doing, you will really need to call in an electrician. DIY electrical work can be really dangerous, and can result in damage, fire, injury, or death – all of which you will be completely liable for if you have not used a qualified electrician.

A good electrician will work safely, to your state or territory's applicable electrical legislation, and to the standards set out in the Wiring Rules (Australian Standard AS/NZS 3000:2007).

What qualifications do electricians need?

These days, all states and territories require electricians to hold an electrical license to carry out electrical work (see the pictures above for a few examples). Most states also require electricians to be 'Registered Electrical Contractors' (RECs) before they are allowed to operate an electrical contracting business or perform electrical work for profit.

What is a certificate of electrical compliance?

Electricians must issue certificates of electrical compliance for the work they do. These certificates indicate that the work that has been done complies fully with the state or territory's applicable electrical legislation as well as the Wiring Rules (also known as Australian Standard AS/NZS 3000:2007) - and that the work's been properly tested and approved.

How to hire the right electrician

  • Find a local electrician - this will be more convenient and should ensure that you are not being charged for the electrician to travel to the job.
  • Get several quotes - compare a few quotes, not all electricians will charge the same amount for the same work – but they should be reasonably similar. Check out reviews online, but do not believe everything you read.
  • Check with other trusted contractors – if you are having a kitchen renovated, there is a good chance that the builder will know a good electrician who he or she is comfortable working with. Get it all bundled in the one price if you can.
  • Ask to see the electrician’s licence – your electrician should have no problem with showing you this – or with you double-checking with the state authority to ensure that the licence is valid.
  • Ask whether you will get a certificate of electrical safety – you should receive safety certificates for any work that is done.

If the electrician will not give you a certificate or show you a licence, look elsewhere! And if you are not sure about any of the above, get in touch with your local state regulator for more information. They will normally be more than happy to help.


Information provided in the text above is general in nature and does not consider your specific electrical design and installation needs and requirements. The information is not professional advice and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information in the text above as an alternative to professional advice. If you have specific questions relating to this subject, we strongly recommend that you seek independent professional electrical design and installation advice.