How I Survived my First Year as an Electrician Apprentice

While my first year as an electrician apprentice won’t be your experience, I did find out quickly that apprentice live at the bottom.

If you feel like you have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, you’re not alone. Apprentices are known to bear the brunt of menial tasks and going through a trial be fire.

What is it Like to Be an Apprentice Electrician?

Read through my story and you’ll gain valuable insight into what to do – and what NOT to do as a first-year electrician apprentice.

First year electrician apprentice
I’m thinking I had this look on my face a lot that first year.

I was fortunate to begin my first days as an apprentice working for my dad. He had just finished 30 years working for Detroit Edison, our local utility provider. His love of the electrical field being so strong, he started his own electrical contracting company straight out of retirement.

I came on board as his protege. Eventually, I would earn my journeyman’s license, but that would be several years later. Reading the steps to become a licensed electrician is a good place to start your own journey.

Beginning his business literally from nothing, we worked out of a spare bedroom in his home. He had a Ford Explorer that was packed front to back with tools. One of my first tasks was to learn how everything could fit in that thing – and still have room for the two of us!

One fact for which I am truly thankful, my dad was (and is) a patient and kind man.

A superb teacher, Dad is nothing like a stereotypical “job boss” who berates and belittles the new guy and screams up a storm when he screws up. I have tried to remember that as I am now the teacher.

I never felt afraid or foolish to ask any kind of question – no matter how stupid.

And I had a lot of questions!

Why must it be done that way? What difference does that make? What is an amp anyway? I felt no pressure to feel knowledgable so I was free to ask.

I was also free to make mistakes. A lot of them.

Apprentices Make Mistakes

Since an apprentice learns by on-the-job training (OJT), it stands to reason that mistakes are going to happen.

1 A common gaffe is attempting to economize on wire by running just enough so as to not have waste. I soon learned that if you’re not throwing away a little wire you’re asking for trouble. Coming up a little short costs much time and hassle – not to mention the wire you were trying to save in the first place. My dad liked to say, “wire is cheaper than time”. He is correct.

ProTip

Wire is cheaper than time. Don’t try to economize by running just enough so as not to have waste.

2. I learned (the hard way) to know where the exit is before entering. To put it differently, never dismantle something without taking note of how it goes back together.

I once yanked apart about a dozen circuits in the basement of a very old house. Then I realized the wires were not colored black and white. They were all shades of gray. Many hours were spent working that out.

3. Similarly, if the plan is to take apart someone’s electrical service, make sure time and material are available to put it back together. Some tasks must be completed today, right? You can’t say to a homeowner, “Well, it’s quitten’ time. We’ll be back on Monday to get that power back on!”

4. Another barrel of fun is failing to run a circuit to all locations when roughing a new house. It’s only much later you find something that doesn’t work. Get the picture?

Newbie Apprentices: Quick & Dirty Tips

Mistakes happen but they are far easier to correct before the drywall is installed. In other words, do everything carefully.

First Year Electrician Apprentiice

QUICK & DIlTY TIPS FOR NEW ELECTRICIAN APPRENTICES

1. Drilling through a floor joist? Check both sides.

2. Tools are not cheap. Treat them well.

3. Show confidence.
People hire us because they don’t want to mess around with electricity. They are already jittery. Many see electricity as some dark force in their home just waiting to kill. What they don’t need is for their electrician to seem intimidated, frustrated, or worse yet – confused. Always appear to be in total control and completely unfazed.

4. Watch what comes out of your mouth.
If you’re having a bad day, leave it in the truck. As far as a customer is concerned, theirs is the best wired house you’ve seen.

My Very Stupid Mistake:
A home was wired incorrectly and I just had to remark, “I’m surprised this place hasn’t burned down by now.”

Stupid thing to say. Firstly, I was in no way qualified to make such a statement. Secondly, even if I was right, there was no point speaking that out and causing stress. Years later she was still concerned about her house.


4. Again, watch your mouth!
Inspectors. You’ll have your share of moments with them. For the most part be quiet and listen. It’s the foreman they will speak to if anyone. What your boss knows (and what you’ll discover about inspectors), the less you say the better. Let them do their job. Speak when spoken to.

5. Respect Others’ property.
Respect people’s home and their stuff. I have seen an apprentice walk into a house, look around and say, “These people are loaded”. Yup! That mouth again.

6. Be the driver of your career.
No one cares as much about you as you. With this mind, increase your skills as quickly as possible.

That foreman may be a tool – but he’s a tool that knows more than you. Watch him. Talk to him. Ask questions. And I mean good questions. Don’t be satisfied with knowing what to do next. Learn why! Be an informed and intelligent electrician.

What Should I Know as A First Year Electrician Apprentice?

One of the first things you’ll want to know as a first-year electrician apprentice is how to avoid some of the mistakes I mentioned above.

If you’re looking for some solid, down-to-earth advice, keep reading!

If you’re looking for straight classroom training logistics, check out these apprenticeship guides. They include the topics covered each year of their individual apprenticeship.

Remodel Work: A Great Teacher for Electrician Apprentices

I remember a very early project in Detroit. It was an old and run-down, but a quite large house. Someone had bought it for a song and was renovating it for new tenants. It was a messy, dirty affair, but a paying job – and a very good experience for me.

The challenge of remodeling work is adding new things to old things, and making them work together. You must be able to understand what you see, and don’t see.

How was this place wired?

Where does the circuit begin and end?

Why do only half the plugs work in this room?

Jobs like that are a great learning experience. I still say the best teacher in electrical work is tracking down and fixing a problem.

ProTip

I still say the best teacher in electrical work is tracking down and fixing a problem.

Of course, working on older homes is no picnic. You’re going to face stuff like:

  • Cutting into plaster to install boxes
  • Fishing wire through walls
  • Working in attics during the heat of summer with nasty insulation
  • Belly crawling under houses – where you’re hoping you’re the only living thing down there.

But I survived. I survived because I loved learning new things on a daily basis, loved my boss, and was committed to being the best electrician I could possibly be.

An apprentice electrician is going to need tools for all these jobs. You can check out my recommendations on tools for a first-year apprentice and up.

Electrician Apprentice Job Description

Electrician apprenticeship IEC
Apprentices at IEC Rocky Mountain, Colorado

ELECTRICIAN APPRENTICE JOB DESCRIPTION

1 Assist and support your Supervisor in every way imaginable.

This means whatever is needed at the moment. You will unload stuff in the morning and pack it back up at the end of the day. You will hand tools and materials to others. If someone needs anything, you are the guy/gal running to the truck to get it.

And that truck? It gets dirty. Guess who’s going to clean it.

Sweeping floors, digging trenches, crawling through attics and under houses – if it’s crap work, you’re the one doing it.

Don’t feel bad. This is how you earn your stripes.

Remember Karate Kid? Miaggi had the Kid doing all sorts of chores that benefited the teacher. It wasn’t until later the Kid discovered he was gaining skills the whole time.

Stay positive and do your time in the trenches. It won’t be forever.

2. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Employers greatly value (and notice) initiative; someone whose head is in the game.

Don’t wait for someone to give you a task. Look for ways to be useful. Find something that needs to be done (there’s always something) and jump on it.

Find something to do or ask the boss, “What next?”. If the job is being discussed, listen in and see what you can pick up.

If you don’t want to be sweeping up job sites forever, make it your business to increase your skills. Which brings me to the next point.

3. Learn and keep learning.

It’s simply not possible to pick up everything you need to know while in the classroom. Pay attention and ask questions. Try new things and volunteer for the tough jobs. Get as much experience as fast as you can.

Ask the Electrical Guy

I welcome all comments and questions. I have worked over 2 decades as an electrician, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

Steven John

37 thoughts on “How I Survived my First Year as an Electrician Apprentice”

  1. Thanks for this. I’m a 6 day old Electrical Apprentice in FL- I’ve been trying to find everything I can about how to improve my understanding of what this field is, so I can help and ultimately take the helm.
    Thanks again.

    Reply
  2. As your first few years as an apprentice began, were you able to support yourself with your wages? My apprenticeship is starting soon and I was just wondering.

    -Brian Thompson

    Reply
    • Thanks for reaching out, Brian. Personally, I was able to support my family in my first years as an apprentice. We were a family of 5 at the time which included me, my wife, and three young children. I also have to credit my wife for her savvy shopping skills and knowing how to find a bargain. It will, of course, depend on the cost of living in your area and your spending habits. We rarely ate out, and didn’t spend a lot on entertainment for example. (I firmly believe in the financial advice at daveramsey.com.) You can check out my page on the electrician’s salary This might help you see what types of wages to expect now and in the future for different locales. Please feel free to reach out again if you have more questions.

      Reply
      • Steve, I found this page while trying to find advice for families of apprentices.
        I am a wife of a man who is very interested in starting a lineman apprenticeship. We have a family and I’m looking for advice out there for apprentices with families. My understanding is that traveling away from home for extended times is part of the training no matter what, yes?

        Reply
  3. It’s good to learn that remodeling work is a great teacher for an electrical apprentice. My brother is wanting to become an electrician and he was wondering what work he can do to prepare for his career. I’ll be sure to tell him that he should consider doing remodel work before becoming an electrician.

    Reply
  4. Thank You Steve for the info.

    I am all new to this industry and looking forwards to start my apprenticeship in 2021. I am just wondering what type/major of electrical sector/job has the best and rewarding future?

    Reply
    • Thanks for your question. This is a tough one to answer because it will depend on your own interests. The location of the country you are in will also make a difference. Once you progress in your apprenticeship, I believe the answers will become more clear. Talk to the journeymen, supervisors, and your class teachers as they should have a pretty good grip on the job market in your local area.

      Reply
    • I’m a lineman for at&t…been so for 15 years. I am looking at becoming an electrician for my next career, but to become a journeyman will require at least 2-4 years of experience. If I’m able to complete the time that is required for me to retire at at&t, that will put me at 50 years old. Kind of late to be starting a new career as an electrician. But, it’s what I believe I need to do; and, I want to be able to do the work on my schedule and in the arena where I can provide the most help to those in need. What recommendations would you give for me at this point? Should I look for opportunities to do on saturdays? Does any of my time as a lineman count towards the hours I would need as an electrician?

      Reply
  5. I want to start my apprenticeship but unfortunately have no work experience in the trade, I completed a 1 year pre apprentice college course so I have basic knowledge and hands- on experience in basic situations but no hours on the job. Do you have any advice for starting my apprenticeship when I have no electrical background on my resume?

    Reply
    • You are actually in a good position to begin as an apprentice. Everyone has to start on the bottom rung with no job experience. You most likely know more than most since you completed a 1-year course. Good work! If you know which 4-year apprenticeship program you would like to join, you could ask the school if they know of any companies hiring first-year apprentices. You could also stop in at local electrical companies with your resume and ask if they are hiring first-year apprentices. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Hi Steve – my son is an (A1) audio engineer working freelance for a major TV network based in NYC. He lives in south central Pennsylvania, however, and travels to assignments provided by the network. He attended a 2-year technical school for audio engineering and has worked in that field now for close to 20 years. Problem is he has a very young family (3 kids) and a wife with a career. He’s like to develop a new career path, one that may keep him closer to home with a regular paycheck. We’ve discussed an electrical apprenticeship but he’s concerned that, with a young family and a working wife, it would be too difficult. I’m biased, of course, but this guy has the skills and work ethic to be a very good journeyman down the road. Your advice? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Bill – An apprenticeship can be a busy time, but doable depending on personality and family dynamics. An apprentice will normally work at least 40 hours a week and attend classroom training 2 nights a week. The work can be physically demanding at times – especially if the work is outdoors in the elements. Keep in mind that depending on the employer there could be occasional overtime depending on time restraints for a particular job. IBEW typically pays better, but again depending on the location, travel may be involved. You would have to contact your local training center to get a better idea of that aspect. Non-union apprenticeships that may be in the area are IEC (Independent Electrical Contractors) and ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors). I’m sorry I really can’t give more detailed advice because it’s dependent on so many variables. But I always believe that the more info you have the better it is to make a good decision. Therefore, I would look into his local apprenticeship opportunities and make some phone calls if necessary. This way you get the most relevant information for his exact area. I can only speak in generalities. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  7. I’ve been doing this for over two years almost 3. I just completed one a or so I thought. I never did well in school Utah has some crazy high restrictions in regards to their exams. I filled the one a competency test for the state of Utah by one question. According to the law you can take the test twice before having to retake the class but I was only allowed one opportunity to take the test. How would you go about requesting a second chance to take the test?

    Reply
    • Hi Nate – I’m not familiar with the law in Utah. You should be able to find an email address and/or phone number online. I would just respectfully ask if you can retake the test as stated in the law. If not, ask them what you are not understanding correctly.

      Reply
  8. hi steve, this article was very inspiring, ive actullay know i wanted to be an electrician since i was about 11, im 16 now but i am kind of concerned, i have bare bottom experience, the biggest thing i know how to do so im contemplating switching my career over to something else if i can gain experience in being an electrician, im very nervous, i hope you could help me out.

    Thanks,
    Zane

    Reply
    • Hi Zane – Sounds like you’ve been interested in this career for quite a while. I’m assuming you are in High School given your age. Check out apprenticeships in your area. Most times they require you to be 18 years old with a high school diploma, but you can get a headstart knowing what’s in your area and the requirements. You could also talk to the directors of the program about what to expect. Given your interest, you should do very well. I know you may be nervous to start something new. Pretty much everyone goes through that so you’re not alone by any means. I think you’ll do well!

      Reply
  9. Hi,

    I have an opportunity to begin my apprenticeship as a solar installer in Massachusetts. Will this be beneficial to do until it’s time to take my journeyman’s test, or should I concentrate on more residential work?

    Reply
    • I believe solar installers will become more and more in demand so I don’t see a downside to getting experience in this area. But, I guess it ultimately depends on which area you want to focus on as a career.

      Reply
  10. Hello! I’m currently attending trade school for an electrical program. I’ll be done in May, but I honestly don’t feel like I know anything. I have an interview next week for a company that does residential work. I would eventually like to do commercial, but I want this job. I guess I would like to know what I should study before the interview? And how do I track my hours so that I can become licensed myself? Thank you so much for all this info!!

    Reply
    • You’ll learn the most by hands-on training, so don’t worry. Regarding the interview, the best impression is to show up early and show your enthusiasm for the job and the electrical trade. Do some research on the company and share what you know about them and how YOU can help them in their mission. I don’t know where you are located and the laws for the jurisdiction, but most likely the company will have a timesheet to help you keep track of your hours. Good Luck!

      Reply
  11. Thank you for this read. I’m attempting to transition into an apprenticeship in NYC. I’ve worked in quite a few industries but after many career tests and much research, im hoping to start my Electrician’s journey ASAP. I’m taking my OSHA 30 right now and getting my 10 hr site safety training(for nyc). Any tips on how i can get in the door somewhere to get this moving? I’m chomping at the bits and hope you might have a few tips.

    Reply
  12. Hi Steve,

    Great article. I can confirm, even with just 2 years experience and half as an apprentice on what you have said to be bang on.

    My question for you is what would you recommend to an apprentice who works for a small company where questions are discouraged and expectations/communicate is poorly executed and they are not well organized in general.

    This is where I am at and I feel like being an apprentice is stressful enough if you care about what you are doing, but I’m trying to figure out if I should stick it out or look elsewhere.

    Thanks so such!

    Reply
    • I’m sorry to hear you’re having a difficult time. As an apprentice, you need an environment that is instructive. Any shop that is running an apprentice program should understand this. You need to be able to ask questions and get answers, which is the whole point of on-the-job training. Perhaps you have a supervisor who is task-oriented and not a very good teacher. Could you voice your concerns to your boss or however far up the chain you need to go? If not, then you might need to start looking around. Best of luck to you!

      Reply
  13. Hello Steve,

    Great article – lots of valuable information. I just obtained my red seal journeyman ticket in carpentry up here in Alberta, Canada and a lot of what you said rings true for my experiences. I’ve spent my apprenticeship building houses and I’m planning to get started in an electrical apprenticeship with hopes to continue my growth in the residential construction sector. I’m having a difficult time, however, getting my foot in the door, so to speak. You’ve mentioned that getting involved in renovations is a good starting point. I’m wondering if a renovation company would be eligible to sponsor me as an electrician or if I would need to be hired by an electrical company specifically in order to attend trade school as an electrician. The other option would be to take a pre-apprenticeship training program. Which do you think would be more desirable to dedicated electrical companies in terms of taking me on as an apprentice? Thanks for your time and take care
    Craig

    Reply
  14. This may seem silly, but its a rumor I was hoping to get input on. I have a college degree, but am seeking a career change. I’ve been told that having a degree would actually work against me during the apprenticeship application process. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • In my opinion, it wouldn’t hurt you in most places. There might be some people that may think you’re “over-qualified” and/or won’t be satisfied as an apprentice. But if you’re able to explain why you’re interested in becoming an electrician, I see no reason that a college degree would harm you. The trades are hurting for good people.

      Reply

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