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Ask Chris: What is the best path for high voltage electrical employment as a relay technician?

Here is a question submitted to the Ask Chris section of the RelayTraining.com website about the best path for electrical employment.

I have just recently completed an IBEW apprenticeship and tested out as a Journeyman Lineman. I am currently working in construction. I have a question regarding a career goal. 

To secure a Journeyman Meter/Relay Technician position would you recommend credentialing oneself with:

  1. Associates in Electrical Technology (or another degree),
  2. NETA ETT,
  3. Substation Technician apprenticeship,
  4. Equipment manufacturer certifications (SEL, GE, S&C…),
  5. Testing equipment manufacturer certifications (Doble, Vanguard, Omicron, Megger…),
  6. Conferences/classes (AVO, Valence, RTC, or WSU’s Hands-On Relay School),
  7. traditionally – On The Job, or
  8. something else?

I understand the ideal response would be – “all of the above” or “do whatever makes you marketable to a particular employer’s equipment needs”. However, as a NECA/IBEW lineman opportunities for education reimbursement, paid leave, or employer sponsored classes in this part of the craft do not exist. Where do you think the best minimal investment would be to get your foot in the door?

The electrical industry is desperate for protection and control personnel and there are typically three types of electrical employment careers as a protective relay technician:

  1. Independent contractors and consultants that work for various clients and various locations
  2. Utility or plant workers that work inside one system
  3. Manufacturer representatives, field service technicians, and technical support

People with independent contractor experience tend to be the group that can jump back and forth between career paths because they see a wide variety of equipment, standards, and techniques because they work for multiple customers in different industries, which translates to valuable experience for employers. This experience comes with a high cost because variety usually means travel for weeks or months at a time, and lots of it.

Utility and plant workers see the same kind of equipment and standards inside their organizations, which can lead to more specialized knowledge about systems, equipment, and techniques. Travel is usually limited to a small region, so they also get to have a life and spend more time at home.

Manufacturer representatives can be outside sales personnel, field service, or technical support, or all of the above.  The sales people obviously travel more, but they usually leave on a Monday and are back home on Friday which makes for easier travelling than an independent contractor.  Field service personnel become experts on their equipment and do travel, but not as much as a contractor because their scope of work is usually more limited. Technical support personnel typically work from home or an office.

The direction you take depends on your end-goal:

  1. Associates in Electrical Technology degrees are valuable to all of the career paths and would be an asset for any path you want to take. Relay test technicians working for independent contractors usually start with some sort of electrical degree or military experience.
  2. The ANSI/NETA ETT standard would be used by a school to create an electrical technician program. There really isn’t any path for ETT certification if you already don’t work for a NETA accredited company. NICET certification used to be an alternative to NETA certification, but it looked like they had abandoned their program when I researched it 10-15 years ago. I see that they still offer Electrical Power Testing certification on their website, and the logos on the bottom of the page list some pretty important players in the industry.
  3. Substation Technician apprenticeship is the normal path for utility or plant workers and an excellent low-cost solution to get experience in the industry.
  4. Equipment manufacturer certifications probably won’t help much to get you in the door, but can be useful if you are already working for a company.
  5. Testing equipment manufacturer certifications probably won’t help much to get you in the door, but can be useful if you are already working for a company.
  6. Conferences/classes are probably won’t help much to get you in the door, but can be useful if you are already working for a company.
  7. Traditionally – On The Job – This is obviously the best training and only possible once you are in the door.

The associates degree will open more doors, but an apprenticeship is a good path if you want the stability of utility or plant work.

Thanks for submitting the question and I hope I was able to help.

About the Author Chris Werstiuk

Chris is an Electrical Engineering Technologist, a Journeyman Power System Electrician, and a Professional Engineer. He is also the Author of The Relay Testing Handbook series and founder of Valence Electrical Training Services. You can find out more about Chris here.

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