Becoming an electrician
Starting out as an apprentice is the first step to becoming an electrical worker. Your experiences as an apprentice can have a huge impact on your future in the trade.
Electrical workers are essential and highly-skilled tradespeople, essential to a thriving economy in almost every sector. Electrical workers have a diverse range of career opportunities including wiring new houses, building and maintaining electricity supply and telecommunications networks, driving renewable energy projects like wind farms and solar plants, working on major construction projects and much more.
An electrical apprenticeship usually takes four years to complete. You will complete on-the-job training (where you work) and off-the-job training (at TAFE or trade school). Some apprentices excel at hands-on work and really enjoy their time on the job. Others love to focus on the technical aspects and breeze their way through trade school. There will be challenges along the way during your apprenticeship, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.
Diverse career opportunities
Electrical workers include electricians, line workers and electrical fitters and cable jointers.
As an electrical worker, you can work in a variety of sectors.
The contracting/construction industry offers a variety of work in domestic, commercial and industrial settings. You could be doing new installations, renovations, modifications or maintenance work. Your worksites could include houses, hospitals, shopping centres, major projects, apartments or offices. You might work with lights, power points, switchboards, motors or solar panels – the list is endless.
Electricity Supply/Power industry
There is an interconnected network (the grid) that spans over 5000 kilometres from Queensland, through New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania and across to South Australia. The grid is the longest alternating current network in the world, supporting 19 million residents through 40,000 kilometres of transmission lines and cables.
In this industry, you could work as a line worker, an underground cable joiner or an electrical fitter.
An apprentice working in the rail industry could become a rolling stock electrician, substation electrician, line worker or signal maintenance technician. Most electrical workers in the rail sector are in maintenance and fault finding, but there is some construction involved too. For example, you could help build substations and overhead power lines on the rail network. Rail companies usually conduct an annual apprentice intake at the beginning of the year, advertised around September or October.
A career in manufacturing mostly consists of servicing, repairing or installing new machines or motors. Fault-finding and testing equipment is a big part of the job. Apprentices must be technically-minded and enjoy solving problems.
If you enjoy robots, programming automated equipment or just like seeing how things work, then this could be the industry for you.
This sector is fast-growing and covers many newer technologies such as solar power, onshore wind, offshore wind, and other emerging technologies. Technology advancements in the renewable sector are developing at a rapid pace. Battery storage systems are beginning to become commonplace in both the domestic and large scale renewable industries. The rollout of electric vehicle charging stations is also expanding, as is the offshore wind industry. Investment in the hydrogen industry is also likely to grow over the coming years. This is an industry where we expect a significant amount of growth as we move to a carbon neutral economy.
A career in mining can be tough because you may be isolated from civilisation for long periods of time and work long hours. Some companies employ from local mining towns, while others use fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers.
Apprentices in this industry become technically savvy and are able to analyse, fault-find and solve problems on large industrial equipment such as conveyor belts or crushers.
Wages, awards and EBAs for electrical workers
When you begin training as an apprentice, your employer will pay you one of two ways, either under an award or an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). Good employers will generally have an EBA and pay above award conditions. ETU Officials and representatives negotiate EBAs. Employers will often pay apprentices more than double that of the Award when the apprentices are on an EBA.
The main award that covers electrical apprentices is the Electrical, Electronic and Communications Contracting award 2020. The wages and conditions set out in this award are the bare minimum entitlements that your employer must pay you.
Don’t get ripped off
By law, employers must tell you which industrial instrument determines your minimum wage level. Often apprentices do not know this and some dodgy employers will try and exploit them because of it. This is one of the most common contractual issues our apprentice members contact the Union about.
The ETU will happily represent any of our apprentice members and we urge you to contact your branch if you think you have been underpaid.
Employment types for apprentices
At the beginning of your journey to become an electrical worker, it can be tough to find an apprenticeship. Sometimes you will begin your career with an employer that may not be suited to you. One of the things to look for in a good employer is whether they have a union agreement or not.
is when a company or contractor directly employs you. You will have a training contract between you and that company.
The training you receive with direct employment is consistent and if there is a downturn in the industry it won’t usually affect your employment. You generally know where you are working and what your employer expects of you, and your income is stable. The main concern is that the employer can sometimes give a limited or repetitive scope of work or training.
is when you complete your training with a Group Training Organisation (GTO). Your employer will be the GTO, and they hire you out to host companies or host employers for the duration of your training contract.
The main advantage of working for a GTO is the scope of work. As long as the field officer assigned to you is doing their job correctly, you will be exposed to a greater scope of work across a range of industries. However, the main issue with group training is the uncertainty. You may not know where you will working next or what the expectations are at each new workplace. Your income can be variable depending on your host employer, and in industry downturns you may be out of work for some time if your host sends you back to the GTO.
The ETU is working hard across the group training sector to negotiate for better pay and conditions. We have a number of established agreements that improve conditions, especially at companies with a high number of Union members.