Thinking of pursuing a new career? Maybe you're just starting out at a new job—or maybe the spark is gone from an old job and you're looking for something more rewarding and challenging. Have you ever considered becoming an electrician?
Careers in the field of installing and maintaining electrical equipment can be surprisingly lucrative. The requirements vary from state to state, but the path from complete novice to journeyman electrician is pretty straightforward. Plug in and find out!
Each state has different requirements in education, certification, and licensing when it comes to how to become an electrician.
To jumpstart the process, the first step you'll want to take before choosing and enrolling in a school is to determine and verify what your state requirements are, then start examining different schools and programs based on that information. Knowledge is power (get it?).
You'll definitely want to be sure that the program you choose covers every aspect of what you need in how to become an electrician.
There's nothing worse than completing a full course load of study to find out that (oops!) your school or program didn't quite cover everything, and the first thing you have to do is pursue more education (with an additional cost of time and money) to get closer to that electrician's license, which should be your main goal.
Most programs in any given state will cover all the bases, but it's something you will want to make sure of before enrolling.
And bear in mind that you'll need anywhere from 140 hours to 250 hours of training, followed by up to 2,000 hours of on-the-job training after completing your studies, to qualify for a license in most states.
The Duties You're Charged With
Working as an electrician brings with it a lot of responsibility. You'll need to assess the safety of electrical issues in both residential and commercial buildings, and will be responsible for their repair and maintenance. Everything has to be up to code, and that's on you, too.
While many electricians work in new home construction (which can be more straightforward), others work with existing wiring in older buildings, where the task of fixing electrical problems may require a lot of troubleshooting and trial-and-error to figure out.
This is where your communication skills come into play—you'll need to be able to explain to a home or business owner what issues they're facing and what could be involved in their repair, especially when making recommendations and determining what costs they're likely to be run into.
Once you've completed your schooling and have the correct training and knowledge necessary, there's a huge range of different career roles available for a qualified electrician. You'll have plenty of choice in the kind of work you decide to take on, so the power is truly in your hands.
Before you get there, though, you do have to get that education, so let's focus on that for a bit.
Something many people don't think about right up front is the cost your education is likely to entail. Most trade schools that offer electrician programs charge tuition that ranges from around $9,000 on the low end to as much as $20,000 on the upper end.
Your average cost would be right around $15,000, but that represents a significant investment in your future, and is well worth it.
That said, be sure to pick your school or program carefully, and examine all your options when it comes to paying for your schooling. There may be more ways to get your hands on that money than you realize.
Military Programs Could Light the Way
If you serve now or are a veteran of the armed forces, many of the schools you'll be considering will accept the tuition assistance you earned while in the military. A lot of the time, this will cover all of your tuition expenses.
Spouses of those in the military can use the My Career Advancement Account (or MyCAA) Scholarship Program, which is a workforce development program provided by the military to those married to active duty or military veterans.
The program provides up to $4,000 of financial assistance toward tuition, and many trade or vocational schools will accept these credits as well.
Lastly, check to see if the school or program you're considering is part of the Military Yellow Ribbon Program, which can also help pay for your tuition as you set out on the path of how to become an electrician.
Ask Your Friends and Family
This one is often overlooked, because it is a little awkward to ask friends and family for monetary loans. The benefits here are that repayment of the loan is just about a sure thing—electricians make good money—and you won't be charged interest rates, which can save you a lot in the long term.
Traditional or Title IV Loans
You can also seek a traditional personal loan from a lending institution. While not all banks will approve such loans, if you go in prepared with the facts and figures—including how much tuition is and how much you're likely to make as an electrician over the life of the loan—you're much more likely to be approved.
We'll go into how much electricians make a little later on to give you some bargaining power when talking with a loan officer.
There are also Title IV loans. Title IV refers to an education act passed in 1965 that authorizes the US Department of Education to make loans, grants, and even work-study programs available to post-secondary students.
The trade or vocational school you choose should be able to help you more with this information.
Some Schools Offer Financing
Lastly, be aware that some schools will offer 0% financing for the cost of their tuition, with various payback programs that start after you graduate.
And most trade or vocational schools will have a financial advisor who can discuss this with you further and help you pick the kind of financing that's best for your needs.
How Hard Is It to Become an Electrician?
Different people will find it takes different levels of effort to successfully complete electrician training. Here are some basic steps you'll need to accomplish in order to make sure you've got enough power to finish the process.
This is an essential step. In most states, you won't be able to enter trade or vocational school without at least a GED or other type of equivalency certification.
It's a basic educational requirement that you'll have to show to you've been able to meet before you can even think about how to become an electrician.
If you're an adult who never finished high school, many states now allow you to complete the GED process online, which is a great way to accomplish this initial step.
If you're still in school, choose courses that will help your electrician career. Classes like algebra and trigonometry would be the most helpful, as electricians use this kind of math in determining circuit angles, measuring wire lengths, and calculating the force of an electrical current.
Any kind of shop and drafting or mechanical drawing classes may also help, as might a physics class, as electricians do need to know how to deal with scientific concepts and read technical documents.
If you're still a student wondering how to become an electrician, these are some great classes to start with.
A pre-apprentice position is a type of training that occurs at the vocational or trade school level, before you graduate and begin an actual apprenticeship. It's becoming more and more important as the field of electrical work becomes more competitive.
Having a pre-apprenticeship doesn't just mean you learn the fundamentals of electrical work before seeking an actual apprentice position, but it makes you stand out among the competition when looking for apprentice work after graduation.
And it has the added bonus of making learning the basics that much easier, when you don't have work deadlines or a boss breathing down your neck.
Some of those basics include learning about electrical theory, workplace safety, the National Electrical Code, and other things that will give you a head-start.
Once you graduate from trade school, you're ready for the "real thing." You can find an apprentice position by applying to apprentice jobs the way you would any other job.
It pays to do your research and to indicate your enthusiasm and desire to learn—you'll want to be able to put together a good resume, as it could give you a competitive edge, so be sure to study up on that while you're in school.
Apprenticeship positions can be found in the following places:
What to Expect after Schooling
To become an apprentice, you'll need to pass a basic aptitude exam, which will test your mathematical abilities and your reading comprehension.
And just like any other job, you'll have to pass a face-to-face interview, so try to pick up some interviewing tips either in school or as an extracurricular activity.
Depending on the kind of position and the state you intend to work in, you may need to pass specific physical requirements (like being able to lift 50 pounds or stand for long periods of time), pass a drug test, and demonstrate a certain level of mechanical aptitude.
Don't be put off by the test requirements—it's all part of how to become an electrician.
California, Texas, and some other states require electrical apprentices to register before being allowed to work as apprentices.
This generally only involves filling out some paperwork and paying a small fee. Every state has its own requirements, and you can find out more at your trade or vocational school or through your state's Department of Labor or similar agency.
This is the first big goal after graduation. Your apprenticeship combines on-the-job training with online or classroom instruction where you'll be supervised and mentored by a master or journeyman electrician.
The whole process takes four to five years, but you will be compensated for your time, usually with an hourly wage—but in some rare cases with a salaried position.
What You Will Learn during Your Apprenticeship
Image via Oregon Department of Transportation, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
As your apprenticeship starts, you can expect to be called upon to carry out only the most basic tasks, but those tasks will gradually increase in complexity as your skills increase and you gain greater understanding of the underlying concepts. It's all part of how to become an electrician, so don't be put off by it.
By the time your apprenticeship ends, you'll be able to perform on the journeyman level, and will be capable of a full range of construction and maintenance electrical work.
All states, and some local jurisdictions, set their own requirements on how to become an electrician who is fully licensed and ready to work.
In most states, you will need a state-wide license to be qualified to perform electrician work.
Some other states, like Illinois and Pennsylvania, perform electrician licensing and certification on the local level, with no state-wide certification.
In most cases, you will need to be licensed and/or certified to perform any electrical work. In many states, you'll also need a license to perform work as a contractor working for a larger business.
Some locations don't require licensing unless you intend to open your own business—your employer is responsible for making sure you meet all the required regulations, which frees you up from the licensing procedure.
When going after your electrician's license, you'll have to pass an exam that tests your knowledge of electrical concepts, best safety practices, local laws, building codes, and the National Electric Code.
You may also have to prove that you've completed a certain number of hours of classroom instruction and apprenticeship work under the supervision of a licensed journeyman or master electrician.
Warning: High Voltage Career
Being an electrician can be a very dangerous job. The dangers vary with the kind of work you're performing and under what conditions.
Most people don't realize this, but electrician work ranks right up there with firefighter, logger, and commercial fisherman as one of the most dangerous jobs you can have.
It's good to be aware of these things—if you're thinking about how to become an electrician, you might find these are some important factors to consider.
Being exposed to electrical shock is one of the most serious dangers of being an electrician. Being shocked brings with it the risks of:
- Severe burns
- Cardiac arrest
- Heart rhythm problems
- Difficulty breathing
- Muscle pain and contractions
- Loss of consciousness
This is why, as you're learning how to become an electrician, you'd be smart to pay the utmost attention to safety training and regulations. While all the safety training you'll receive can be highly technical and far too involved for us to go into here, it is there to protect and save your life.
As you continue on the path of how to become an electrician, you'll learn many safety regulations and practices that you'd be wise to stick with at all times. It's life and death stuff, so take it seriously.
It's not all work and danger—there's also a payday involved, and electricians make pretty decent money. The median wage for someone working as an electrician is right around $55,000 a year, with some making as much as $92,000.
While it varies from job to job and state to state, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has put together some information on median annual wage for electricians in the top industries which employed them. Check it out:
- Electricians working for the government were, on average, paid $60,570 per year.
- Electricians in manufacturing jobs made $58, 470
- Those who were electrical contractors or involved in other wiring installations, such as the kind of work you'd see in new home construction, made $52,190
- Lastly, electricians who found work through employment services were paid an average of $47,520
There are ways to make even more money as an electrician, as with any profession. Whether you work for a company or decide to go into business for yourself, staying profitably employed is obviously your main goal.
You need to make sure that you continue to make an effort to do quality work every time, and provide excellent customer service — even if you're in a situation where your boss is your "customer." Here are some tips to follow to make sure you stay on the positive side of the job.
Tip #1 Be Customer Friendly
Working as an electrician generally means that part of your job will be customer service. You'll be dealing with folks every day—whether they're your own customers, the customers of the company you work for, or—as we mentioned above—you come to think of your boss or supervisor as your customer, which is a strategy that pays off over time.
When speaking to these people, either in person, over the phone, or on work radios, maintain a friendly and cheerful demeanor.
You might be having a bad day or the customer (or your boss) may be difficult, but treating them with respect and consideration means you or the company you work for will receive compliments for your attitude and workmanship.
Even if you're dealing with bosses and supervisors, when review time comes around, those workers who are always cheerful and responsive tend to get more, and better, raises.
And if you're self-employed, those good feelings you leave customers with could translate into better word-of-mouth recommendations and excellent reviews online—all of which means more money in your pocket in the long run.
Tip #2 Be Conscientious and Responsible
You must be responsible when it comes to the quality of your work, but it pays to be responsible and conscientious in how you present yourself or your company as well.
Do your absolute best to arrive at appointments on time—tradespeople do sometimes have a reputation for being late—and be sure to do everything in your power to do the job correctly the first time.
By doing this, you gain a good reputation which helps build a client base for yourself or your employer—and that will get noticed.
Tip #3 Keep Training
Continue your electrical training if you want to have the most success in your career and enjoy the best career advancement.
Electrical courses help you keep up with the latest technology, learn new and additional skills that can help you on the path from journeyman to master electrician, and even help you become a supervisor or own your own electrical business.
There are plenty of courses online or at your local college, and taking these courses can potentially lead to higher wages, more business, and the ability to tackle jobs that other electricians may not be able to handle. All of this translates into more profit and opportunity for advancement.
Tip #4 Only Work with Reputable Companies
When you're looking for jobs as you first start out, only consider working for companies with an outstanding reputation. Who you work for says a lot about you, and you want to build a resume that will impress those who know a lot about your field.
By working with companies who are well thought of, you can build your own solid reputation as an electrician. You can generally find good companies to work for by checking out reviews online and asking friends or family—or your former instructors or mentors—who to look for and who to avoid.
Tip #5 Dedication
When you start your career as an electrician, you need to be completely dedicated to the job. Always arrive to work on time—or a few minutes early, as that always makes a good impression.
Never miss appointments, do your best to work hard and give every situation your full attention, every day.
By being dedicated to your profession, your customers or your employer will notice your due diligence and will see that you really care about your job.
This will build your personal reputation, increase the number and quality of customers you might be able to work for, and guarantee job security.
Plugged In to an Electrifying Environment: What to Expect from the Job
Once you've done all the hard work, finished your apprenticeship, and become a full-fledged electrician in your own right, what can you expect from your day-to-day routine?
A journeyman or master job can take on many forms. Electricians work both inside or outside, in all kinds of weather, to ensure lights, wiring and cabling, industrial equipment, electrical supply equipment, and appliances can function safely and reliably.
There are many different special types of electricians, including residential electricians, who install wiring and solve electrical problems in homes, and inside electricians, who maintain and repair control systems, motors, and electrical equipment in businesses and factories.
The specific responsibilities associated with being an electrician will vary depending on your area of specialization, but they might include such things as:
Planning electrical systems for buildings under construction, including optimal placement for electrical outlets, light fixtures, heating or other high-power capacity outlets, and HVAC or ventilation systems
Reading, understanding, and interpreting architectural blueprints, circuit diagrams, and various other technical documents
Installing wiring, circuit breakers and boxes, lighting, and electrical control systems in new and existing buildings, and making sure all the work is up to code
Connecting electrical wires to components and fixtures to form complete electrical circuits, and testing completed circuits to be sure there are no problems and sufficient power
Installing wiring harnesses, hangers, and brackets to support electrical wiring and other accessories
Performing routine scheduled maintenance to keep all that wiring, lighting, and those control systems in good working order
Inspecting circuit breakers and boxes, transformers, and other higher-end electrical components for damage, wear and tear, or other faults
Using devices to test, analyze, and discover why electrical systems are malfunctioning
Replacing, repairing, and upgrading outdated or failing electrical equipment, fixtures, and wiring, including isolating shorts or other faults for safe removal and replacement
And in time, the apprentice becomes the master: you'll eventually be training apprentice electricians and delegating specific tasks to them to complete
As you work as a fully qualified journeyman or above electrician, you may find yourself working inside new buildings under construction, existing buildings undergoing renovation, or even outdoors on electric power or telecommunications systems.
Electricians may work in large spaces like factory floors or unfinished buildings, or in cramped conditions like crawlspaces or in utility corridors inside buildings.
All of these different working environments may involve live electrical wires, so they can be very dangerous—if the proper safety precautions aren't in place.
Electricians often work independently on projects, which is one of the reasons we're stressing safety so much—if you find yourself working alone around live wires, help may arrive too late, so be sure to follow all of your training to the letter.
Be prepared to move around a bit, too. Unlike most people who have a regular job site, many electricians will work on remote sites for weeks to months at a time before moving on to the next job.
These job sites might be far from home—it's not at all uncommon for electricians to travel up to a hundred miles—or more—from their home to a job site.
Electricians, unlike some other skilled tradespeople, generally work year-round. Their hours may vary depending on the kind of jobs they're working.
Electricians who work in building maintenance usually have regular, 40-hour work weeks. Most of them work a typical Monday through Friday schedule and may not work much overtime.
Other electricians work on-call and may have to work late hours, overnights, and even on weekends and holidays to fix urgent or time-sensitive problems—though those who find themselves in these roles can expect to be compensated for it.
If flexibility is important to you, you may want to consider working as an independent electrical contractor or a junior electrician working for a contractor. These positions don't have such regular hours—they may be quite busy one week with few hours the next, or it may vary from season to season.
Completing the Circuit on How to Become an Electrician: Final Thoughts
Becoming an electrician takes a lot of hard work and dedication, as the apprenticeship period itself is as long as most college careers, but it pays off almost immediately.
After trade or vocational school, you'll start to earn on-the-job money, even as an apprentice—which is an advantage over regular college courses.
It can be a dangerous job—always follow your safety training—but it's very rewarding and with the right kind of career moves you can go into business for yourself, which offers a lot of perks and flexibility, as well as the opportunity to have employees, who multiply your ability to earn.
It's a great career option for those who have decided that college isn't quite for them, or who want to start making money soon after graduating from high school. It's also a great career to switch into if you find yourself dissatisfied with what you're currently doing.
The power is yours!
Featured Image: CC0 via Pixabay