Employment Trends

Your guide on how to become an electrician

Written by Michael Hoon

There will always be a need for tradespeople who work with wiring, machines, and other electrical equipment. Electricians keep us powered up, and they possess specialized skills to do work that could be dangerous in the hands of an amateur. If you are considering joining the ranks of these essential professionals, there are several things you need to know about becoming an electrician.

What do electricians do?

This seems like a no-brainer: electricians work with electrical equipment. That job description is both accurate and completely inadequate because the term “electrical equipment” includes so much and the work is so varied. Electricians perform repairs, installations, and maintenance. We are probably most used to having electricians visit our homes to install new outlets or repair faulty wiring, but they also perform their work in factories, construction sites, shops, and businesses. They work indoors and out, and the equipment on which they work stretches well beyond household appliances and wiring. Electricians may also decide to specialize in wiring airplanes, ships, cable and data systems.

As for the less-specialized electrician, there are four common types:

  • Residential wiremen, who install and repair household wiring.
  • Inside wiremen, who install and repair wiring in non-residential structures, such as factories, arenas, airports, schools, and office buildings.
  • Outside linemen, who lay the cables that connect power plants to residences and buildings.
  • Telecommunications electricians, who install television, telephone, and Internet cables.

What skills do electricians have?

Electricians do a lot more than connecting cables from one power source to another. They possess a large quantity of skills, both general and specific to their particular areas of specialization.

General skills include:

  • Understanding the National Electric Code, which is the regional standard for electrical safety requirements
  • Problem solving
  • Electrical safety
  • Working with tools such as amp meters, digital multimeters, pliers, measuring devices, drills, saws, etc.
  • Reading blueprints
  • Plotting the installation of wiring throughout buildings
  • Locating and replacing faulty wires
  • Working with circuit breakers and fuses
  • Locating the energy flow to transformers and circuit breakers
  • Assessing the work of other electricians
  • Ensuring that electrical work is up to safety standards
  • Managing electrical crews
  • Mentoring apprentices

More specialized skills may include installing factory equipment, fiber optic cable, alarm systems, and intercom systems.

What education do electricians need?

Electrical work is not the kind of thing you need a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s degree to do. You will, however, need a high school diploma or GED. That’s because electricians need a solid foundation in reading comprehension, algebra, physics, trigonometry, and ideally, electronics. Shop and mechanical drawing classes can also be very relevant to the kind of work electricians perform, though these courses are not offered by all high schools. Therefore, it might be useful to seek out extracurricular courses in these areas. They will help you to work with the equipment, understand the technical documents, and comprehend the scientific concepts involved in electrical work.

What training do electricians need?

While electricians are not expected to earn higher education degrees, they are expected to undergo formal training and earn licenses. This begins with a pre-apprenticeship training program. Such programs are often offered at trade and vocational schools. Although it is possible to find work as an apprentice without having already gone through a pre-apprenticeship program, such a program will make learning a lot easier.

Following the pre-apprenticeship program, you will apply for an apprenticeship. The earlier you apply the better, because there will likely be a lot of candidates vying for available apprenticeships.

As an apprentice, the goal is to learn the skills you need on the job—acting under high-pressure circumstances, trying to perform a service for a customer, and making your supervisor happy. In a pre-apprenticeship program, there’s more room to make the kinds of mistakes that all new students make. You would also get plenty of hands on training in the classroom and a firm understanding of the National Electric Code.

There are several organizations that offer apprenticeships:

  • The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • Independent Electrical Contractors
  • The National Electrical Contractors Association
  • The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee

When you apply for an apprenticeship, you may have to take an aptitude test that examines your basic reading comprehension, arithmetic, and algebra skills. Certain states have other requirements, such as becoming registered, that may include paying a fee.

While apprenticing, you get on-the-job training from a licensed electrician and an hourly salary for your work. You usually start out performing simple tasks, but these will get more and more complex as your training continues.

What certification do electricians need?

Once you have completed your apprenticeship, you will need to earn a license and/or certification depending on the state in which you plan to work. Each state has its own requirements. For example, some states only require licenses if you plan to start your own business, while others do not require licenses at all. In states that do require licenses, you will earn yours by passing an exam. The exam tests your knowledge of such concepts as how electricity works, job safety, regional laws, and the National Electric Code. Most states require some formal education and practical electrical training.

How much do electricians earn?

Electricians’ salaries can vary greatly, depending on factors like location, years of experience, and the specific company salary structure. On average, an electrician earns $25 per hour—about $13 per hour at the lower end of the scale and $35 per hour at the upper end. However, taking overtime, bonuses, tips, and profit sharing into account, the average annual salary is $52,720 and an electrician can earn as much as $82k per year. According to PayScale.com, two-thirds of electricians working in the United States also receive medical coverage.

How is the job market for electricians?

Short answer: great! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the electrical industry is a fast growing one. With a 14% increase in jobs projected from 2014 to 2024, growth is happening much faster than it is in most other fields. This is due to a burst in construction of new homes and buildings. All of those structures need new wiring, and if you earn your electrician certification, that will be where you come in!

About the author

Michael Hoon