An electrician is an admirable, hard-working, career choice. Electricians are highly-skilled tradesmen and women that focus on electrical system installation and repairs. There are two focuses: residential and commercial electricians. Additionally, there are three tiers of electricians:
- Apprentice electrician: entry-level, training;
- Journeyman electrician: mid-tier licensed/certified electrician;
- Master electrician: top-tier licensed/certified electrician, most experience, highest capabilities, and the highest pay.
Electrician pay depends on your location, years of experience, and electrician level (apprentice vs. journeyman vs. master), but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that electricians make an average of $56,180 with a high of $96,580. But studies show that there is a shortage of skilled trades workers and as 7,000 electricians join the industry, even more than that retire. Largely, the job outlook and prospects are high for electricians.
Pay and shortage aside, a career as an electrician has high job satisfaction and the information below is meant to provide insight into the steps for becoming an electrician and qualities that make a good electrician.
Steps to Become an Electrician
Becoming an electrician generally takes four to five years — this includes your schooling or apprenticeship, and on-the-job hours. The great thing about this process is that you are being paid through your internship and your on-the-job training hours. Note that the exact steps for becoming qualified to work as an electrician vary depending on the state that you plan to work within, but these are the basic steps for most states towards becoming an electrician.
1. Meet Basic Qualifications
The are several basic criteria for starting your electrician career are:
- Being 18 years of age;
- Having a high school diploma or GED;
- Being in good physical condition;
- Having reliable transportation;
- Ability to follow directions;
- Willing to learn.
Note that the state you are planning to work in may have additional upfront requirements.
2. Attend a Trade or Vocational School
Not all states require you to attend a trade or vocational school, but it is becoming increasingly common to attend one or the other to establish your foundational industry knowledge. These programs can vary in length and cost, but generally, you can complete a program in 1-2 years for under $20,000. In some cases, if you have an apprenticeship lined up, they may even cover the cost of schooling for you. One of the bonuses of attending formal schooling is that you generally are required to do less time in your apprenticeship that follows.
There are endless options for electrician programs that fit your needs — some are even offered in a flexible, online format. But you do want to make sure that the school/program you attend is accredited.
3. Apply for an Apprenticeship
Some states do not require you to attend a formal trade school or vocational program. Instead, you can simply go straight to an apprenticeship. The kicker: you still need to attend electrician classes during your apprenticeship. Apprenticeships generally take four years to complete and as mentioned, they consist of both on-the-job training and traditional classroom instruction. You aren’t attending school full-time, but you may be required to take a few classes a year throughout your apprenticeship.
Once you get accepted into an apprenticeship program, you will need to register as an apprentice. Where and how you register will fluctuate depending on the state you plan to work in, but this can generally be completed entirely online.
4. Get Licensed or Certified
Similar to everything else, the process for getting licensed or certified varies depending on the state. But after you complete your apprenticeship, trade/vocational schooling, and you have hit the state requirements for hours of experience (anywhere from 5,000-10,000 hours) you will be ready to take your journeyman electrician exam. The test varies between states, but generally, it consists of 80 to 100 multiple choice and true/false questions, you have 4 hours to complete the test, and it includes the following subject areas:
- Definitions, calculations, theories, and plans;
- Circuit and conductor calculations;
- Wiring methods and materials;
- Motors and generators;
- Electrician devices, services, equipment.
This exam is no walk in the park, so it is critical to spend time studying. You can also find both paid and free journeyman electrician practice tests online.
5. Get Insurance
Electrical work has its risks and it is important to have adequate electrician insurance to mitigate said risk. This is often required by states and it is non-negotiable. Make sure that you seek out insurance before starting any sort of work — whether it is simply bidding, or performing actual electrical work. If you work for an electrician company, your employer may provide insurance coverage for you, but it is always a good idea to verify this. Electrician insurance protects both you and the customer from injuries and any potential property damage. Your plan can also be expanded to include auto and tool/equipment coverage. Note that if you plan to work as a commercial electrician vs. residential, your plan will most likely need to include additional coverage.
10 Qualities of a Good Electrician
Just because you go through all the steps for becoming a licensed electrician, doesn’t mean that you are going to be a good electrician. Fear not, while you may possess some skills upfront, all of these qualities/skills can be taught and learned over time. Below is a list of the top qualities of an exemplary electrician.
- Knowledgeable: Without the base knowledge of what to do, it would be very difficult to be successful in the trade. To add, you will need to be willing to learn as time goes on because the industry is continually changing and industry standards are becoming outdated. For example — knob and tube wiring used to be the industry standard, and now it is an outdated wiring method that is considered a fire hazard. You must have the base knowledge in the trade while being a lifelong learner;
- Intellectual: The day-to-day of being an electrician requires the ability to calculate and strategize electrical equations, wiring, and theory. This is no easy feat, so you want to be sure to bolster your math, reading, and writing skills. This also extends onto critical thinking. You need to be able to think quickly and effectively on your feet to ensure you are providing the best work;
- Physically fit: As an electrician, very little of the job is spent doing paperwork and sitting down. You are on your hands, knees, and feet all day and you will need to be relatively physically fit to be able to do so effectively — especially on days with back to back consecutive jobs;
- Dependable: As an electrician, you are entering someone else’s home or business and they are making themselves available to you. If you say you are going to be there are 11 AM, make sure you aren’t late. First impressions are important and showing up on time could be the difference between the customer recommending you to another person or writing a poor online review if you are late;
- Communicable: Good communication skills are critical for electricians. This is important for communication with your other team members for effective work, but also for bidding, scheduling, and billing clients. It is better to over-communicate than under-communicate;
- Customer-oriented: Hand in hand with dependability and communication comes customer service. How you treat and interact with your customers can be either great or a deterrent for you and your business. Show respect towards all customers and their properties to the best of your ability;
- Autonomous: While you are oftentimes part of a larger team, you will need to be able to work autonomously. When you need constant supervision, you take some away from doing their own part and this can cut down on how efficiently jobs get done;
- Time-oriented: It is important to always have an eye on the time. Chances are, you will have back-to-back jobs from time to time and it is important that you don’t lose track of time and show up late to another job. That said, it is important to schedule effectively and gauge time-spend on specific tasks well so that you can schedule your time effectively;
- Cautious: Electrical work can be dangerous. You want to make sure you are taking all protective measures to protect yourself and those around you. It can get easier to get lackadaisical over time, but you need to stay on your toes and remain cautious as you perform work;
- Ethical: It can be enticing to take long breaks to drag out projects and make more money. Additionally, it can be tempting to take the easy route to get a job done, instead of doing the best job that takes longer. Remaining ethical is an intentional, ongoing effort that makes sure you are providing your clients with the best quality, comprehensive, and efficient work.
Becoming a good electrician can take time and intentional effort. Things like customer review/feedback forms and honest conversations with people you work with can be some of the best insights into becoming the best electrician you can be.