Genny thought she’d go into cosmetology until she had to do a rotation in electrical at her high school. The rest is history, as they say. Genny is now completing her electrical apprenticeship. She’s getting paid while learning on-the-job; this is called an apprenticeship. Listen to her path and find out what to do to become an electrician.
Electricians, also known as sparkys, play a vital role in our lives: they install, maintain and repair electrical equipment of any kind. Just look around your house…you’ll be amazed at how many things use some sort of power.
Sparkys usually start out on their career paths as an apprentice and then “graduate” to journeyman level. If the journeyman so chooses, he/she can work towards the master level. They can work for someone (residential, commercial or industrial) or work for themselves (independent electrical contractor). Let’s find out how to break into becoming an electrician, also known as “the brotherhood”.
1. Graduate from high school – get that diploma or complete your GED.
Did you graduate awhile ago? Maybe you don’t even know where your diploma is, which means you might need a refresher course on a few things, like algebra and trigonometry. If this is the case, be sure to check out Khan Academy.
2. Get your driver’s license.
Now, this is not something you’ll see as a requirement, but guess what? You’re gonna need it. You need to be able to get to the job site, which may change quite frequently. Search “DMV+ the state in which you reside” (i.e., DMV+Texas).
3. Suggested: Consider attending a trade/vocational/technical school or
take some classes through your local community college.
Though attending a trade/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. You can also find electrician training programs and/or classes thru community colleges. This experience will give you comprehensive lab-based and classroom training, as well as provide you insight into this career path: “do I really want to do this or not?” Students are given foundational tools and introductions to basic electrical principles that could give them an edge when applying for apprenticeships.
4. Apply for an apprenticeship.
Regardless of whether you decide to attend a trade/vocational/technical 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/vocational/technical school: Trade/vocational/technical schools typically offer apprenticeship and job placement opportunities. Most trade/vocational/technical schools charge tuition; so, do your research. There are also many trades scholarships available if you decide to go this route (search “trades scholarships”).
- Through a union: The Electrical Training Alliance has locations in almost every major city across the United States. The Electrical Training Alliance 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. If accepted to the apprenticeship program, you will work during the day (earn while you learn) and attend training classes usually two evenings per week. The apprenticeship program is usually about four years long, sometimes five depending on the state and on the program.
- 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 (see #1 above for that link to the refresher course). You also will likely be interviewed, take a drug test and you will need to meet specific physical requirements (if you’re color blind, being an electrician may not be in the cards for you).
5. Register as an electrician apprentice.
Most states require that electrical apprentices register before being allowed to work on job sites. Research your state’s requirements before beginning work.
6. 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
7. 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. If you belong to an IBEW Local, your union should assist you with all of this…you just need to find the right person; so, ask around.
For more details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors, firms that employ maintenance electricians, or local union-management electrician apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. Visit apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.
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