For good reason, more women and men today are choosing to pursue a career as a master electrician. Opportunities abound, from helping families light their homes to designing complicated electrical networks for skyscrapers, sports stadiums, and everything in between. Electricians earn a competitive salary, as much as $90,000 a year on average by some estimates, and experts predict double-digit job growth through 2025.
Making the decision isn’t as easy as actually doing it, however. Becoming an electrician takes dedication and a long-term commitment to learning. The process begins with an apprenticeship and technical schooling. That’s where you gain the real-world experience you need to obtain your journeyman license, a necessary credential to becoming a master electrician and contractor.
Learn Your Local Licensing Rules
Before you select an educational program, it is important you learn your local licensing rules. Usually, licensing rules apply statewide, but there are instances in which those rules change at the city and county levels. Each local jurisdiction establishes its own on-the-job training and classroom hour requirements.
Students must meet these prerequisites before they can take the journeyman examination and move on to the next level of their careers. On average, including schooling, this is somewhere between four and six years as an apprentice electrician at a contracting company or a state utility. This equates to something close to 575 to 1,000 hours of classroom study and 8,000 to 10,000 hours of on-the-job training.
Contact your local building department to learn more about what is required of you. The staff may know the rules or can point you in the right direction. Also, consider reaching out to your local electricians union to both network and understand licensing expectations. Finally, contact the National Electrical Contractors Association, the national voice of the electrical construction industry. NECA’s website includes links to state licensing rules as well as content focused on core curriculum and other studies.
Get Ready To Go to School
Selecting an electrician school is the first step on your journey. Here are some tips on how to pick the right one for you.
1. Make Sure You Have a Solid Foundation
Apprenticeship programs do not require a college degree, but some high school courses are called for. Most programs require the completion of at least one year of algebra. Others may necessitate, or strongly suggest, classes in physics, mechanical drawing and industrial arts.
2. Determine Your Type
While no more than a high school diploma is necessary to become an electrician, many apprenticeship programs encourage future electricians to pursue some higher education. Students who take that advice and search for the right secondary school have some options.
They may select a vocational or trade school. Vo-Ed schools offer diploma or certificate programs and often take no more than a year or two to complete. Courses are often available to high schoolers, allowing students to get a jump on their apprenticeship commitment.
Others may choose to get an associate’s degree from a community or junior college. Attending a community college gives students the opportunity to explore electives outside their degree program, which may help them develop complementary skills that will support their electrical career.
Finally, many electricians get both their schooling and apprenticeship hours by joining the military and serving their country while learning the skill. They may even reach journeyman status while serving.
3. Add Up Those Hours
As you are reviewing licensing rules, check to see if any part of your formal coursework counts as on-the-job experience. You may find a year of school equals up to 1,000 hours of real world experience. Two years of higher education could reduce your work experience commitment by 2,000 hours, the usual limit for most apprentice programs. That still leaves you with 6,000 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, though your school may have that covered, too.
4. Get Help Finding Work
When choosing an electrician program, ask about job placement. Many vocational schools and some community college programs offer job placement assistance. Once you connect with the right employer, you would continue your apprenticeship requirement.
Your school may even offer a journeyman program. Typically two years long, the programs align with state requirements and include on-the-job experience in parallel with classroom study. Once the program is completed, you could graduate with 4,000 hours of apprenticeship under your belt. Many students who complete this type of program remain with their employer and finish their required apprenticeship hours.
5. Red Flags to Watch Out For
Because the profession is booming, there are many educational options available to new students. Not every electrician program is built the same, however. Do your research and avoid schools with any of these red flags:
6. Guaranteed Certification
Do not let this turn of phrase fool you. There are no “certified electricians,” only licensed electricians, and no student leaves school as a licensed electrician. You may get a certification of completion from the school, but that really does not mean anything with respect to your apprenticeship requirements.
7. Pristine Labs
Do the labs look too good to be true? If so, they probably are. Many vocational schools will stage classrooms and workspaces for tours. While it may look like you will have everything you need, the truth may be different. Ask to speak with students in the middle of the program. See what they think about the coursework, what they are learning, and if there are enough opportunities available to get real hands-on experience.
8. Inexperienced Instructors
While the instructor may sound like he knows what he’s talking about, there is a chance he only has enough experience to teach the class adequately. Program instruction requirements may only ask for a few years of hands-on work. When it takes nearly 10,000 hours to get to journeyman licensing, you don’t want to learn from someone who may not even have that. Ask for credentials and make sure the instructors are master electricians.
9. The School’s Tools are Required
If you have to purchase tools from the school, there is a chance those tools are subpar. Some schools make money marking up tools and selling them to students. A high quality set likely costs the same — or less. It is worth making sure you can bring your own tools to class.
10. The Program Paints with a Broad Brush
This is another way of saying program coursework tries to cover everything under the sun. While it is true that there are many opportunities for electricians, it is also true that most electricians focus on one specific skill. In other words, a program with broad coursework won’t adequately prepare you for apprenticeship. Rather than learn a little bit about many work environments, hone in on the area in which you hope to build a career and focus on that.
Other Avenues of Education
Not every future electrician will choose a school to gain their classroom and lab-based technical training requirements. Others may choose one of two professional options.
One option is a union apprenticeship. Union apprenticeships are available through the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees, a collaboration of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. Interested students can find JATC locations offices in every state and nearly every major metropolitan area.
The JATC places students with union employers. Students work toward their journeyman requirements with the employer while, typically, completing their coursework and labs at the local JATC office. Students who opt for this option must join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Another option is a non-union apprenticeship. Industry professionals call the companies that provide these avenues to journeyman status open shops or merit shops. Choosing a merit shop for your apprenticeship means forgoing some benefits of union membership, including collective bargaining. On the other hand, you will not pay union dues. It is best to do some research to determine which apprenticeship is better for you.
If you choose a non-union apprenticeship, there are two organizations that will help you find a placement, Independent Electrical Contractors and Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. Both have offices in most states and larger cities.
Preparing for the Journeyman Exam
The goal of both classroom work and apprenticeship is to prepare every future electrician for their journeyman exam. The exam often takes more than four hours to complete, comprising a test with hundreds of questions. It can be daunting, even for an apprentice who has completed all work necessary. Thankfully, help is available for those who need it.
Aspiring electricians should start by visiting the official site of the National Fire Protection Association. There you can purchase and download the most up-to-date version of the National Electrical Code, the basis for much of the journeyman exam.
An online search reveals numerous workbooks and preparatory exams. Prices range from $30 to $300 for these products, so do your research before spending too much — or too little. You may opt instead for a preparatory class taught by experienced master electricians. Several popular courses are available. Many take place over five days or 40 hours.
With a little research and a focus on the discipline you want to study, you can find the right electrician school for you. Remember, too, that becoming a master electrician requires dedication and commitment.
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