Electricians find employment on new construction, renovation projects, in factories and for large businesses. Electricians can specialize in indoor lighting, outdoor lighting, new wiring, machinery, control panels in factories, electric car charging stations and more. Ambitious electricians will have skills in more than one area to increase their job opportunities. Electricians go through an apprenticeship period, which means they will earn an income while they are being trained and have the opportunity to continue to increase their wages as they learn more skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for qualified electricians is growing every year. They anticipate an eight percent increase in the number of electrician jobs in the next ten years. The average electrician in the United States makes $57,000 per year.
While it is obvious that homes and businesses need safe and reliable electrical wiring, thinking outside the box will create even more opportunities for a trained electrician. You could work with underwater lighting, solar panels, in theaters or for companies that perform emergency repairs after natural disasters and other events. As our homes become more connected, the need for trained electricians that also understand new technology will continue to increase.
Some electricians are employed by a large company or as part of the maintenance team at a factory. Construction companies often keep electricians on staff because they are needed for most building and renovation projects. Electricians can also be self-employed, starting their own business marketed to homeowners or builders who hire subcontractors for skilled labor.
An electrician’s title, salary and responsibilities, depend on their education and training. The following are the levels of qualification an electrician can obtain:
- Electrician assistant- Being hired as an assistant is a great way to get an introduction to the field. You will see first-hand exactly what an electrician does, start to learn the language and know if this is the career you want.
- Apprentice- When starting the education of becoming an electrician, you will be an apprentice. This training under a highly qualified electrician will last four to five years and include classroom and field work.
- Journeyman- This is the basic level of qualification for an independent electrician. A journeyman has completed an apprenticeship and passed a test. He or she can work unsupervised, but can not train others or manage a job site. A journeyman may not be qualified for very complicated tasks and is still subject to the supervision and inspection of a master electrician.
- Master electrician- After two years of experience and passing another exam, a journeyman becomes a master electrician. This professional is completely independent and capable of handling any electrical task in a home, business, factory or city.
- Independent electrical contractor- A master electrician who owns his or her own business and carries adequate insurance for themselves and their staff is called an independent electrical contractor.
Education required to become an electrician
Before beginning a program to be trained in electrical work, you must earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Due to the technical nature of the work, electricians will benefit from classes in physics, algebra, trigonometry, mechanical drawing and English.
The exact requirements for being a certified electrician vary from state to state. Each does require classroom instruction (somewhere between 500 and 1,000 hours) and on the job training and apprenticeship (usually 8,000 to 10,000 hours which is the equivalent of four to five years). You can find the licensing board for each state to learn the exact requirements where you live.
There are several ways you can obtain the education and experience required to become a journeyman and master electrician.
Trade or vocational school
Starting your education at a trade or technical school may help you more easily find an apprenticeship position. Your classroom learning can count as hours toward your training and may give your an advantage when applying for an apprenticeship since you will already know and understand the basic concepts of electrical work. Local colleges, trade schools, community college and technical school will likely offer courses in the electrical field that you can access as a low cost. Search for accredited schools in your area here.
There are also online programs available to anyone anywhere. If you choose an online program, be sure to check that the school is accredited and licensed in the area you choose to study.
Some programs are short certificate programs. These are generally under a year long and give you hands-on experience with electrical work. This is a fast way to jump start your new career.
You could also choose to get a two-year associates degree. These programs include some general education courses making your education broader and increasing your options in the future. You could include classes in business or other technical areas if you plan to own your own business in the future.
Electricians are highly unionized. By joining a union, a future electrician has access to training, insurance and a steady stream of work. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents 775,000 workers and retirees in the United States and Canada. Each Local has its own training and apprenticeship program in a location convenient to those in the area. You can find the local office nearest you on their website. Apprenticeships last four to five years and include all the classwork and hands-on skills necessary to become a journeyman.
The IBEW trains students in one of four specialty areas. Each program has a specific curriculum and takes varying amounts of time to be fully trained:
- Outside lineman- 3.5 years
- Inside wireman- 5 years
- VDV Installer Technician- 3 years
- Residential wireman- 3 years
Apprenticeships are competitive, just like job applications. Because you are paid during this training and mentorship, there will be a rigorous application process to be sure that you are committed to the program and motivated to learn and eventually become certified. Find out from local representative what skills they most value in an applicant to prepare yourself for success.
Education for IBEW is through the Electrical Training Alliance. In addition to centers which train students for residential, outside linemen or commercial and industrial electricity work, they have a number of online training programs for electricians to continue to increase their skill base. Prepare for certifications in cable splicing, solar installation and more with their advanced training programs.
There are several other organizations that offer apprenticeships and educational programs to future electricians outside of the IBEW.
- Independent Electrical Contractors- The IEC has 52 chapters and 70 training sites throughout the United States that offers training programs and support for electricians. You’ll received a salary while being trained for a variety of careers available to well qualified electricians. The IEC also offers a modified residential electric specialist program. This only requires 4,000 hours of apprenticeship and 288 classroom hours. If you only plan to work inside homes, this is a quick way to get started.
- Associated Builders and Contractors- The ABC offers training programs for more than 20 trades including electricians. They have 69 chapters across the country that can connect you with training and education programs. Find the chapter nearest you on their website. They will pair you with a skilled electrician for about four years so you are fully prepared to safely work on an electrical construction site. You will work 40 hours per week and attend class twice a week for a combination of hands-on and classroom learning.
- National Center for Construction Education and Research- You can purchase a four-level training program that will prepare you to take the journeyman electrician test. They also have 70 training centers throughout the United States for hands-on training and apprenticeship.
- National Electric Contractors Association- The NECA is an organization that keeps electricians at the top of their game. They offer continuing education classes and updates about changes to codes. The also offer education about starting and growing your electrical contracting business.
To work as an electrician, you will need to be appropriately licensed. The requirements for licensing vary from state to state, sometimes even between counties and cities. Most areas require electricians to pass a test that covers the local electrical codes as well as the National Electric Code (NEC). The National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies lists the exact qualification each states requires to work as an electrician. Some states require a minimum number of continuing education hours each year after licensing to be sure that you are aware of any code changes in the future.
There are also a number of areas an electrician can specialize in and be awarded a certificate for their knowledge. These can include:
- Lighting systems
- Electrical generating
- Safety compliance
- Emergency power systems
- Air conditioning and refrigeration
These additional certifications will increase trust in your business, help you win more contracts and command a higher pay rate for your expertise.
Becoming a master electrician
There are several ways to become a master electrician. While the exact requirements can vary by state, they generally required several years of successful employment as a journeyman and passing another test. You could also choose to obtain a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a related field. Once you are certified as a master electrician, you can perform all of the following tasks:
- Own your own business
- Plan and design electric systems
- Supervise apprentices and journeymen
- Investigate power system failures
- Monitor for energy efficiency
- Design electric systems
- Deal with permits
Being an electrician is a career that can change and grow throughout your entire working life. There are always new things to learn to keep you interested and new technologies being released that will make your job more in demand. Homeowners, business owners, townships and factories are always in need of electricians who can work safely and efficiently.
Because working with electricity and electrical systems can be complex and dangerous, electricians must be highly and competently trained to perform their jobs. There are a number of training programs that include both classroom and on-the-job training for future electricians. Local schools, master electricians and training programs can help you on your way to becoming a journeyman and master electrician.
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