What does an electrician do?

Electricians are one of the many construction trade crafts, working alongside plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC technicians in installing and maintaining buildings. Electricians build and maintain electrical systems for residential, commercial, and industrial installations. The electrical trade itself is extremely vast and even people with 20+ years in the trade haven’t seen it all. Some common examples of tasks you may find yourself doing as an electrician include;

  • Wiring and installing outlets
  • Installing lighting fixtures
  • Establishing temporary power for construction job sites
  • Upgrading a residential electrical panel
  • Working on start-stop relays in an industrial factory
  • Installing parking lot light poles
  • Digging a trench and installing underground PVC conduit for a school
  • Laying down and wiring solar panels on a neighbors roof

Brief history of electrical classifications

When electric power first started hitting the market back in 1880’s, electricians did it all. They ran the power lines and installed the lamps. They installed the lamps and ran the power lines. They… okay. Maybe there wasn’t a ton of variety back then. But electric powered lamps were cool, and they knew it. As the electrical trade has grown and technology advanced over the past couple centuries, it has also fractured into separate classifications depending on the voltage you work with. 

Low Voltage Technicians

Commonly referred to as low voltage electricians, low voltage technicians work with any system 50 volts and below. Examples are fire alarm, security, nurse call, and data / telecommunications. 

Electricians

Also commonly known in the trade as inside wiremen, electricians typically work with systems between 50 and 480 volts, although sometimes higher.  Inside wiremen provide power to everything from outlets, air conditioning units, lighting controls, electric car charging port, and more. Despite the name inside wiremen, they can do work outdoors, especially at the earlier stages of a job site. 

Lineman

Lineman typically work on systems of voltages 13,000 volts (13kv) or higher. They work on supply voltages to cities and buildings, from outside power lines to underground tunnels.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need any prior experience to become an electrician?

No! Apprenticeships are designed to teach you everything you need to know. Many electricians start out “green”, or with zero prior experience in the construction trades.

Am I too young / old to become an electrician?

Most electricians start out in the trade in their late 20’s or 30’s as a second career. However, it’s very common to see new apprentices of all ages, from fresh out of high school to even in their 50’s! No matter your age, you’ll fit right in.

Do I receive college credits for an apprenticeship program?

Most apprenticeship programs are affiliated with local community college and grant college credits or even associates degrees upon graduating!

What are the prerequisites to enrolling in an apprenticeship?
  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Completed Algebra I or higher
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Reliable Transportation
How long does it take to become a licensed electrician?

Most apprenticeship programs, and most states require 4-5 years of on the job training before you can qualify for your state license.

Are layoffs common in construction?

The construction industry is very cyclical in nature as jobs start and end. As jobs come to a close, layoffs are often around the corner. The flip side is that jobs are always starting up and with there being a shortage of electricians, finding work is no difficult task.

Electricians Salary

Journeyman Electrician’s Pay

The pay of a journeyman (licensed) electrician varies wildly depending on your location. If you are on the west coast, you can find $50-$80+/hour, while if you are in the south it may be closer to $25/hour. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electricians make an average of $27.36 an hour. As addressed in the FAQ, I believe this number to be low as it undoubtedly includes both apprentice and journeyman wages, bringing the average down. I have collected over 260 union locals pay scales and if you average out their base pay it comes out to $38.33 an hour.

Apprentice Electrician’s Pay

Apprentice wages start out roughly at 40-45% of a journeyman’s wage. Using the above metric, that puts the average starting pay of an apprentice at $15.32 an hour. However apprentices generally get guaranteed set pay raises every 6 months, so this number quickly goes up.

What can an electrician career advance into?

Once you have obtained your journeyman’s electrical license, the world becomes your oyster. While many electricians stay a journeyman for their entire career, making a very healthy wage and retirement, many others will advance on to other roles.

Foreman

An electrical foreman is a manager position in construction. Their duties include labor supervision, project planning and layout, ordering tools and material, and coordinating with the superintendent, general contractor, and safety manager.

Field Superintendent

Foreman often advance into a field superintendent role, whose duties becoming supervising multiple construction projects, scheduling and projecting manpower requirements, and acting as a liaison between the office and the field.

Estimator

Many electricians will later become estimators for their company, where they analyze blueprints through various methods to come up with cost proposals and bid on various projects.

Owner

Those with aspirations to start their own business will do so, and start their own electrical contracting firm. Working for yourself has its benefits, and the salary potential is essentially unlimited!

ELectrician schools; Trade Schools & Apprenticeships

Most states require 8000 hours on the job and classroom training to get your electrician’s license. For most electricians this means going through an approved apprenticeship or trade school.

What is the difference between an apprenticeship and a trade school?

An apprenticeship is a program that places you with electrical contractors to work and get experience on the job while completing classroom requirements. In this program you generally work a full 40 hours a week and either attend classes a couple times a week in the evening or full time a couple weeks a year. There are minimal costs to joining an apprenticeship (usually just the cost of books), and you earn a set wage with guaranteed pay raises every semester.

A trade school is a program that teaches you how to become an electrician in a classroom setting. You generally do not work for a contractor, and you pay for these classes. Trade schools will cover all the learning material needed to pass the state license exam, and some will include coursework covering more hands on applications, like conduit bending or wiring up electrical panels.

Cost for tuition in a trade school also varies wildly, with some community college programs being a few hundred dollars a semester, to private programs charging thousands or tens of thousands. Because of the tuition cost of trade schools, and the huge opportunity cost of not getting actual work experience and income, it’s strongly recommended to apply to all apprenticeship programs near you.

The top three electrical apprenticeships

Electrical Training Alliance
(ETA)

Electrical Training Alliance

Website

Location: 250+ training centers over the US and Canada. All 50 states

Union: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

Benefits: Full medical, minimum two pensions, union benefits. Vacation pay varies by location.

Program Length: 5 years

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)

Associated Builders and Contractors

Website

Location: 96 training centers over most US states

Union: No

Benefits: Full medical. Retirement and vacation benefits vary by location.

Program Length: 4 years

Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC)

Independent Electrical Contractors

Website

Location: 52 training centers over most US states

Union: No

Benefits: Full medical. Retirement and vacation benefits vary by location.

Program Length: 4 years

Find electrical apprenticeships

To find the closest electrical apprenticeship near you, click the button below to be directed to a map with every single ETA, ABC, and IEC location in the United States.

Find electrical trade schools

If you by chance do not live close enough to any apprenticeship programs, or they are too competitive to get into, you can look for trade schools in your area. I would recommend first looking into any local community college, as many have electrical programs that will help get you started in the trade. Community college programs will help keep the cost down, as many private institutions will charge enough that you will have to take out student loans to even attend. At this point in time I do not have a map of trade schools, so you will have to do some self research.

If you do join a trade school instead of an apprenticeship program, you will want to try to find work right away. See if the trade school can connect you to electrical contractors. If not, start searching on craigslist or other websites to find companies hiring new electrical helpers. Every state requires a certain amount of on the job hours, and you want to be working towards filling that quota right away. It’s also important to make sure you are on track to get your electrical license in your state or municipality. You can view a list of requirements to test for your state license below.

How to apply to an apprenticeship program

Veterans

If you are a veteran, active duty military or reserves, make sure to check out our veteran’s page for resources!

Step 1: Select the apprenticeship(s) you want to apply to.

The three major ones are the IBEW, ABC, and IEC. Chances are there are at least one in your area, and you should try to stick with one of these are the are all nationally recognized. There are other apprenticeship programs out there that may be available in your city as well, I just don’t list them as they usually only serve a specific state or city. If you decide to apply to them, make sure they offer good benefits and are not trade schools masquerading as an apprenticeship. 

For all IBEW applicants, please refer to this step by step guide instead, as it gives more specific instructions tailored to the union apprenticeship.

Step 2: Find out where to submit your application.

Unfortunately, none of the major apprenticeships have a central website where you can apply. You will have to search for a local chapter near you, and find out how their application process works. If they do not have a form on their website, call in. Some apprenticeships only take applications during a specific month or time frame, and it’s important to identify when that is. 

Step 3: Gather your paperwork.

Once you have found the proper channel to apply, find out the prerequisites and start gathering paperwork. Most apprenticeships will require;

  • A GED or high school diploma
  • Official transcripts showing a completed Algebra I class or higher.
  •  A clean drivers license and reliable transportation
  •  Form of ID to prove your citizenship, either a birth certificate or passport. 

If you do not have the required math prerequisites, call the apprenticeship center. Many will offer or direct you to an online class you can take to fulfill this requirement. For applicants of the IBEW, you can take the Online Tech Math course as a substitute for Algebra I.

I would also start the process of obtaining official transcripts as soon as possible if you do not already have them, as the process for some schools can take a few weeks

Step 4: Touch up your resume!

It’s time to make your resume ready to submit if the apprenticeship asks for one.

Step 5: Once you have all your paperwork put together, submit your application! 

Double check that all your paperwork is correct and not missing anything they require. You don’t want to accidently leave something out and miss this round of hiring!

Step 6: Prepare for and take the aptitude test.

Each apprenticeship program requires you to take an aptitude test. Passing is mandatory to get in, and your test score combined with your interview score will determine your placement for enrollment in the apprenticeship.

Electrical Training alliance

Test: NJATC Aptitude Test

Test Details: 69 questions; 33 Algebra I, 36 reading comprehension. 96 Minutes total to complete, split into two sections.

Study Material: Complete list on this page

Associated Builders and Contractors

Test: TABE Test

Test Details: 195 Questions divided into four sections; Reading, Language, Math Computation, and Applied math.

Study Material: TABE Secrets Study Guide

Independent Electrical Contractors

Test: In-House Basic Math Test

Test Details: Tests vary by location. Ask the training center for details.

Study Material: Khan Academy Algebra

Step 7: Schedule your oral interview!

After your aptitude test, it’s time to schedule and prepare for your interview. You will want to make sure you enter this well prepared, so be read up on apprenticeship interview tips!

Step 8: Sit back, relax, and await your answer!

Now that you’ve submitted all your paperwork, done your aptitude test, and interviewed, the only thing that’s left is to wait until you hear back from the apprenticeship office! In the meantime, prepare yourself for entering the trade by gathering the required tools and familiarizing yourself with the material you will begin to see on the job site.  

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