Comparing Careers for Electrical Wiremen and Linemen

To those who don’t know, anyone working with electricity is an electrician.

However, there are vast differences between the specialized roles within the industry.

These differences are apparent from the very start, influencing the type of apprenticeships electricians take and the licenses they obtain.

This difference is the most important for wiremen and linemen professionals.

These are two major classifications for electricians:

  • Inside wiremen work primarily on residential and commercial wiring projects inside the premises.
  • Outside linemen work mainly on power transmission lines outside.

One of the biggest decisions for electricians-in-training is whether to become a wireman or a lineman.

It is what will define their entire career path.

Below, you will find comprehensive information about the work of a lineman versus a wireman, which will help you make an informed decision.

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What’s Involved in Working as an Outside Electrical Lineman

When you drive down the road, you may spot a few orange cones, a bucket truck pulled off by a utility pole, and some flashing lights.

It means that high up in the air, a few feet away from hundreds of humming kilovolts of electricity, a lineman electrician is working to keep the lifespan of the modern world going.

Linemen, a.k.a. outside linemen, handle the maintenance of the transmission cables network transmitting electricity from generating facilities to the users.

They can include homes, schools, offices, hospitals, industrial facilities, etc.

They also deal with fixing, stringing, and maintaining a variety of transmission cables, such as fiber-optic lines, telecommunications, or cable television.

High voltage linemen handle high-tension lines located hundreds of feet in the air that transmit electricity from the source at the power plant to sub-stations that distribute electricity to homes and businesses at safe levels.

Dealing with Heights, Underground Wiring Vaults and Exposure to the Elements

Linemen electricians perform their tasks outside.

But a person working in a bucket truck is only one side of the job.

They can also deal with massive wiring vaults underground, or laying wire in ditches through culverts.

Bucket trucks also aren’t the only way they reach the high sites to get the line jobs done.

Some lineman may free-climb up wooden utility poles, strapped on a pair of spikes, to get to the wires.

Electricians servicing high-tension high-voltage power lines that cover huge distances travel by helicopters.

They can take them over massive transmission towers 500 feet up above the ground.

Linemen would climb out into the air directly to the wires carrying 115 or more kilovolts of raw power.

The work of a lineman can be highly physical and often involves being out in harsh weather.

This typically happens when the lines go down.

They also have to carry around heavy equipment and work high above the ground while repairing the lines.

Typically, linemen work for a specific power utility district or telecommunications companies.

So, they often handle installation, servicing, or repair of the infrastructure owned by a company.

Linemen employed with large contractors usually work on different types of infrastructure, including high-voltage power transmission lines, cell towers, etc.

Unique Safety Considerations and Tools of the Trade for Linemen

Linemen undergo extensive safety training, including climbing school and performing high-angle rescues, which is ongoing training.

This can be necessary if another lineman gets injured up on a tower.

Linemen use specialized tools to work with high voltage running in transmission lines.

They have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects them against shocks.

They also use long insulated poles, a.k.a. hot sticks to complete various tasks that require them to touch the lines physically.

These electricians work with high-tension lines transmitting voltages over 115kV.

So, they may have to wear Faraday cage suits that direct the electricity around the outside surface instead of grounding their bodies.

This way, they can work safely on high voltage lines without the need to disrupt the power running from the power plant to local sub-stations.

The working hours of linemen can be odd, and they may have to be on-call to handle the damage to lines wherever and whenever it happens.

A significant number of transmission lines can be damaged by major storms, so the linemen will be called out from the entire region or even across the US to repair the damages.

What’s Involved in Working as an Inside Wiremen

The inside wiremen handle a wide scope of tasks in residential, commercial, and industrial settings, including low-voltage types of jobs.

Even though they are considered a common category, each one of them can deal with a specialized aspect of non-premises distribution and wiring.

Wireman can work in a variety of settings, from dealing with a simple wiring schema in a residential home to high-voltage machinery at a major factory.

Regardless, inside wiremen handle lower voltages than linemen.

Wiremen electricians have a definite advantage of work.

Their work is more predictable with regard to tasks and schedules.

However, wiremen engaged in construction or repair may still have to deal with emergency situations, which though not common, can happen occasionally.

Wiremen Perform Specialized Work in a Variety of Different Settings

Electricians can perform tasks in various conditions depending on their specialization.

Some of them, such as marine or aircraft electricians, may work inside almost all the time, sometimes in restricted spaces.

Such professionals as solar or wind power electricians may have to work outside mostly, working on rooftops.

Some of them don’t work on systems with more than 5 volts, such as alarm wiring systems.

Others may have to carefully handle industrial plant electrical wiring with about 230kV.

Wiremen electricians use a variety of tools and techniques, including simple multimeters or sophisticated tone generators (usually referred to as toners), which can help take out individual wires from a bulk.

They work with multiple specialized types of equipment as well, to handle intricate wiring set-ups.

However, they don’t work with high voltage type that requires protective gear that linemen use.

While working, wiremen can shut down the circuits they handle, so the wiring isn’t energized.

Still, safety is a primary concern for all electricians, both for personal protection on the job and for the long-term goal of wiring up equipment and buildings that are safe for everyday use.

Apprenticeship and Certification Requirements for Outside Lineman and Inside Wireman

To become a lineman or a wireman, one usually starts with an apprenticeship program.

They work as apprentices with a relatively low payment, and, over time, advance to the level of a journeyman.

Eventually, they can become a master electrician.

Both professionals have to spend up to ten years on the job to become a master electrician.

Comprehensive information on regional apprenticeship programs for both wiremen and linemen can be found through the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.

With heavy unionization in the industry, linemen, and wiremen electricians need a union ticket from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Licensing requirements for both specializations are set by states or jurisdictions, involving different examinations, classroom and hands-on training hours required by the local and state regulatory boards.

Licenses can also depend on the level of voltage, with various standards and requirements for workers handling wiring under 30 volts or over 115 kV.

Becoming a Lineman

Linemen apprenticeship programs usually take up to four years to complete.

Apprenticeships are available directly through electrical contractors or utility companies.

However, unions and cooperative non-profit organizations hold most of the apprenticeships.

To become a lineman, you need an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 10-hour Transmission and Distribution certification.

Other local or regional certifications may be required as well.

Most linemen need to have a Class A Commercial Driver’s License.

However, apprenticeship programs can help candidates work towards acquiring this credential as well.

Apprentice linemen usually spend most of their time on the ground assisting the journeyman working with cables or overhead.

They serve as gofers.

Thus, they are in the actual working environment additionally to their classroom training.

Eventually, they will do some high-wire work as they learn.

Becoming a Wireman

Inside wiremen usually start at a technical school.

They can earn an associate’s degree in electrical engineering at a two-year community college, which is a solid stepping stone to the industry.

For some jobs, you may require special certifications.

For instance, marine electricians usually need the American Boating and Yachting Council (ABYC) certification to get hired in the field.

Apprentices can usually work in the area directly related to their specialization, e.g., commercial, residential, industrial, or low-voltage.

However, they work under the strict and direct supervision of senior partners until they become a journeyman.

Salaries and Job Prospects for Electrical Lineman and Wireman

In both occupations, apprentices can expect to make 30-50% of the journeyman’s wages.

Linemen Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of linemen electricians should grow by 6% over the next 10 years.

However, with relatively high payment, job security, and low educational requirements, the field can be quite competitive.

Due to the demanding work and odd hours, outside linemen usually receive higher compensation than wireman.

As per the report of the BLS, the median salary for lineman was $61,430 in 2015.

However, the rates can vary by region and licensing level.

For instance, as shown by the job ads published in July 2016, a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) journeyman made a starting salary of $63,950.

On the other hand, a journeyman employed in California made $99,570.

Despite the location, with more experience, you can increase your salary by 50% or more, up to six-figures.

Wiremen Salaries and Job Outlook

Electrical wiremen had a median salary of $51,880 in 2015, according to the BLS.

Employment is projected to grow by 14% over the next decade.

The salary of entry-level electricians is around $40,000, however, it can vary depending on the specializations, type of apprenticeship, and region.

Electricians are employed by a variety of companies, from residential construction contractors to industrial manufacturing.

The job outlook can vary drastically by region.

Generally, the job growth for electricians is stronger in the regions with extensive construction and industrial development.

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