How to Become an Electrician
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- Electricians install, maintain, inspect, and troubleshoot electrical wiring and systems.
- Jobs for electricians are growing much faster than average.
- You don't need a college degree to become an electrician.
Can you imagine what life would be like without electricity? Even though it has only been readily available for about 100 years, we now use electricity for everything — lighting, household appliances, computers, and heating and cooling. And electricians are the ones who keep our lights on.
Electricians install and maintain electrical wiring, read blueprints and wiring diagrams, inspect electrical systems, and troubleshoot electrical problems. They must also familiarize themselves with the state and local regulations that apply to their work and adhere to those regulations.
If you've ever thought about becoming an electrician, now is a great time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for electricians is strong. The BLS projects a 9% growth in job opportunities for electricians between 2020 and 2030, which is twice as fast as the average growth across all occupations.
Read on to find out how to become an electrician, including electrician training requirements and information about licensing. Find out how long it takes to become an electrician and learn what electrician training looks like.
Steps to Become an Electrician
- Earn a high school or GED diploma. Subjects that offer skill sets for electricians include algebra, physics, English, and shop drawing classes.
- Consider attending a vocational, technical, or trade school. Attending an electrician training program can help when obtaining the required certification and during the job search.
- Apply for an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is required in order to become a licensed electrician. Apprenticeships can be found through trade schools, Independent Electrical Contractors, Associated Builders and Contractors, or through Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committees (JATC). JATC has locations in several cities and states throughout the U.S. including Central Florida, California, and South Texas.
- Complete the apprenticeship. Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training, classroom instruction, and mentorship from master electricians. The entire process typically takes around four years or 6,000-10,000 hours. Some states allow a portion of hours spent in a community college or trade school program to count towards the requirement.
- Get licensed or certified. Once you've completed individual state requirements for training hours, it's time to take your state's electrician license test. Exams test your comprehension of the National Electric Code and other on-the-job skills.
What Are the Requirements to Become an Electrician?
Unlike many careers, the path to becoming an electrician does not necessarily start with a college degree. To become an electrician, requirements include an optional training program, a 4-5 year apprenticeship program, and in most cases, state licensing.
Electrician Trade School
Although it is not required, many people who want to become electricians start out by attending an electrician trade school or a community college electrical program. These programs offer training on electrical fundamentals, tools and safety requirements, electrical wiring diagrams, and the National Electrical Code.
Trade school programs range from short certificate programs that take as little as four months to associate degree programs at community colleges. Typically, students who complete a program at an electrician trade school are eligible for a reduction in the amount of time they must spend in an apprenticeship.
However, completing this training does not replace the apprenticeship. The apprenticeship remains the primary training method for an electrician career.
Electrician Apprenticeship Program
A typical apprenticeship program takes 3-5 years to complete, depending on the specialty you choose. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) offers a three-year residential wireman program, a three-year VDV (voice, data, video) installer technician program, a 3.5-year outside lineman program, and a five-year inside wireman program.
Apprentices receive wages as well as training. They may be required to pay for books, work clothes, and tuition, but most of the tuition is subsidized. In Michigan, IBEW apprentices receive $10-15 per hour plus benefits during their training and $40,000-80,000 per year plus benefits after graduation.
Most states have requirements related to the amount of training and work experience electrician apprenticeships must provide. For example, in Connecticut, the program must be at least four years long and include at least 576 hours of instruction and 8,000 hours of work experience. Candidates may receive credit for attending an electrician trade school.
After you complete your apprenticeship, you'll be ready to take the electrical journeyman exam. Most states require this exam to become licensed as a journeyman electrician. Depending on the state, you may need to complete continuing education to renew your journeyman license.
Many states offer a master electrician license. To qualify for this, you must obtain additional experience, sometimes in certain areas. For example, in Colorado, you must have at least 2,000 hours of experience in laying out, planning, and supervising installation in the past year. Some states require an exam to become a master electrician.
How Much Does an Electrician Make?
According to the BLS, electricians reported a median annual income of $56,900 in May 2020. The lowest 10% reported earning less than $33,810 and the highest 10% reported income of more than $98,720. Electricians work full time and often work some evenings and weekends.
As of 2020, 65% of electricians worked as electrical contractors and other wiring installation contractors. The BLS also reports that 9% of electricians are self-employed. After meeting additional requirements and working as a qualified electrician, electricians may find opportunities to become a master electrician and/or take on supervisory roles.
What Does Electrician Training Look Like?
Electrician training at an electrician trade school can be conducted online or in person. For example, Ashworth College offers an online program that consists of 14 lessons and takes four months to complete. Most of the schools that offer electrician training are community colleges.
The actual classes you take vary from one school to another and one program to another.
For example, City Colleges of Chicago offers a basic certificate, advanced certificate, and associate degree in electrical construction technology. The basic certificate requires only 19 credit hours. Required courses include electric circuitry, construction technology, conduit bending, print reading, and technical math.
The advanced certificate requires 35.5 credits. The curriculum includes all of the courses required for the basic certificate as well as advanced conduit bending, print reading, and technical math, and courses in motor control systems and low voltage systems.
The associate in science degree from City Colleges of Chicago requires 65.5 credits, including some general education classes. Additional core courses include HVAC systems, electrical power systems, and photovoltaic systems.
Because these three programs build on each other, you could start with the basic certificate and go back for more schooling as you have the time and money to do so.
Regardless of which school you choose, you will likely have to take courses on blueprint reading, residential wiring, electric motors, and AC circuitry. You may also need some math classes. If you enroll in an associate degree program, you will take general education courses, as well.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Electrician?
Certificate programs at electrician trade schools usually take anywhere from four months to one year. If you choose to attend an associate program at a community college, the degree will take about two years to complete.
After you complete your training, you'll need to complete a 3-5 year apprenticeship program. If you attended trade school, you may earn credit toward your apprenticeship. In that case, your apprenticeship may be slightly shorter.
You will typically spend two years as a journeyman before you can become a master electrician, if you live in a state that has a journeyman license. Including your experience as a journeyman, you should expect it to take somewhere between 5-9 years to become licensed as a master electrician.
Frequently Asked Questions About Electrician Training
If you make less than $50,000 per year, completing an electrician training program is likely to increase your salary. According to the BLS, the median salary for an electrician was $56,900 in 2020. Electricians who work for the government earned the most, with a median salary of $64,490 in 2020. Electricians in manufacturing earned a median of $61,510, while electrical contractors earned a median of $55,170.
Most states (41 out of 50) require electricians to be licensed in order to work. Of those that don't require an electrician license, three states (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio) require contractor licenses. Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania do not require any licensing for electricians.
The certification levels vary by state, but most states have a journeyman level and a master electrician level. In states with these licensing levels, applicants must meet experience requirements before they can be licensed at each level. In many states, they must also pass a test.
Training costs vary by the length and duration of the program, but the average cost for tuition and fees at two-year public schools in 2019-2020 was $3,800, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Many aspiring electricians attend a trade school, vocational school, technical school, or community college and gain on-the-job experience through an apprenticeship program. Schools often have financial aid available to alleviate training costs.
Many vocational, technical, trade, and community colleges offer online electrician training courses that help you understand the National Electric Code and develop skills needed to become a licensed electrician. There are also programs available that assist students with finding an apprenticeship.
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