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How to Become an Electrician

What is an electrician?

An electrician is a professional technician that has been trained to inspect, test, install, and repair electrical parts and systems. They typically work on electrical equipment in homes, factories, storefronts, and other buildings that are existing or under construction to ensure power, lighting, communications, and control systems are up and running for the consumer to use. 

A crucial part of an electrician’s job is to be able to read and interpret electrical diagrams and blueprints. Those will provide key information on how to inspect and troubleshoot transformers, circuit breakers, and other electrical components. Electricians will need a good understanding of the National Electrical Code alongside state and local building regulations to make sure they are handling electrical systems properly and legally.

Qualifications and eligibility

Every electrician will need to complete some schooling and attend proper training to start working. Some of the requirements to become an electrician include:

  • You must have your high school diploma or pass the GED
  • You must have a valid driver’s license
  • You must attend an electrical trade school or complete an electrician apprenticeship
  • You must gain experience working as an electrician
  • You must be licensed in the state you work in 
  • You must take continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on changes made to electrical systems and code

An electrician must also have good problem solving skills. They will be making measurements and calculating power and voltages, so mathematics plays a key component on the safety and accuracy of an electrician’s work. Electricians should also have effective communication skills to lead younger team members, as well as provide excellent service to their clients. 

Work environment

Electricians usually travel from their office to different worksites, so local and long-distance commuting is common. They are typically found traveling to the following places:

  • Residential areas need electricians to repair and update light fixtures, wiring, power outlets, circuit boards, and other components of a property’s electrical system. 
  • Construction sites hire electricians to design, build, and set up all electrical systems and equipment for buildings, transport systems, and power distribution networks
  • Factories and other businesses require electricians to install, support, and repair electrical components that are unique to the industry.   

Once electricians travel to their worksite and grab the supplies they need, they will typically start off their day by inspecting the electrical system or component they need to work on. Once their inspection is done, they will continue on to diagnose potential problems within the system and begin repairing the troublesome wiring or coding. This work is very hands-on, so electricians are found lifting, crouching, and bending most of the day to examine and fix any problems within the electrical system of the building they’re working at.  

Typical work hours

Depending on your workload, typical hours for an electrician can vary. Electricians that are a part of an electrical or construction team normally work 40 hours a week during the traditional business hours. Independent electricians work most days of the week at any time of day. 

If you’re a self-employed electrician, you have the option to set your own hours and rates. This gives you the opportunity to work when and where you want. If you plan on working nights or weekends, you can charge extra for services provided outside of regular office hours.   

Types of electricians

Once electricians become certified in their state, they can choose to specialize in different areas of electrical work. Here are some of the most common types of electricians: 

  • Domestic and Residential Electrician – This is the most “common” type of electrician. Domestic and residential electricians work on electrical systems in residential homes. They work on anything from lights fixtures to the wiring system in houses. 
  • Commercial Electrician – This electrician works on much bigger projects than residential electricians since they set up the electrical system in commercial spaces such as office buildings and malls. They install power outlets and lighting to help get businesses up and running ASAP. 
  • Maintenance Electricians – Maintenance electricians focus on the security and efficiency of large electrical systems in plants and factories. Some of their work includes repairing heavy machinery or maintaining utility electronics and power grids in the building.
  • Automotive Electricians – This electrician specializes in electrical work relating to cars, buses, trucks, and other transportation vehicles. They primarily work on a vehicle’s lighting, ignition systems, heating and cooling system, transmissions, and anti-lock brake systems. 
  • Outside Lineman – Outside linemen are responsible for working on power lines that run between residential areas and commercial buildings. They regularly check out power lines to ensure they are in proper working conditions and repair or replace new power lines if needed. 
  • Industrial Electricians – These electricians work in big power plants, chemical plants, manufacturing factories, and other large-scale buildings to work on heavy machinery and equipment that requires more electrical work and power than residential and commercial buildings. 

Income potential

An electrician’s salary can vary greatly based on the state you work in, your certifications, your experience, and what you choose to specialize in:

  • The median annual income for an electrician is $69,046 with the range being from $54,135 to $86,151.
  • An electrician’s salary can fluctuate based on what state you live in, so you will want to research the data on your specific state. 
  • The average electrician salary is $58,325 with California and New York offering the highest salaries around $60,000. 

Keep in mind that many electricians are self-employed, so their wage is largely dependent on the amount of clients and appointments they have. Most electricians make around $20 to $30 an hour, so it is in the electricians best interest to try to keep a good clientele to keep business running. Becoming an electrician for an electrical, construction, or plumbing business will allow you to maintain a 40-hour work week while getting paid to be a full-time employee. Electricians are also generally paid overtime if their work hours exceed the typical 40-hour week. 

Electricians can specialize in different electrical positions, so the estimated annual earnings can fluctuate based on what type of electrician you are. Linemans, maintenance electricians, and industrial electricians are some of the highest paying electricians in the industry with salaries ranging from $50,000 to $65,000.  

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the employment of electricians to increase by 9% from 2020 to 2030. There will be about 84,700 openings for electricians per year to replace workers leaving the field to another occupation or to retire. Our increased usage of solar and wind power requires more electricians to install these alternative power sources.

Career path

As a certified electrician, you can pursue a position in different industries such as technology, construction, communications, automotive, gaming, and aviation. People who are interested in entering these fields should become an electrician to broaden their work opportunities. 

Below is a list of positions that are alternative career paths for electricians:

  • Computer Technician
  • Computer Programmer
  • Electronics Technician
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Appliance Technician
  • Elevator Installer
  • Construction worker
  • Forest and Conservation Technicians
  • Surveying Technicians
  • Aircraft Technician
  • Radio Mechanics
  • Automotive Mechanics
  • Wind Turbine Technician
  • Refrigeration Installers
  • Computer User Support Specialist
  • Industrial Production Manager

Steps to becoming an electrician

The career path steps to becoming an electrician include:

1. Earn a high school diploma or pass the GED

If you’re looking to begin your career as an electrician, you’ll first want to earn a high school diploma or pass the GED. While you will need a further education to become a licensed electrician, there are plenty of concepts you learn in high school that you will apply to your job. Some school subjects that help build valuable skills for electricians include: 

Options of FAA accredited colleges:

  • Mathematics – Basic math concepts including algebra and trigonometry are important for electricians to understand to help determine wiring lengths, calculate amp and volt requirements, and measure circuit angles.  
  • Physics – A big branch of physics includes the study of electricity. Electricians need a firm understanding of electrical currents to properly and safely work with electrical systems. 
  • English – Electricians will need to deliver good customer service to their clientele to be successful. Taking an English class will prepare students to communicate clearly with others while being able to read complex technical documents for their job. 

Many high schools offer advanced electives for their students to take. People interested in becoming electricians should check if there are coding, mechanical drawing, or construction classes available to them to get ahead of their training. 

2. Think about attending a trade or technical school

Attending a trade or technical school isn’t required to become an electrician, however, it can offer you training and help you in the process of getting the certification requirements needed to become a licensed electrician. Whether you study at a four-year university or trade school, the electrical principles you learn from your classes will make you a more competitive applicant for apprenticeships and better prepare you for the profession. 

Here is a list of some of the best electrician trade schools in the country:

  • Penn Foster: If you want to become a residential electrician in under a year, Penn Foster can help. With affordable tuition and everything you need to know about working with electrical lines, this is the program for anyone wanting an online education.
  • Ashworth College: Another online option that teaches you the educational aspect of becoming an electrician is Ashworth College. You’re allowed to take the courses at your own pace and time, and they offer payment plans for the tuition.
  • Mike Holt Enterprises: This study package is great for those who want to get electrician knowledge on their own time. With DVDs and textbooks, you’ll still learn everything you need to become an electrician and pass the needed exams.
  • Miami Dade College: If you want to work in electricity, Miami Dade is where you should go. With a four year, 290 credit program, this is truly the best education that money can buy for electricians.
  • GateWay Community College: If you’re in Washington, you can’t find a better program than GateWay Community College’s. 
  • Dallas County Community College: For a fast and accredited electrician program, DCCC has what you need!
  • Emily Griffith Technical College: This technical college offers a great apprenticeship program for anyone looking to become an electrician.

3. Apply for your apprenticeship

Whether or not you decide to attend a technical school, you have to complete an apprenticeship to become a certified electrician. Here are some different ways you can find an apprenticeship:

  • Attend Trade/Technical School: Many electrical trade schools allow you to complete your apprenticeship while earning your diploma. 
  • Get training through a Union: The Electrical Training Alliance is a national union that has locations throughout the United States to help you to become an apprentice. There, you will attend electrical classes and lab-based technical training to complete your apprenticeship. 
  • Earn your apprenticeship through an organization: There are two major organizations that offer apprenticeships to aspiring electricians: the Independent Electrical Contractors and the Associated Builders and Contractors. Both of these organizations have classes in most major cities in the United States.

While applying for apprenticeships, many companies or schools will interview you and require you to take an aptitude test that will examine your reading and mathematical skill set. You may also have to meet physical requirements as well as take a drug test before you begin your apprenticeship. Make sure to check your local apprentice requirements before the first day of class. 

4. Enroll as an electrician apprentice

Some states require people to register as an electrical apprentice before working on job sites. Make sure to research your state’s requirements before beginning work as an apprentice. 

5. Finish your apprenticeship

Your apprenticeship is what prepares you most to become an electrician. You will attend classes as well as receive on-the-job training to understand and apply core electrical principles to your work. Your apprenticeship will last around four to five years before you’re allowed to take a test to become a licensed electrician. An apprenticeship will cover topics like this throughout your training: 

  • Creating and interpreting technical diagrams and construction blueprints
  • Understanding the fundamentals of electricity, which involves currents, voltages, resistance, power, DC, and AC
  • Installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical wiring equipment   
  • Complying to federal, state, local regulations
  • Following safety precautions while dealing with live electrical currents

No matter where you live, you will have to meet certain apprentice hours to become a certified electrician. Most states require training within this range:

  • 575 to 1,000 hours of class instruction
  • 8,000 to 10,000 hours of hands on experience (this typically takes people four to five years to complete) 

6. Get certified and licensed in your state

Every state has different requirements to become a licensed electrician, so make sure to do your research before you start applying to apprenticeships. You most likely will have to show proof of your apprenticeship and the number of hours of on-the-job training you have had to the state. Along with meeting your requirements, many electricians will need to pass a local state test as a final step to becoming certified. This test will examine your understanding of the National Electric code, electrical concepts, safety regulations, and building codes. Once you become certified, you can finally work professionally as a licensed electrician! 

7. Become a master electrician

Once you become a certified electrician, you can work towards getting your license as a master electrician. You can qualify for the license after working as a professional electrician for two years. Specific requirements can vary by state, but most applicants will need to pass written and practical exams covering electrical principles and regulations. Master electricians should demonstrate expertise in the following areas: 

  • Blueprint creation
  • Electrical repair 
  • Electrical maintenance 
  • Safety code and regulations
  • Troubleshoot system failures
  • Evaluate energy efficiency 
  • Provide consultation 

Becoming a master electrician allows you to train and mentor apprentices, lead assignments, and manage other electricians. A master electrician must have good leadership and delegation skills to be successful at project management. With more responsibility comes higher pay, so it is common for master electricians to have a pay raise once they become certified.

8. Find your passion

As you train to become an electrician, you work in a variety of settings to become comfortable working with different types of electrical systems. There are many different types of electricians that you can work as, so it is important to find the position you’ll be most happy in. Some of the most common types of electricians include:

  • Residential Electricians
  • Commercial Electricians
  • Industrial Electricians
  • Maintenance Electricians
  • Installation Electricians
  • Automotive Electricians
  • Construction Electricians 
  • Outside Lineman

Tips for becoming an electrician

If you are interested in becoming an electrician, there are a few things you should do. Here are some tips for becoming an electrician:

  • Research national and local programs that are able to help you reach your state’s requirements to become an electrician. You should also look into the different routes to apprenticeship to learn what would be the best fit for you.  
  • Make sure you meet the different requirements before applying to apprenticeships. Most people must be 18 years old with a high school diploma as well as pass a physical examination.
  • Join associations to assess the different resources and advocates that are out there to support you:
  • Ask a master electrician to become your mentor. This will allow you to increase your skill set more quickly while building connections in the electrician industry. 
  • Memorizing code and certain repair techniques is essential to becoming an effective electrician, however, you will still need to understand how and when to use diagnostic tools to spot a potential error in the system. 
  • Make sure to attend continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on new technology, electrical systems, and code changes. 
  • If you plan on becoming an independent electrician, it is important to build a strong clientele to grow your revenue. Start by creating goals that will help manage your time, money, and customers to build a reputable business. 

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