Wireman Electrician vs. Outside Lineman – What’s the Difference?

As you consider a future career in electrical work you can expect to have a lot of decisions to make along the way. One of the biggest choices needs to be made before training begins: to become a wireman electrician or a lineman, also known as outside lineman or line installer and repairer. There are important differences and pros and cons of each career. Learn more about them so you can make the best choice.

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What Electricians Do

When you think of an electrician you are probably picturing an inside or wireman electrician. These professionals work on electrical systems inside buildings, both smaller residential buildings and larger commercial sites. They may install new wiring and electrical components for new construction, but they also diagnose problems and make repairs in existing building systems.

What Linemen Do

While electricians are responsible for the electrical systems within a building, outside linemen work on the power lines, cables and electricity running between power stations and residential and commercial buildings. They install new lines and make repairs to existing lines, inspect and run tests on power lines, and use cherry pickers and climb poles outside to do their work.

Training Paths are Similar

When it comes to training for and learning to become an electrician or linemen, the requirements are similar. These two careers are licensed separately in most states and cities, but the degree of training needed is about the same. For either career you need to complete related coursework as well as on-the-job training.

You can choose to complete an apprenticeship program, through a union or non-union organization, which will provide the required hours of classroom learning and hands-on training. Alternatively, you can earn a certificate or two-year degree at a community or technical college and then complete an apprenticeship.

Differences in Work Environment

One of the biggest differences between these two electrical careers is the work environment. Linemen work outdoors, while electricians primarily work inside. Both jobs come with some risks for injury, but working as a line repairer or installer is potentially more dangerous.

A lineman has to go to great heights to do the work and then handle high voltage, often live lines. This type of work can be safe, but there is also a very serious risk of falls and electrocution. Additionally, because the work is done outside, linemen often work in difficult weather conditions, including wet or cold, snowy and icy, and hot weather.

Salary and Career Outlook

Because of the risks and the challenging work environment, the average salary is higher for linesmen. In 2017, the annual salary for an electrician was $54,110, while for linemen it was $69,380. The top-earning linemen in the U.S. make more than $99,000 per year.

The growth in each type of career is similar, around eight to nine percent, meaning that both jobs come with good security for the future.

In choosing a career in the electrical trade, you are working toward a rewarding and stable job that pays well and is varied from day to day. Both careers require a few years of training, but this can be accomplished through an apprenticeship that allows you to earn and train at the same time. One of the biggest choices you’ll have to make is to determine if the higher salary as a lineman compensates for the physical nature of the work and the risks for injury.

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