I’ve been fortunate that as a large part of my electrician career has been spent working for a big energy supplier, I’ve been able to work alongside the high voltage guys and girls to get a taste of what their working day is like and experience the differences between being an electrician in the traditional sense and being a high voltage electrician such as a cable jointer or power lineman.
Getting to experience both sides of the fence is a great way to appreciate the good bits about my job and also find out if the grass is greener on the other side or not. No doubt you’ve heard a lot about what life is like as a high voltage electrician but you probably want to know if the career you’re considering is so hard it’s going to spit you out the other end as a broken shell. So, is being a lineman hard?
Is Being a Lineman Hard?
Being a lineman is hard as the work involves long hours, lots of travelling and working with constant pressure that errors could be fatal. That being said, going to work in an office every day is hard. Attending meetings and dealing with passive-aggressive emails is hard. It all depends on what kind of environment you thrive in.
Those considering a career as a lineman are not going to be afraid of hard work or working outdoors in all conditions. Those are part and parcel of the job that goes without saying. In my experience working with the high voltage guys, it’s the ability to tolerate the heavy physical work and unpredictable weather day after day after long day, that makes it hard.
If you have a career spanning 40 years, that is a lot of heavy manual work and a large amount of wet cold winters to contend with. On bad days being a lineman, cable jointer or any of the other high voltage electrician jobs is going to be hard. But don’t forget, for all the wet days there are many warm sunny days when you get to bask in the sun. Right now after several weeks working outside alongside my cable jointer pals I am sporting an impressive t-shirt tan and healthy tanned glow.
Would I Make the Swap from Electrician to Being a Lineman?
So far to find balance, I’ve made the point that an office job is hard, but this isn’t really a fair comparison to make. After all, I am comparing two careers on opposite ends of the spectrum. To imply that the alternative to the hard lineman career is the equally hard middle manager career is a little disingenuous. There is a whole range of careers in the middle of the spectrum, which being an ‘ordinary’ electrician like myself falls neatly into.
I don’t sit in an office every day. Instead, I get to go to lots of different sites, from commercial premises to customers’ homes. I love the flexibility that life as an electrician affords me. Whether or not life as a lineman is hard, is a question I’ve had to seriously contemplate as I have received invitations to join the high voltage department within the company I work for.
My opinion, and the answer I have actually given on several occasions, is to turn the invite down. The reason for me is that being an electrician provides many of the perks of being a lineman, cable jointer etc such as open-air, working with my hands and meeting interesting people, without the extremes that the high voltage guys and gals have to deal with.
If the weather is terrible, I can put the job off to a different day and go work on an indoor project. No such luck for the high voltage guys who have to erect a cover and carry on. When I want to break for lunch I am often working in a commercial estate or in someone’s house within close proximity of a nice coffee. High voltage electricians often find themselves in the middle of nowhere with just the back of their vans and a diesel heater for company.
The clothes we wear tell a pretty telling story about the different environments electricians work in compared to linemen and jointers. On a usual work day, I will wear tradesmen trousers, a t-shirt and boots. High voltage electricians will find themselves usually wearing overalls and boots.
I guess what it comes down to is that I feel I am too soft for a career as a high voltage electrician. I enjoy the manual work and outdoor life that my career as an electrician gives me but the huge heavy cables, heights and jointing pits that would be the norm if I made the transition to HV are not greatly appealing in large doses.
Is the Money Tempting?
Money talks and the temptation to earn large sums as a lineman or cable jointer is a very attractive part of making the switch from an electrician to one of the high voltage teams. High voltage guys and gals earn more for a variety of reasons but one of the main ones is that they simply travel further (they are usually paid for their travel) and work longer hours.
As an electrician, I work some weekends here and there. I don’t do as many as I used to and I try and balance it out with a better work-life balance these days. In my experience with the high voltage electricians I know, they work an awful lot of long days and weekends. Turning power off is hugely inconvenient so it can often only be done late at night or at weekends.
The high earning potential is certainly tempting and if I was younger, perhaps early twenties, the opportunity to earn big bucks may have pushed me into the high voltage life. Who knows, I may have loved it and never looked back. But now I’m a little older being a lineman or cable jointer doesn’t appear to give the balance I am looking for
Should I be a Lineman or Electrician?
In my opinion, gut feeling plays a big part when making big decisions. You’re either going to be drawn to the heavy, long day, hard-working industrial side of high voltage electrical distribution, or you’re more drawn to the smaller cable, (dare I say more finesse world) of electrician life.
Deciding what you enjoy is the most important thing in my opinion. If you don’t enjoy the work you are not going to last very long. If you want to ignore what you enjoy or are naturally drawn towards and purely want to make as much cold hard cash as possible, then the high voltage electrician world is most likely the way to go.
Most of the high voltage electricians I know love the job and wouldn’t want to do anything else or become ‘ordinary’ electricians. In fact, if you were a David Attenborough type trying to observe a hierarchy you would probably have to concede that high voltage electricians sit above ordinary electricians as they generally earn more, work longer hours and deal with much higher voltages
When I say I wouldn’t want to make the swap it is because I know I wouldn’t be as well suited to that kind of work. Don’t get me wrong, I love the jobs I get to tag along with the high voltage guys helping terminate and joint huge cables, but I’m always ready to get back into the relative comfort of a house or commercial building after a few weeks of it.