Is your career safe? Every day a new article comes out about the potential of AI and robots changing the job landscape. If you’re getting ready to choose your career path or just need a career change, all these headlines can be daunting. What job will exist in the future? Plus, what job will still offer great pay and benefits long into the future? The answer: a union electrician. With this career, you’ll be paid to learn and have a job for life.
If you’re hardworking and willing to learn, the electrical field is a booming business. Businesses, organizations, hospitals, and homes all require skilled electricians to keep the lights on. Most turn to the best and safest to get the job done – meaning they hire union workers, often called journeymen. To learn more about the benefits of this career, we spoke to electricians Nick Nummela and Todd Anderson. Both work at Benson Electric Company, a Power North partner. Currently, the duo is hard at work updating the electricity at Stella Maris Academy in Duluth, Minnesota.
Before they became full-time electricians, they spent five years as apprentices. Unlike other jobs, the entire time you’re learning to become an electrician you’re splitting time between job sites and classes. This ensures you learn the ins and outs of the industry and get paid to apply them at the same time. You’re taught on the job and this makes learning skills more efficient. It also means you’re also already working for an electrical contractor when you graduate and have strong job connections.
“It really set me up,” explains Nummela. “I got in in 2001 and in the first five years we had night school and that was a set up for the base knowledge of what we found in the field, so it was very useful.”
Pursuing an electrical career is also cost effective. In most cases, you do not have to pay for electrician classes and can make money as you learn. No large loans for an education you may not use. Instead, you’re working and learning the entire time. As an electrician apprentice, you usually take home $52,000 a year.
Beyond the pay, being an apprentice gives you great experience according to Anderson. “Just being exposed to all the different aspects of the trade, there’s so many different ones. You’re getting to hear different people’s experiences. You get all the good training materials on the technical side of things. You’re never thrown out there and without knowing anything about it. It’s a big advantage of the apprenticeship. They’re actually teaching it, it’s not just a job where you’re working as cheap labor.”
Your pay only raises once you’re a full-time journeyman and join the union. There are two unions you’ll probably join, the IBEW or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (despite the brotherhood title, women are welcome and encouraged to pursue careers as an electrician). They work in tandem with NECA (the National Electrical Contractors Association). Together, the teams at these organizations ensure that workers are paid well for their work, have job security, and have great benefits.
“It’s a substantial wage increase being in the union and more benefits are offered,” states Nummela. “And it’s more personable…knowing everybody in the local, fellow tradesmen.”
“Our benefits are second to none,” says Anderson. “Working non-union didn’t have any kind of healthcare or anything. And a lot of places that do have high copays and out-of-pocket costs where ours are pretty minimal, and just really good health coverage and vacation. And of course, retirement is a big thing. A lot of younger people don’t think about that and they’re starting, but I was fortunate enough to start at 21 years old. So, when I retire in my late fifties or early sixties or whatever, I’m going to be sitting really good with the retirement and not have to worry about income for my retirement, where a lot of people have to take part-time jobs and things like that.”
Another important aspect of union work is job security.
“Well, definitely the opportunity for work is one really good thing, because you can work for many different employers. You’re not stuck with just one. So, if you have a, say a falling out with one, you can just go to work for a different company. And through the referral system, you don’t have to go through a big application process and interviews. You’re on the list as a qualified worker, so you can just get called out to go to work right away. That’s the huge advantage of a union. And it’s also an advantage for the contractor, because they have a pool of qualified workers instead of having to go find people off the street.”
As you can see, becoming an union electrician is an excellent career path. Not only will you be paid well and have job security, you’ll also save money from day one and be taught on the job.
Ready to get started? Apply to our apprenticeship program today.