How to Become an Electrician – A Definitive Guide

How to Become an Electrician – A Definitive Guide
Cian
Last updated at September 8, 2021

Electricity has been available for about 100 years and is now used in every aspect of daily life. With reports suggesting a steady incline in electricity consumption since 1990, expecting demand to increase further isn’t inappropriate. If you want to learn how to become an electrician, read on.

Installing electrical service, repairing electrical appliances, and ensuring the safety of the electrical system isn’t something everybody can do. Electricians possess the knowledge and skills required to keep homes and businesses running.

Between the high demand for skilled tradespeople and the low cost of apprenticeships, there hasn’t been a better time to become an electrician. 

But what do electricians do on a daily basis? How much does the average journeyman electrician earn? And what are the qualification requirements to become a master electrician?

We answer these questions and cover everything you need to know about how to become an electrician in this definitive career guide.

What is an Electrician?

An electrician is a highly skilled tradesperson that can install and repair electrical components in any electrical system. Besides lighting, these professionals work with HVAC and security systems in all kinds of buildings as well as industrial centers. 

In addition to installation and repair, electricians are also experts at designing and maintaining electrical systems. They have strong critical thinking skills, which are put to good use when troubleshooting wiring systems.

What does an Electrician Do?

Before you decide to pursue a journeyman license and begin your career as an electrician, it is important to understand the job’s specific duties. Some of the many responsibilities you can expect to have as an electrician include:

  • Install electrical systems 
  • Inspect electrical and wiring systems
  • Design and implement residential wiring projects
  • Read blueprints, technical documentation, and wiring diagrams
  • Adhere to local regulations and follow the national electrical code
  • Determine the cause of electrical malfunctions and perform repair
  • Manage other electrical workers and train them about every aspect of the industry

Since every electrical system is different, an electrician must apply their knowledge and understand the underlying electrical theory associated with the system. 

For this reason, a solid understanding of concepts like voltage, amperage, current, resistance, and grounding is a must. Furthermore, an electrician must have in-depth knowledge of circuitry.

It’s no surprise that appropriate training is a requirement for electrician licensure in 41 out of 50 states in the United States. Getting your education at a recognized trade school is a must for becoming eligible for licensing. You’ll also need 8,000 hours to become a general electrician, and most full-time apprentices earn 2,000 hours per year.

Where Do Electricians Work?

Electrical systems are everywhere. Therefore, electricians perform installations, repairs, or maintenance procedures in homes, commercial spaces, and industrial buildings. 

An electrician may be required to reach into machines or go inside of large equipment to complete their task. As an electrician, you can expect to work both indoors and outdoors and on a large variety of appliances. 

As you progress through an apprenticeship program, you will learn everything it takes how to become an electrician.

For most electricians, traveling is an essential part of the day. A journeyman electrician may need to travel over 100 miles to reach the job site and stay there for a few days to finish your task. After the job is finished, you must move to the next job site. 

Bear in mind that journeyman and master electricians usually do not travel large distances. Independent electrical contractors typically travel large distances, and if you work under a contractor, you may need to travel a lot. 

While independent contractors may travel long distances and work longer hours, they have greater autonomy and have unlimited earning potential. In addition, they have a high degree of control over their work hours, and their schedules typically change from week to week. 

In contrast, a maintenance electrician must only work for 40 hours a week. While these electricians may occasionally need to work on-call or night shifts, they typically have steady and regular work, typically comprising troubleshooting and routine maintenance. 

Classes of Electricians

There are many ways to start a career as a journeyman electrician, and there are several more ways to navigate through a career. Some electricians are more skilled and experienced than others. To make identifying the tradesperson’s expertise easier, they are classified into categories.

Every electrician comes under one of the following categories depending on their qualifications, experience, and electrician licensing.

Journeyman Electrician

A journeyman electrician is the basic class of electrician. After completing their apprenticeship program and completing 8,000 hours or four years of training, these electricians pass an exam to earn their journeyman license. They can work for companies, but these electricians cannot offer training to apprentices or lead a job site. 

Journeyman electricians are also not allowed to offer their services independently in most states. Therefore, you will likely need to earn another license to become a contractor.

Further, journeyman electricians typically do not have the necessary expertise to get permits for electrical work.

In most states, you must pass an exam to earn a journeyman license after finishing trade school. Some states also require electricians to meet continuing education requirements to renew their journeyman license.

Master Electrician

After a journeyman electrician gains two years of experience, they can apply to become a master electrician. Most states offer electricians the opportunity to learn more skills by working towards a master electrician license. 

However, besides gaining the required experience, you may also need to obtain additional expertise in specific field areas. For instance, to get a master electrician license in Colorado, the electrician must have a minimum of 2,000 hours of experience and planning, laying out, and supervising installations in the past year.

Additionally, you may need to pass a licensing exam to become a master electrician.

After you complete 12,000 hours or about six years toward becoming a master electrician, you can lead jobs, train apprentices, and direct teams. The additional responsibilities also allow you to make a bigger salary.

Independent Electrical Contractor

An independent electrical contractor takes up jobs independently. Sometimes, electrical contractors hire teams of electricians if the job requires extra hands. Independent electrical contractors can choose their clientele and set their own hours, essentially making them small business owners.

To become an independent electrical contractor, you will need to acquire a certain level of insurance as required by your state. Furthermore, you will either need to be a licensed master electrician or always have one on your team.

Your state may also require you to hold an electrical contractor license. Getting licensed can be a challenge in and of itself. For instance, in Alabama, the electrician must have experience as a manager or a supervisor before applying for an electrical contractor license. 

Additionally, a minimum of 8,000 hours of experience is required. Half a year of experience up to 2,000 hours can be substituted by a year of education, and the applicant must pass an exam to get their license.

Electrician Specializations

Now that you’ve learned about the different classes of electricians, you understand how electricians operate. You can now work towards deciding what class of electrician you want to become, depending on your interests and priorities. 

It is important to bear in mind that specializing in electrical work depending on the demand in your area is also an option. It can help you get more work and earn more money. The specialties you can choose from include:

Residential Electrician

These electricians work to install, repair, and maintain electrical appliances in homes and smaller apartments.

Commercial Electrician

These electricians work to fix electrical issues in commercial buildings. Commercial buildings use different types of power and are often more complicated to work on than residential buildings.

For this reason, an apprentice electrician must gain a specific number of hours of experience in that setting in their apprenticeship before becoming a commercial electrician.

Industrial Electrician

Big facilities that employ large machines require industrial electricians to install, repair, and maintain the equipment. Industrial electricians work in settings like manufacturing facilities and power plants.

Industrial buildings have a much higher electrical requirement than residential and commercial buildings do. To become an industrial electrician, you must complete electrician training under a licensed industrial electrician. You can do this as an apprentice or when you become a journeyman electrician.

Electrician Salary

Electricity is used in every aspect of daily life. Electricians earn respectable incomes for ensuring that homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses of all sizes remain safely powered. 

However, it is important to remember that most electricians make hourly wages and not annual salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for an electrician in 2020 was $27.36 an hour

That comes up to an annual salary of $56,900 for full-time work. For electricians with more experience and at least a master electrician license, the average hourly pay increases to $46.43.

Bear in mind that the salary can vary drastically from region to region. If you’re willing to move if it means a higher salary, you can consider moving to Illinois, where the average pay is $39.25 per hour. New York, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, and Oregon are some other states where electricians earn more on average. 

You must also remember that you will earn between 30 and 50 percent of what a journeyman earns when you’re an apprentice. As you learn more, your pay will gradually increase. Zippia reports that an electrician’s apprentice earns an average hourly wage of $15.38.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS’s occupational handbook, 739,200 electricians were working in the US in 2019. The bureau expects a demand of 62,200 more electricians in the country by 2029. The 8% growth rate of demand is higher than average, making it a great time to become an electrician.

The increase in demand for electricians is partly because of the projected growth in infrastructure. Additionally, there is also an increasing need to utilize alternative energy sources, and building infrastructure for tapping into these sources will require the expertise of skilled electricians.

How To Become an Electrician?

Only 41% of all the students enrolling in a traditional four-year degree complete the course in time. Since trade schools and apprenticeships programs are more economical, they have become a more sensible option. 

Electricians are among the highest-paying trade jobs, and it’s relatively easy to find a job after completing training in the apprenticeship program. Nevertheless, becoming a licensed electrician can be just as tricky as obtaining a four-year degree. 

You will need to attend a school and spend years as an apprentice. You may also need to gain years of documented experience to get a license.

Here’s a blueprint of what your next steps should be if you want to establish a career as an electrician:

Step #1: Do Your Due Diligence

Your first step should be to understand what being an electrician entails. It is by no means an easy job, and doing thorough research will help you determine if you surely want a career as an electrician.

Spending years pursuing a career in the field before understanding if you like the work is extremely risky. The best way to understand what the job entails is to talk to as many electricians as possible. We recommend that you go the extra mile and shadow an industry professional. 

Pursue the career only if you can see yourself doing electrical work for many years to come.

Step #2: Meet Basic Requirements

Having a high school diploma or a GED is one of the basic requirements of becoming an electrician. Every state requires you to meet the minimum educational requirement. Therefore, if you haven’t earned a high school diploma, you must work towards getting a GED.

On the other hand, if you’re in high school, you can better prepare yourself for the job by taking the right courses. You must consider taking the following subjects:

  • Algebra and Trigonometry: Learning these will make measuring wiring lengths and determining the angles of circuits a lot easier. 
  • Physics: You will learn about the basic concepts of electricity. Taking physics will also help you calculate the force of current with greater ease, which can be very helpful when designing and repairing circuits.
  • English: Taking English will help build strong communication skills, increasing your odds of getting clients if you decide to become an independent contractor. You will also be able to read technical documents easily.

Besides these courses, you can also consider enrolling in mechanical drawing and shop courses. It will sharpen your mind for a bright career as an electrician later down the road.

To be eligible for a journeyman license, you must meet the following requirements regardless of what state you’re in:

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Need to be in good physical condition
  • Must have some means of reliable transport to school and job sites
  • Able to work efficiently alone and with a team
  • Able to follow instructions

Some states have other unique requirements that must be met to be eligible for a journeyman electrician license. Ensure you understand what your state requires from you before proceeding to the next steps.

Step #3: Get A Pre-Apprenticeship (Optional)

Learning the fundamentals of electrical work is a lot easier when you’re not an apprentice since you don’t have to worry about working hard and meeting professional expectations. 

You can enroll in electrician training programs and receive technical training before becoming an apprentice and getting job training. Trade schools and technical institutes offer these education programs, and you can also find them at career colleges. 

Enrolling in a pre-apprenticeship program will give you a comfortable introduction to the electrical trade.

These technical training programs will teach you everything from basic electrical theory to workplace safety and the National Electric Code. Enrolling in the right training program will give you an edge over other aspiring electricians. 

One of the best parts about enrolling in a pre-apprenticeship program is the trade school will likely give you both classroom and hands-on training. As a result, you will gain confidence and get more comfortable with electrical wiring and working with electrical equipment.

Furthermore, employers prefer hiring students who complete pre-apprenticeship programs over those that haven’t since these students have a better grip of concepts that are applied daily in the field. This helps the students pick up on everything that the job entails faster and more comfortably.

Step #4: Apply for Apprenticeships

To get into an apprenticeship program, you will need to research opportunities and find the right trade school. Then, as soon as you’re ready to receive job training, you must start applying to apprenticeship programs. 

Applying for apprentice jobs as early as possible is the right way to go since there’s no way to tell how many people are applying for the jobs. Finding work quickly is one of the most fundamental aspects of how to become an electrician. 

Having a sense of urgency in finding work is an elementary trait that separates well-paid electricians from the pile later down the road. 

There are several ways of finding work as an electrician apprentice. The best way to find work is to look for it in newspaper classifieds or job sites. You could also visit the United States Department of Labor website and try to find a local apprenticeship. 

Organizations like the NECA, IBEW, and IEC also periodically offer electrical apprenticeships.

During the application process, you will likely be required to pass an exam. The exam helps your employer gauge your aptitude. The exam will test your reading comprehension and also basic math skills. 

Besides the test, you must also pass the job interview. Depending on the employer, you may also be required to pass a drug test, meet specific physical requirements, and demonstrate mechanical aptitude that is up to par with the company’s expectations.

Step #5: Register Yourself In Your State (If Required)

In some states, trainees and apprentices are required to register themselves before they find work as an electrician. The registration process is typically straightforward: you only need to fill out a form. You may need to pay a small processing fee.

Every state has different requirements for getting an electrician license. Learning your state’s licensing requirements and staying in the loop about labor and consumer affairs is a vital step every aspiring journeyman needs to take.

Step #6: Complete the Apprenticeship Program

The apprenticeship is at the heart of the process of becoming a journeyman. You will receive training from an experienced electrician for four years. Sometimes, completing an apprenticeship program can take five years. 

As you progress towards becoming a journeyman, you will receive an hourly wage that will increase as your experience increases. Every apprentice must complete this program to become eligible for a journeyman license.

In the beginning, you will only be assigned basic tasks. Over time, you will learn to work with electrical wiring, fixtures, and control systems of all kinds. You will also have a first-hand look at how professionals in the field work to comply with state and local regulations.

Completing an apprenticeship is the biggest part of learning how to become an electrician. When you finish job training, you will be capable of performing a broad range of electrical work and earn good money for it.

Step #7: Pass an Exam to Get Licensed

41 out of 50 states in the United States require you to get licensed before working as an electrician. Furthermore, it is important to remember that every state sets its own licensing standards.

For instance, if you’re in Illinois or Pennsylvania, you may not need to get an electrician license. However, some areas in these states have licensing requirements, such as a certain number of hours of experience doing electrical work.

Understanding your state’s requirements is one of the most critical parts of learning how to become a licensed electrician.

If you meet these requirements, you will be allowed to take the licensing exam and become a licensed journeyman.

Contacting the municipality that you plan to work in is the best way to determine its licensing requirements. Sometimes, states require electricians working under a contractor also to have licenses. In other cases, you may not need an electrician license at all unless you want to start a business.

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Advancing Your Electrician Career

After earning your journeyman license, there are several ways to advance your career and make more money. Some electricians find work at a company or work under a contractor. Their pay increases with time as they get promoted to field managers or operation managers. 

Hard-working electricians can potentially be promoted to distribution managers if they navigate their careers smartly.

However, pursuing further education and licensing can open doors to better positions and higher pay. After gaining a few years of experience as a journeyman, you can work towards becoming an electrician master or get a license to become an independent contractor.

Becoming An Electrical Administrator or Master Electrician

You can apply to get the license for master electrician after gaining a minimum of four years of experience as a journeyman. Alternatively, you could become an electrical administrator by applying for and passing the administrator exam.

You can earn the required certification online. Bear in mind that if you’re aiming to become a master electrician, you will need to provide the state with documentation proving the hours you worked as a journeyman. Your work history over the past four years must be presented in great detail.

It is important to note that the master electrician exam will have questions from the same topics as the journeyman exam. The master electrician exam comprises 110 questions. If you’re taking the electrical administrator exam, you will need to answer 92 questions.

Whether you take the master electrician exam or the electrical administrator exam, you will need to renew your license every three years. Depending on the state, you may also need to complete continuing education courses to renew your license.

Becoming an Independent Electrical Contractor 

After acquiring a master electrician license or becoming a certified electrical administrator, you become eligible to apply for an independent electrical contractor license. If you get this license, you will be allowed to offer your services to clients privately.

You will need to renew this master electrician license periodically. The renewal period varies from state to state. You will not need to complete continuing education hours to maintain licensing.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does becoming a journeyman electrician cost?

The expenses you come up against depend on where you live and how you approach becoming an electrician. The cost can vary drastically between individuals.

If you decide to take up pre-apprenticeship training, it will cost you anywhere between $5000 and $20000 depending on the trade school you choose. Pre-apprenticeship programs are typically the most expensive segments in the process of becoming an electrician. 

However, there are ways to cut costs by applying for scholarships and grants.

On the other hand, enrolling in an apprenticeship to become a journeyman electrician can cost $400 and $1000 annually. However, most employers cover apprentice’s tuition fees, and apprentices are paid a wage to complete their job training.

How long does it take to become a licensed electrician?

If you pick the right trade school program, you can complete your electrician training in as little as nine months. That said, it typically takes between four and five years to become a licensed journeyman electrician. 

If you decide to enroll in a pre-apprenticeship program, it may take you up to six years to get licensed. This is because apprenticeships typically take four years or more to complete. Aspirants may need to wait for a few weeks before finding an apprenticeship opportunity if they live in a region with limited jobs.

Depending on your state’s rules, you may be able to shorten the required experience for a journeyman license by substituting experience with education.

How much do licensing requirements vary from state to state?

As mentioned earlier, the requirements of getting electrician licensure differ from state to state. For instance, to earn electrician licensing in California, you must register yourself online, complete 760 classroom instruction hours, and 8000 hours of job experience before passing the state exam.

In contrast, in New Jersey, you only need to get licensed if you want to become an independent contractor. You do not need a license to become a journeyperson.

Texas is an excellent example of how high the standards can be for becoming a journeyman. In the state, anybody who does electrical work must have a license. Apprentices must be registered before they can begin working at any job site. 

The state also has classroom instruction and job experience requirements for those looking to become a journeyman electrician.

Conclusion: Should You Become An Electrician?

Beginning a career in the electrical trade can seem challenging. You have a lot to learn — from using electrical equipment to fixing electrical wiring in various complex systems. You will also need to get the right amount of job training and gain enough job experience to be eligible for a license.

However, if you’re looking for a career that will always engage you, becoming a journeyman electrician may be the right goal to set. This is because you use both your mind and your hands to complete tasks and learn something new every day, regardless of your experience level. 

Furthermore, the support you receive throughout your training can make becoming an electrician a lot less challenging. As a result, you will gradually learn the skills you need for a license and gain enough expertise to become a well-paid journeyman.

If you stay committed to earning a license by studying and practicing regularly, you will be able to become a successfully licensed journeyman.

Staying focused is often the most difficult part of the process, but if you pull through, you may exceed your expectations when it comes to earning a high salary and leading a comfortable life.

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