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

11 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
      • this is encouraging as I am looking for a first year apprenticeship to support myself, three children and husband as he completes his masters degree

        Reply
        • Keep in mind that first-year apprentice wages are a fraction of what journeyman wages would be. It might be difficult supporting a family depending on the cost of living in your location. You will need to weigh the pros and cons.

          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. Hi, I went for a career change from working with cars to qualified electrician did my part P, Domestic instillation and 18th edition wiring and re-wiring but now I want to gain experience and no one is willing to train me for experience which has really put in a catch 22 situation. From UK can you give me any advice please? Sami

    Reply
    • Hey Sami – I’m not familiar with the electrician programs and laws in the UK, unfortunately. My best advice would be to talk to someone experienced in the trade that is at the level you wish to attain. Hopefully, they can give you the information you are looking for.

      Reply
  5. Hi, I was wondering if you could give me a suggestion or some insight. I have no prior knowledge or experience in electrical work but have always thought about getting into an electrician apprenticeship at the paper mill I work at. But, My mill here in Michigan is closing the doors in the next few months so I’m considering it now more than ever maybe through the Union electricians. With me not having any prior electrical experience, would I still Be considered for an apprenticeship? And does an apprenticeship start the first year with basic electrical knowledge that one with no prior knowledge would be able to follow along? The most electrical work I’ve done is switching out light fixtures and light switches and plugs. Any advice?

    Reply
    • The good news is that electrician apprenticeships are designed for those with no experience so you shouldn’t have a problem getting into or learning step-by-step as you go along. IBEW can be more competitive and somewhat more difficult to get into, but Michigan needs electricians. That will work in your favor. I once took a trolley? ride near Muskegon that passed a paper mill. Very interesting and enjoyable. I wish you the best. I’m sure you’ll do well.

      Reply

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