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How To Become an Electrician

Electricians offer a vital skill set that is necessary for modern life to function efficiently. The technical knowledge required, and risk involved with this profession make extensive training and strict qualifications necessary. In this article, we explain what an electrician is and detail the steps necessary for becoming a licensed electrician.

What does an electrician do?

Electricians are skilled trade professionals who are trained to handle a wide variety of issues concerning electrical power. Their primary responsibility is to install, maintain and repair electrical equipment of any kind. Depending on an electrician's experience and licensing, they can be placed into one of these three categories:

Journeyman electrician

A journeyman is the most basic level of electrician. A journeyman electrician has completed an apprenticeship and become a licensed electrician. A journeyman can work independently but unable to offer training to apprentices, lead a job site or pull permits for electrical work.

Master electrician

A journeyman can apply to become a master electrician after acquiring about two years of experience. Specific requirements vary by state but licensing typically requires that candidates pass an exam. Master electricians can lead jobs, offer training to apprentices and direct electrical teams.

Independent electrical contractor

Electrical contractors are essentially small business owners. They hire teams of electricians to complete jobs. As such, electrical contractors must have a certain level of insurance and are required to either be a master electrician or have one on staff. Within the trade, electricians have the option of either generalizing their role or specializing in one of these areas:

Residential electrician

Residential electricians focus on installing, repairing and maintaining the wiring and electrical systems in homes and small apartment buildings.

Commercial electrician

Commercial electricians specialize in handling electrical issues in commercial buildings. Commercial buildings use slightly different types of power than residential buildings, and so commercial electricians must complete a certain amount of hours of training in that setting during their apprenticeship.

Industrial electrician

Industrial electricians perform electrical work in big facilities that use large equipment and machinery. Some examples might include manufacturing facilities, power plants and chemical plants. These industrial buildings typically have more electrical needs than their residential and commercial counterparts. Industrial electricians must train under a licensed industrial electrician as an apprentice or journeyman.

How to become an electrician

To become a licensed electrician, you'll need to follow these steps:

1. Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent

Before pursuing a career as an electrician, you'll need to earn a high school diploma or the equivalent. Though a majority of the job relies on specific skills related to the industry, there are plenty of academic concepts that electricians utilize daily. Some school subjects that offer valuable skills for this career are:

  • Algebra and trigonometry: Electricians must use mathematical skills to determine wiring lengths, calculate the force of electrical currents and measure the angle of a circuit.
  • Physics: Electricians need to understand basic scientific concepts to effectively complete their work.
  • English: This profession will often require technicians to read technical documents.
  • Shop and mechanical drawing classes: These can also be useful in teaching electricians to design electrical systems in buildings and other structures.

2. Consider attending a trade or vocational-technical school

Though attending a trade or vocational-technical school isn't required to become an electrician, it can offer valuable training and greatly aid students in the process of obtaining certification as well as job placement. Whether you attend a four-year university where you study electrical technology or earn a career diploma through a trade school, the experience will give you comprehensive lab-based and classroom training. Students are given foundational tools and introductions to basic electrical principles that could give them an edge when applying for apprenticeships.Additionally, most states and licensing regions allow students to substitute some of the hours spent during your formal education for the hours of experience required to obtain your journeyman licensing. Typically, one year of formal education would account for 1,000 hours of on-the-job experience. Students are only allowed to substitute up to two years of training, or 2,000 hours. Depending on the vocational-technical school, they may offer a complete journeyman program that is designed to align with the local licensing requirements. Most of these programs will provide 4,000 hours of on-the-job experience, which is roughly half of what is required to become a licensed journeyman.

3. Apply for an apprenticeship

Regardless of whether you decide to attend a trade school to complete your training or not, you must finish an apprenticeship to become a licensed electrician. You can find an apprenticeship several ways to include:

  • Through a trade school: Trade schools typically offer apprenticeship and job placement opportunities.
  • Through a union: The Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committees, or JATC, has locations in almost every major city across the United States. The JATC will place you with a local union employer and will likely facilitate and host any classroom and lab-based technical training at their office. Just be aware that participating in a union apprenticeship will require that you join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW.
  • Through a non-union: Whether or not to join a union is ultimately a decision that every apprentice must make for themselves. Two primary organizations offer apprenticeship placement with non-union electrical contractors: the Independent Electrical Contractors, or IEC, and the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc, or ABC. Both of these organizations have locations in most major cities.

While applying to become an apprentice, you may be asked to complete an aptitude test that will test reading comprehension as well as mathematics skills. Additionally, you will likely be asked to complete a job interview, take a drug test and meet specific physical requirements.

4. Register as an electrician apprentice

Some states require that electrical apprentices register before being allowed to work on job sites. Research your state's requirements before beginning work.

5. Complete your apprenticeship

Your apprenticeship will be the core of your training to become an electrician. It combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training, as well as mentorship and supervision from a master electrician. Most states require that you complete at least four years of apprenticeship before taking the exam. An apprenticeship will cover training on topics like:

  • Deciphering technical diagrams and construction blueprints for electrical plans
  • Installing, maintaining and repairing electrical wiring and electricity-distribution equipment
  • Ensuring that all work is done in compliance with national, state and local regulations.
  • Using special devices to test and inspect electrical systems for issues.

Regardless of region, electrician licensure requirements fall within this range:

  • 576 to 1,000 hours spent in the classroom
  • 8,000 to 10,000 hours (four to five years) spent getting on-the-job training

6. Get licensed or certified

The requirements for licensing and certification vary by state and even city, so be sure to research any qualifications necessary for working in your area. If your area does require that you obtain a license, you may also have to pass an electrical exam. This exam will test your comprehension of the National Electric Code, safety protocols, electrical concepts and building codes. You will also have to offer proof that you have completed your apprenticeship.