What are you worth?
October 19, 2012 26 Comments
Well, not literally. What I really mean is what is your time worth to an employer. And why? As usual, I’m going to use electrical work as an example because I can do it without a bunch of research. if you remember the other day, I noted that a journeyman electrician might make anywhere from $20-$50 and hour depending. Read that article here. A journeyman is a journeyman, or is he (or she, to be fair). No he’s not. There are many variables.
Also remember that absolutely everything we do is covered by various codes, usually in the US the National Electric Code but many jurisdictions don’t always adopt the newest one or make additions, so not only do you have to know what you’re doing but where you’re doing it.
First there is new construction or closely related major rewiring projects, we call these construction electricians
There are journeymen out there that do nothing but wire new houses, that’s the simplest part of the business. In truth, it is all about speed, an average house take 2-3 days to rough in and another to finish, after the sheetrock is in. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve respect, If you sent me your house plans, I could send you absolutely every part needed to wire it properly, but I’ll bet you wouldn’t get it right, even if you read the book, and I’ll further bet you’d give up in a week and call for help. But this is the simplest end of the business.
There are also journeymen around who do commercial and industrial construction, this is quite a bit more complex, instead of the normal 120/240 volts you have at home, these are usually three-phase systems, installed in what looks to the eye like water pipe, and he has to know how to bend this to fit. It’s not easy and for the record, I’m not particularly good at it myself. But still, it’s pretty cut and tried, you essentially build what the plans say, although you have to pay attention, the engineer or architect is not going to pay you to fix code violations just because they screwed up the drawings, you’re the expert. Doing this pays better though, and is harder to get into as well.
Then there is the service side of the business
Again there are guys who have some troubleshooting skills and aptitude but for one reason or another stick with residential and light commercial work. Nothing wrong with that and in truth that what a lot of small town electricians are. Some are specialists in farm wiring as well, which is a bit weird sometimes and cuts across all lines on occasions even including skills normally reserved to utility lineman. This is where I started, and its pretty satisfying work.
Then you get into the guys that live and breathe high power stuff, they know three-phase wiring like a chef knows an omelette, they can calculate motor load in their sleep and remember to factor in the power factor correction, if required. They’re invariably fair to good troubleshooters, and know all sorts of arcane things. These are the highest of the normal electricians.
There are a few, and they are really rare, that are familiar with the really arcane stuff you find in industry, how to use a computer to control a machine tool, or an entire production line. They speak their own language, even by electrician standards, you’ll hear phrases like shunt switching, 0-20ma sensor, strain gauges, and on and on. This is what I do, you want to drive up with your grain truck at harvest and dump into the pit and have 14% moisture content in the bin automatically, I can do it (and have). What’s it take? Drawing me a picture on the back of a pretty good size check.
I’m not the best in the field, at a guess I’m probably 80th percentile, but I don’t do it enough to stay really good. When I was working center pivot irrigation, I was working with Valmont Manufacturing doing beta testing on some remote control devices, I worked for the dealer that developed and was a recognized expert on putting the computerized panel a quarter-mile from the machine. It ended up a very tight specification, some wire had a tenth of an amp at a third of a volt and if it screwed up the pivot didn’t know where it was aimed, and incidentally if you water the road, it can be a 3-5000 dollar fine, kind of needs to be right.
But you know what, I can teach that kind of stuff, and do, but not everybody can learn it, and troubleshooting takes a whole different mindset, you have to know how things are supposed to work, and why it’s not. Yes, we all get confused on occasion too. Sometimes, you just walk out to the truck and have a cup of coffee and think about what could cause this nonsense, and it can get pretty weird.
And so that’s the main reasons why there is such a disparity in pay in what is described as a journeyman electrician. It’s really a whole bunch of different jobs, sometimes all in one day.
Then there is one other factor, the Market.
I’ve been in markets where you couldn’t find a guy that had a clue how to wire your garage but, you had your choice to wire your steel mill, or vice versa. It matters on the paycheck. If you’ve worked residential for the last ten years you couldn’t keep up for years, and now you can’t find an outlet to fix. Demand matters, a lot.
Then there are the little things, do you know how to run computer networks? Voice networks? Coaxial cable, and what kind of crimps must you use to avoid screwing up a digital signal? Except that, more and more, they’re required.
The more you know the better your chances of making a really good living every year but, you’re going to spend a lot of time studying for the rest of your life.
This business has changed more in the last 20 years than in the 60 before it.
- Oh the Humanity (and the Wiring) (mymakeshiftlife.wordpress.com)
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