When you want to install, repair, and maintain some new light fixtures, run wires through your new home, or replace a blown fuse, most of us call our local electrician. But depending on what task you specifically need to do, calling an electrician might not be the end-all solution. Depending on what your need is, you might need to call a specialist.
To the uninitiated, anyone who deals with electricity is an electrician, but there are vast differences between the different specialized roles within the industry. One of the most notable is the differences between wiremen and linemen. Although they sound similar, they need different skill sets to perform their duty.
Deciding on becoming a wireman or a lineman is one of the biggest decisions an electrician-in-training will make about their career. Read on as we take a look at where each career path leads electricians, and which one might be best suited to your interests.
What are electrical linemen and what do they do?
Electrical linemen maintain the electrical transmission cables that take electricity from power plants and deliver it to end-users. Since they work on the transmission towers themselves, they are tasked with the installation, repair, and maintenance of those power lines. In addition, they are also responsible for other types of cable, such as cable TV lines, fiber-optic lines for internet connectivity, and telephone lines as well.
If you are aspiring to become a lineman, then you will find that most of your work takes place outside. You will be tasked with laying the wire on poles, culverts, ditches, and more. This can be an incredibly physical job that will take a lot of stamina. So you have to be in peak physical condition to survive as a lineman.
Considering the dangerous nature of their job, linemen must go through a rigorous safety training program. In addition to safety training, linemen may also be required to rescue fellow linemen who are injured while they are working off the ground.
Since linemen typically work on electrical lines that tend to carry 100+ kV, they wear suits equipped with Faraday cages that allow electricity to pass around their body safely instead of through it. Although we can expect linemen to work long hours, they may also often find themselves having to work unexpected hours due to power outages and natural disasters. Storms can put transmission lines out of commission, and linemen will be called in to repair them to ensure power is back on as soon as possible.
What work does a wireman do?
When you think about electricians installing new light fixtures and appliances, then you are probably thinking about a wireman. From wiring residential, commercial, and industrial properties to performing complex installations for facilities, there is a wide range of tasks that wiremen are expected to do. There are some specializations for wiremen depending on what they choose to work with, but wiremen are the commonly used umbrella term.
Wiremen typically work in areas such as homes, retail stores, factories, etc. Their work can range from wiring the sites to installing high-voltage machinery with complex electrical components. Even though we may call it high-voltage, wiremen typically work on lower voltages than their linemen counterparts do.
One major advantage that wiremen have over linemen is the predictability of their hours and their ability to schedule their work. Since they don’t have to worry about power outages and storms destroying infrastructure, they can expect the hours they work to be much more predictable. Although there are residential wiremen who work in construction where their work can sometimes be unpredictable, it's definitely not as common as it is for linemen.
While it is mentioned that most wiremen work indoors, it really does depend on what your specialization is. Some wiremen can be indoors all the time, such as those who wire homes and offices, while others can be outside all the time, such as wind and power electricians, who have to work on rooftops.
How to become a lineman
To become a lineman, you first have to enroll yourself in an apprenticeship. These typically last for four years or more. You can find linemen apprenticeships at utility companies and contractors, but there are also unions and non-profits that provide apprenticeships.
In addition to an apprenticeship, linemen also need to go through an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certification for Transmission and Distribution. You should also do your due diligence and see if there are any regional or local certifications you should acquire before starting your career.
In addition to your professional and safety certifications, you will also be required to acquire a class A commercial driver’s license. The good part is that even if you don’t have the practice or training needed, most apprenticeships will give you on-the-job training to get your commercial license.
How to become a wireman
If your goal is to become a wireman, then you would be wise to look into technical schools. Most wiremen study at these schools to get into the program. Community colleges can offer two-year courses, which can help you get a leg up in the market.
But if you are looking to do a specific type of wireman work, such as marine or solar, then you will need a certification that suits the type of work you want to do.
Wiremen apprentices have the chance to work directly in their area of specialization. But until they advance to become journeymen, they’ll be supervised by their seniors.
Salaries and job outlook for linemen and wiremen
If you’re seriously considering a job as a wireman or lineman, then the bureau of labor statistics has some good news with regards to pay.
During your apprenticeship, you can expect to make up to 50% of what a full journeyman lineman earns. But since linemen tend to have more demanding work hours, linemen are typically paid higher than wiremen. If working overtime, linemen can easily find their salaries reaching the six-figure mark.
Although the pay may not be as high for wiremen, that doesn’t mean they’re underpaid by any stretch of the imagination. While the median pay of electrical wiremen is $60,000 per year, this figure can vary depending on your specialization and what type of apprenticeship you are participating in.
In addition, wiremen who branch out to become contractors or start up their own companies can find their pay to be drastically different based on the clients they work with.
Although they are often confused as being the same thing, wiremen and linemen do entirely different things while still both being electricians. The difference may only be visible once you are in the field, but they are significant enough to start you on entirely different career paths, different packages, and different demands. If you are looking to specialize in any of the two fields, ensure that you do the necessary due diligence.