PATHS TO BECOME AN ELECTRICIAN
If you’re thinking about becoming an electrician, then you’ve probably asked yourself, “How long does it take to become one?” The answer is, it varies. Essentially, there are multiple routes to take. One thing is certain though, it all starts with an apprenticeship.
An electrical apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training (OJT) and related classroom instruction, under the supervision of a journey-level craft person or trade professional, in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation.
- High school diploma
- Passing score on entrance evaluation
Electrical apprentices must agree to a three-way contract between the employer, the government and the apprentice. The general license is completed after 8,000 documented hours and OJT evaluated by a journeyperson or mentor.
Apprenticeship Program Objectives
The construction electrician apprenticeship program varies from state to state, and is designed to provide apprentices with the high-quality training necessary to facilitate their careers in the construction electrician trade. This allows apprentices to combine classroom learning with the application of the skills in the field.
Apprentice to Journeyperson
Instruction provided by industry experts ensures a balance between classroom theory and shop application. Apprentices can apply the skills in a work-like setting.
Apprentices develop skills with hand tools and power tools, fundamental wiring practices, conduit bending, service entrances, troubleshooting, application of the National Electrical Code and other skills used by Construction Electricians.
Apprentices have opportunities in a wide range of areas including: residential, commercial, industrial construction projects, wiring houses, apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, oil and gas field projects, pulp and paper mills, power generation and public utilities.
Upon completing the apprenticeship program, graduates can go on to become project supervisors, project managers, estimators, planners, instructors and even self-employed electrical contractors.
While salaries vary depending on location and company, the northern states typically pay more per hour. As a reference point, in the IBEW in Detroit, the journeyperson hourly rate is around $44 hourly plus benefits.
An apprentice will get the same benefits, but a percentage of what the journeyperson earns is based on their level. For example, a first-year would have a rate of $22 (50%) plus benefits. The second level would move up to 60%, and so on.
For apprenticeships not linked to a union, you’ll likely get more field hours and get paid more in lieu of benefits. With that said, you’re also more likely to miss out on attending school.
Pathways to Success
To become an electrician, you must start with a training program such as a state certified vocational school, technical training school, or earning an undergraduate degree. These programs range from 10 months to 4 years, and you can earn a certificate or a degree in science. An apprentice can combine this training with working in the field or go to school full time.
Requirements for electrical licensing and certifications vary state to state, and you are required to meet these requirements regardless of any privately earned or issued certifications or licenses. The completion of an approved electrical program, combined with verified hours, will allow you to take a Journeyman test.
- 4,800 hours to take the residential test
- 8,000 hours to take the general (journeyman) test
IBEW Union Apprenticeship
A union apprenticeship program, such as IBEW apprenticeships, are 5 years. From day one you become a number on the apprentice list and dispatched to job sites determined by union needs. Training is carried out exclusively by the IBEW Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) on Wednesday nights and all day Saturday.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union has their own independent apprenticeship program.
An applicant must pass several placement tests and meet minimum requirements such as:
- Minimum age 18
- Minimum of a high school diploma or GED
- Completion of high school algebra or post-high school algebra course with a passing grade
- Pass a series of aptitude tests
- Agree to membership requirements including the payment of union dues
Note: Some programs have more requirements.
IEC, WECA and ABC Apprenticeship
IEC, WECA and ABC are the non-union equivalent to IBEW apprenticeship. These schools are private institutions that can be paid for by an apprentice themselves, or are required and paid for by an employer.
It’s important to keep in mind that it is strictly educational with limited lab time and very rarely does it combine with actual work in the field.
Because you must have both the hours worked and the electrical OJT to be eligible for journeyman status, most electricians do not become actual journeymen after taking this route for training.
NCCER and Mike Holt Curriculum
The NCCER and Mike Holt Curriculum are non-union apprenticeship training programs that are 4-5 years of training only. Unfortunately, there are no nationally recognized electrician certification or licenses with this route.
If an apprentice successfully completes this curriculum and receives a certificate, they will most likely meet state requirements to take the Journeyman test. That is assuming they have accumulated the required hours needed per state requirements.
It’s important to know that each state has their own set of rules and regulations.
The time it takes to become an electrician can vary greatly depending on the path you choose or the state in which you live. The good news is, there are steps you can take to land your first apprenticeship much faster.
Ideal candidates who demonstrate knowledge in electrical safety, electrical code, and foundational concepts will stand out much more than other candidates, getting their foot in the door much sooner. Online, on-demand courses in electrical basics, such as those available through The Blue Collar Recruiter, are a good place to start for someone wanting to set themselves up for a long career in electrical.
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Interplay Learning Electrical Expert, Blog Author: Chad Soucy
Chad is Interplay’s electrical expert and is a Master Electrician. Chad has progressed as an electrical professional throughout his career, with early beginnings in rewiring/wiring homes to QA/Commissioning plants, honing his skills in all aspects of the electrical trade along the way. He transitioned his career through Residential, Commercial and Industrial sites, and in 2012, further expanded on his mission to lifelong learning in becoming an electrical instructor. He continued on this path as an online course developer and is steadfastly committed to electrical safety and sound adult learning theories.