Electrician Trade School or Apprenticeship?

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  • Choosing an electrician trade school or apprenticeship can greatly reduce student debt.
  • Electrician trade school is often the first step to an electrician career.
  • Many states require an apprenticeship, even if you attend an electrician trade school.
  • All electrician training is geared toward getting your first electrician's license.

One of the biggest advantages of choosing an electrician trade school or apprenticeship over a college degree is that you won't have as much (or any) student loan debt. According to NerdWallet, the average student loan debt for a bachelor's degree was $28,950 in 2019, whereas the average debt for graduates of a trade school was $10,000.

Steve Schnute has been an electrician for nearly a quarter of a century, and he echoes the same sentiment. "A tremendous benefit is the lack of school debt from a four-year college degree. Some bosses may even pay for your needed classroom training."

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“A tremendous benefit is the lack of school debt from a four-year college degree. Some bosses may even pay for your needed classroom training.”

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Even better, those who choose an apprenticeship may have their tuition subsidized by the organization offering the apprenticeship — this means no student loan debt whatsoever. In addition, apprentices receive pay for their on-the-job training while they complete their apprenticeships. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Michigan pays apprentices $10-15 per hour.

If you're interested in becoming an electrician, read on to find out more about the training options open to you.

Electrician Trade School

For many people, electrician trade school is the first step to becoming an electrician. This is especially true in states that do not require an apprenticeship for licensing. However, even in those states, attending a trade school may make sense as some states allow time spent in school to count toward the required apprenticeship hours.

During electrical trade school, you will learn key skills you will need as an electrician, as well as knowledge about current, voltage, resistance, AC and DC power, and other electrical concepts. You will learn about wiring, motors, and electrical controls.

One example of an electrical trade school is the industrial, commercial, and residential electrician program at Delta Technical College in Horn Lake, Michigan. This program comprises 30 credits and takes seven months to complete. Students must complete 750 hours of classroom instruction and 186 hours of work in the field.

The curriculum at Delta Technical College includes classes that cover blueprints, electrical theory, conduit bending, electrical mathematics, and other foundational topics. You can expect to find similar courses at other trade schools.

The total cost of the industrial, commercial, and residential electrician program at Delta Technical College equals $15,800 for 2021, including books, tools, and fees. However, trade school costs can vary depending on the program.

Electrician Apprenticeship

Many states require an apprenticeship in order to become licensed as an electrician. Attending trade school may reduce the number of hours required in an apprenticeship but does not take the place of an apprenticeship. It's important to investigate your state's licensing requirements before deciding whether to go to trade school, complete an apprenticeship, or both.

There are two types of electrician apprenticeships: union and non-union. The IBEW offers an apprenticeship in collaboration with the National Electrical Contractors Association.

Before you apply for an apprenticeship with IBEW, you must choose a specialty. Some choices include inside wireman, outside lineman, residential wireman, and technician (sound and communication). The programs offered vary by location.

During your apprenticeship, you will earn wages. These wages start around half of what you'll make as a journeyman. Apprentices typically earn raises about every 6-12 months. To qualify for an IBEW apprenticeship, you must have a high school diploma, GED, or associate degree; pass an aptitude test; provide proof of passing algebra; and participate in an interview.

If you want to complete a non-union apprenticeship, you should attend an electrician trade school first. Look for job postings for electrician apprentices and apply with a resume, just as you would with any other job. If you get the apprenticeship, you will receive wages while working and learning.

Depending on the state you live in, you may need to complete classroom hours in addition to working hours. Make sure that the apprenticeship program you choose includes all of the necessary requirements for you to become licensed as a journeyman electrician.

Electrician Trade School or Apprenticeship?

There are pros and cons to either training pathway, but the first thing you must consider is your state's requirements. For example, Idaho requires an apprenticeship but also requires that you complete or be enrolled in a training program before becoming an apprentice. All electrician training is geared toward getting your first electrician's license, which in most states is the journeyman license.

Trade School

Pros:

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    Depending on the school, you may become career-ready in as few as four months.
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    Time spent in school can count toward your apprenticeship requirements.

Cons:

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    Trade school costs an average of $30,000, while apprenticeships have only nominal costs for books and clothing.
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    You may end up with student loan debt, which will put you at a disadvantage while getting started in your career.
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    Some colleges offer associate degrees, which take around two years to complete.

Apprenticeship

Pros:

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    You earn wages while you learn. IBEW apprentices earn between $10-$15 per hour.
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    You probably won't incur any student loan debt.

Cons:

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    You still need to complete classroom hours as required by your state.
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    It takes 3-5 years to complete an apprenticeship, so you can end up spending more time in training than you would with other training options.

Frequently Asked Questions About Electrician Training

Is it hard to get an electrician apprenticeship?

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The application process for an IBEW apprenticeship involves taking an aptitude test and being interviewed. You must also meet the requirements for the program, which includes passing algebra. If you want a non-union apprenticeship, you'll need to complete an electrician training program and then go through the job-seeking process to find a position as an electrician apprentice.

How long does it take to become a journeyman electrician?

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t can take between four months and two years to complete an electrician training program. You will then have 3-5 years as an apprentice and two years as a journeyman electrician before you can become a master electrician. It can take anywhere from 5-9 years to earn the title of master electrician.

What is the best electrician trade school?

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Most electrician trade schools offer similar programs. To determine which program is best for you, consider the cost and location first. Likely it will be more cost-efficient to attend a program close to your home. Find out whether the program specializes in a certain area and what courses are required to complete the program. In addition, ask for references from former students and employers who have hired graduates of the program.


Feature Image: Monty Rakusen / Cultura / Getty Images

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