How to Become an Electrician: Complete 5 Step Guide
Let's be honest!
Starting a new career can be confusing at times, and perhaps a bit scary.
We are going to show you everything you need to know about how to become an electrician in our huge guide.
Keep reading for details about:
What is the Electrician Salary and Wages?
If you have asked, "What can I make as an electrician?", I think you're gonna like the answer!
Not only does the electrician enjoy steady and satisfying work - the electrician salary and wages are the highest paid of the skilled trades due to the technical knowledge and diverse skills that are required to perform a broad range of tasks. This is good news when learning how to become an electrician.
Keep in mind that electricians are typically paid an hourly wage as opposed to a yearly salary. An electrician apprentice usually starts at a percentage of the prevailing wage which increases incrementally as they gain experience.
Not to mention the job outlook for this field is expected to grow by 14% from 2014 to 2024 according to the United States Department of Labor! That is double the average of all occupations.
Employers are reporting that it is difficult to find qualified electricians, so the job outlook is very good.
Interestingly, about 1 in 10 electricians were self-employed in 2014. Self-employed electricians often work in residential construction and may have the ability to set their own schedule. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Electricians, on the Internet at www.bls.gov.
Electrician's Salary Compared to other Trades - Entry Level
From entry-level through late-career, the pay of an electrician is typically higher than other careers. (During mid-career, plumbers are slightly higher.)
Compare the yearly salary of an entry-level electrician with a plumber, welder and HVAC Tech:
Electrician's Salary Compared to other Trades - Late Career
Stick around in just about any profession and it pays off. Employers need workers with extensive knowledge and experience. You can see in the chart below that a late-career electrician earns more than those in other trades.
Apprentice Electrician Wages
The starting wage for an apprentice is typically 40% of a fully trained electrician's wage. Your pay should increase along with your skills and value to your employer.
Electricians in manufacturing and power generation and transmission usually have higher wages than those in construction.
Almost all electricians work full time, which may include evenings and weekends. Of course, work schedules can change during bad weather or unpredictable delays. On the other hand, during scheduled maintenance or on construction sites with a looming deadline, you can expect to work overtime.
Want the full scoop on the electrician's salary? We spill the beans in the Electrician's Salary and Wage Guide.
Now we come to our 5 steps about:
How to Become an Electrician
We've divided our guide about how to become an electrician into 5 easy to understand steps.
I think that once you've finished reading, you will feel confident to get started in a career as an electrician.
Now, let's get started!
Step One: Consider the Job Description of an Electrician
It can be a challenge deciding on a vocation. Without a clear picture of what you're getting yourself into, you may feel unsettled or indecisive.
The first step in learning how to become an electrician is to make sure you understand what the job entails. With this in mind, take an in-depth look into the electrician job description. It will help reveal whether or not a career in the electrical field is a good fit for you.
Do I have the skills and abilities electricians need?
Let's kick off with simple abilities and personal likes/dislikes that can affect your contentment in the electrical trade.
Can you say YES to the following?
- have good eyesight and can see colors clearly
- don’t mind driving to many locations from day to day
- will be able to work in heat, cold, rain, or snow
- can grasp, manipulate or assemble very small objects
- don't mind heights and can work on a ladder or arial lift
- am comfortable in tight spaces such as attics or crawl spaces
- can lift and move heavy objects
- have a mechanical aptitude
- can work both independently and as part of a team
Working as an electrician requires a strong work ethic and positive attitude to be successful. The work can be hard with long days on your feet.
Because there's a risk of burns, cuts, electrical shocks, and falls from ladders or scaffolding, you will be required to comply with strict safety guidelines.
What does an electrician do all day?
Well - it depends! Nevertheless, you can be sure it will fall into one or more of these categories:
- Varied Work: The skills and duties can vary from day to day and from job site to job site. It is hard to get bored in this career. One day you may be on top of a building, the next under a house. Here digging a trench by hand, there running conduit through an attic. One moment helping a client decide between LED or florescent lights - next fixing a broken conduit in the middle of a parking lot. Today climbing 50 feet up scaffolding, tomorrow under a sink installing power to a disposer.
- Physically demanding tasks: There will be times you are up and down on a ladder or scaffolding. Oftentimes, a trench may need to be hand-dug to bring power to a home or office. The need for standing or kneeling for long stretches can be tiring as well.
- Wiring: A big part of the day will be connecting wires to circuit breakers, transformers, or other components. This is where your manual dexterity comes into play. But that's the easy part. Knowing what type, size and quantity of wire to use is the real trick.
- Being Social: You will be meeting a lot of people, including homeowners, entrepreneurs, and contractors. Many times, workers from other trades are all striving together to complete a project. Because of this, you will need good written and verbal communication skills.
- Detective Reasoning: You may need to identify defects and hazards, locate the cause of malfunctioning equipment systems, or just answer the question, “why is there no power in this room?” If you like a good mystery, then you will enjoy this kind of troubleshooting.
- Preparing and reading blueprints: These show you the location of wiring, equipment, outlets, fixtures and more. Using blueprints effectively will ensure that you meet building and safety codes.
- Using critical thinking skills: Logic and reasoning will be crucial in order to pinpoint the best way to approach a problem and implement a solution.
- Making Decisions: You will look at the costs and benefits of different options and choose the most appropriate one for a given situation.
Official Job Details of Electricians
Simply put, electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical systems for homes and buildings. Specific job details of electricians will, of course, vary depending on your employer.
What does that mean, really? Well, let's get to the nitty-gritty!
When it comes to AC power -whether it's power outlets, lighting, equipment, appliances, machines, overhead/underground service, inside or outside - electricians are involved.
Power is supplied to a structure by the local utility. It comes overhead or underground and typically ends up at a meter.
After that, practically everything falls under the purview of an electrical contractor. Everything from A to Z is installed, wired and tested by an electrician. I'm talking service feeder, panel(s), branch circuits, power outlets, lighting systems, and controls.
A day in the life of an electrician. Installing solar panels.
Electricians are responsible to make sure all is done correctly, safely, and to code. This means knowing the code.
You will learn to read schematics and blue prints (which are almost never blue) so that you can bid a job, purchase the right equipment, or just be up to speed on what goes where on a project.
Hungry for more? Read the job description of an electrician at the United States Department of Labor as well. They have done an excellent job of explaining this career choice.
Step Two: General Requirements to Become an Electrician
The second step to become an electrician is real short and sweet. Simply double-check that you meet the following general requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Hold a High School diploma or GED
- Possess general math and algebra skills
- Maintain good physical condition
- Have reliable transportation to school and to the job site
- Able to work independently as well as work as part of a team
Keep in mind that requirements may vary slightly from state to state or jurisdiction.
Step Three: Apply for Electrician Apprenticeship Training
Now we come to the nuts and bolts of learning how to become an electrician.
It's time to choose an electrician apprenticeship training program or trade school. More than anything, your apprenticeship is where you will learn the electrician trade and run with it.
An electrician apprentice works under direct supervision of a licensed electrician, while also taking approved classes. As a result, you will be able to get your hands dirty by applying what you learn in the classroom. We call this On-The-Job-Training (OJT).
A significant benefit is getting paid while you learn.
How Long Does it Take to Become an Electrician?
Each state has different requirements. Still, you can expect your apprenticeship to take a total of 4-5 years to become a licensed electrician. To clarify, that includes close to 8,000 hours of OJT and at least 288 hours in the classroom.
Be aware that you may need to spend a few weeks or even months finding an apprenticeship spot with a local company that is hiring. This varies with region.
Apprenticeships are the optimal way to train to become an electrician; you will be well-prepared to test for your journeyman’s license when completed.
Where Can I Become an Electrician Apprentice?
The most popular electrician apprenticeship programs are:
1. Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC)
2. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
3. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
My advice is to choose an electrician apprenticeship program that combines classroom study with actual hands-on learning as an apprentice.
Find one that best fits your needs and personality. Online or distance learning should be only a last resort.
We have prepared full guides for each of the top 3 apprenticeship programs.
Choose a number below to read more:
IEC Electrician Apprenticeship
ABC Electrician Apprenticeship
IBEW Electrician Apprenticeship
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Each guide lays out:
- Application Process
- Helpful Tips
Local contractors and local community colleges are also a good choice to become an electrician apprentice. You will receive great hands-on-training and well-rounded classroom training to prepare you for this high-demand field.
In fact, many community colleges work with local contractors, as well as, established national apprenticeship programs.
With the IEC apprenticeship for example, you may also earn 40 hours of college credit.
What is Merit Shop Philosophy vs. Union?
Be aware that each apprenticeship follows either an open or closed shop philosophy.
Merit Shop is a relatively new term that expresses a philosophy that awards work to the most qualified and lowest bidder regardless of labor affiliation. It encourages open competition and a free enterprise approach based on merit.
You may have heard the term, Open Shop, which is another word for Merit Shop. Merit Shop=Open Shop=Non-union
Want an extensive look into the Merit Shop philosophy? Visit abcmeritshopproud.org.
ABC Indiana/Kentucky stated it well: “Anyone in the industry should be evaluated, judged, awarded, and rewarded based on his or her merit. Owners should be able to select the most economical and best bidder regardless of that bidder’s status.
Learn the benefits of Merit Shop Philosophy
A Union Shop is divided into two types: Pre-entry closed shop and post-entry closed shop.
Pre-entry closed shop is simply called closed shop. It means that an employer will only hire union members and the employees must remain in the union.
Post-entry closed shop is commonly known as union shop in the U.S. In a union shop, all employees must join the union if they have not already done so. Those hired by the employer are required to be accepted as a member of the union.
Union shop = Closed Shop = Union
You can read more about union shops at Wikipedia.
Again, here are the links to our full apprenticeship guides.
Choose a number below to read more:
IEC Electrician Apprenticeship
ABC Electrician Apprenticeship
IBEW Electrician Apprenticeship
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Step Four: Study the National Electrical Code
The standard for electrical safety around the world is the National Electrical Code (NEC). Additions and updates are continually made to it. Studying the NEC is step four in knowing how to become an electrician.
Your exam for your Journeyman Electrician's license will test your knowledge of this code, and of electrical theory. The format and content may vary from state to state. You may also have questions about your own state's laws and regulations.
Even if you don't like to study (and who does, really?) there is just no getting around this one. This is a big step to the question, "How do I become an electrician?"
Study Tips to Pass the Journeyman's License Exam
Need some study tips centered around grasping the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Mastering the NEC codebook is the surefire ways to pass your electrician journeyman's exam.
Since people learn in different ways, it is important to find what works for you!
Some are visual learners, other's auditory or verbal, while still others may need hands-on involvement. You may prefer a quiet room, while others prefer music or background noise. Do whatever helps you to concentrate.
We won't cover general study and concentration tips, because plenty of resources already exist for those topics.
Let's delve into the best ways to study the National Electrical Code in order to pass the electrician's license exam.
Specific tips for Studying the NEC
- Start by getting your own copy of the most recent handbook of the NEC. You can get these in hardbound, softcover, spiral, or loose-leaf form.
- Learn how to navigate the NEC code book. Study how the chapters and sections are laid out. Master the Table of Contents and/or Index to quickly find the right code for a given scenario. There are tabs available to help, but some states restrict their use during the exam.
- Review a code a day with this calendar. It may not seem like much, but learning some code every day adds up.
- Use flash cards. Although you may find them boring, flash cards are an effective way to learn.
- View free video clips with instructions on the NEC.
- Take an exam prep course. The $$ invested will pay off. Mike Holt's program has helped many pass the exam. He is a gifted and interesting teacher with a well developed program.
- Study with a friend. You can benefit from new explanations and approaches. It helps you to stay committed knowing someone is depending on you.
- Practice with quizzes or simulated exams. I prefer these quizzes and tests by Mike Holt. You could also check out EC&M quizzes. Practice! And practice some more!
- During a simulated exam, it is useful to practice looking up information in the code book - even if you know the answer. This will help you familiarize yourself with the book.
The thing is, the exam is timed. If you don't know the material or where to quickly find it, you're sunk.
But, I have no doubt, that with proper preparation, you can pass the exam to become a Journeyman Electrician. Choose the study tips and resources that make the most sense for you.
I have compiled a list of some resources to make it easier for you.
Study Resources for NEC Journeyman's License Exam
Now, here's a little trick to help you organize all that data in your handbook and make it easier to find. It's an inexpensive tool I strongly suggest you purchase to save yourself a lot of headaches.
At this point you are now well informed about how to become an electrician. There is only one more step!
Step Five: Pass the Exam to Become a Licensed Electrician
You're in the homestretch of our guide, How to Become an Electrician. The final step is to pass the exam to become a licensed electrician.
Read on for valuable tips and exam strategies!
NEC Exam Prep Tips
You are a rare individual if you're not at least a little nervous on exam day. We're giving you NEC exam prep tips to make that day smoother.
So take a deep breath and realize that a normal level of stress can actually help you think faster and more effectively.
Make sure you know the testing guidelines for your state, and are fully prepared:
- Have your supplies ready early, including pencils and a calculator with fresh batteries. Don't wait for the day of the exam to gather your supplies.
- Eat a light meal before the test. Brain boosting food is a good choice. Know what to eat - and not to eat- before an exam.
- Water is key! Make sure you are well hydrated.
- Do you know where to go? Arrive early so you do not feel rushed, which can add additional stress.
- Bring your ID and confirmation papers.
NEC Test-Taking Strategies
Knowing the following test-taking strategies can be a huge help when taking the NEC exam.
Remember to pace yourself! The exam is timed. The last thing you want to do is spend too much time on only one question.
At the same time, you don't want to rush. Read the questions carefully. Even one word can change the substance of the question.
- Start by calmly going through the test and answering all the questions you know. Take about 30 seconds for each.
- Start over and work on the questions you have not yet answered. If you can't answer it within 1 minute, move on to the next.
- Go through your test one more time to answer any remaining questions. Do not leave a question unanswered. If you must, make an informed guess. Usually your first instinct is the correct one, so don't second guess yourself.
- Make sure to round your numbers if needed. Match the number of places as the exam answers. For example: If your answer is 1.13 (and your choices are 1.1, 1.2, and 1.4), the correct answer would be 1.1. You might also need to round to tens. If your answer is 42 (and your choices are 30, 40, 50), the correct answer would be 40.
- Make sure you leave enough time to transfer your answers to the answer key. It is imperative that you are extremely careful. You don't want to fail just because you transcribed wrongly.
If you follow the above NEC study and test-taking tips, you will have a good shot at passing your exam the first time.
If not, don't give up! It is not uncommon for electricians to have to take the test more than once. Each time will give you more experience and understanding of the process, and make it that much easier the next round.
If you have already passed your NEC exam, please Comment with your own test-taking tips to help others!
Final Thoughts on How to Become an Electrician
Now that you have the whole picture of how to become an electrician and an electrician apprentice, I hope you feel well-prepared to pursue a career in this fascinating field of electricity.
Remember, your first years as a licensed Journeyman electrician will be full of continued learning, and developing skills and knowledge.
Prove yourself a valuable employee and you will have plenty of opportunity to advance in the electrical trade. Check out The Electrician's Career Path for guidance.
I always welcome questions and comments.
Do you have some of your own tips on how to become an electrician? A funny experience as an electrician apprentice? Helpful NEC exam tips? Let's help each other out!