Electricians have a rewarding career. Not only are they responsible for troubleshooting issues with electrical wiring, but they install new systems ranging from lighting to air.
Wondering how to become an electrician? As the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, electricians must have stamina, critical thinking skills, and troubleshooting skills.
Most electricians only possess a two-year degree or certification, and you can complete most of that education while you’re getting hands-on training as an apprentice. Plus, the anticipated U.S. job growth for electricians is 9% between 2016-2026.
How long does it take to become an electrician? The entire process is about 6 to 7 years. You’ll learn and earn on the job while you progress from entry-level apprentice to skilled master electrician.
If you want to become a licensed electrician, the first step is an apprenticeship. During this stage of your career, you’ll learn under the direct supervision of a licensed electrician.
Average Pay: $36,000/year
Type of Work: Your tasks as an apprentice may begin with menial work. You might be running errands, gathering supplies, delivering equipment, and shadowing more experienced electricians. However, as you gain some education in the field, you can expect to get more hands-on experience.
Education: Because the role is entry level, you won’t need any advanced education to apply for an electrical apprenticeship. However, to qualify for most electrical apprenticeship programs, you will need to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Some specific course prerequisites may exist, like algebra.
During your apprenticeship, you also will complete classroom hours in electrical repair and maintenance at a trade school or community college. Your coursework could include topics on electrical science and theory, general electric skills, professional codes, and conduit bending. Some regions, like Washington State, provide a list of acceptable training courses and the schools that offer them. Check with your state’s Department of Labor for this information.
Education costs vary from $1,000-$11,000, depending on the local programs available. Most trade schools offer scholarships and other financial aid.
How Many Hours of Work are Required?: Electrician apprentices usually take about 4 years to complete their program. During this time, you’ll get about 8,000 training hours on the job.
Required License: Some states require a license to do an apprenticeship. You can check your state’s laws National Electrical Code (NEC). The test (which may vary by state) also will include topics, like grounding, wiring methods, and load calculations.
When you graduate from apprentice to journeyman, you’ll make more money and take on more complicated tasks.
Average Pay: $56,000/year
Type of Work: Once you’re an official journeyman, you can complete most work without the supervision of another electrician. You may even supervise some apprentices.
A journeyman works in residential and commercial settings. You will connect circuit breakers and switches, troubleshoot and install wiring, install lighting and security systems, and diagnose problems in a variety of electrical systems. However, you cannot pull permits.
Education: You don’t need any additional education at the journeyman stage. Your hands-on experience will prepare you for future exams and licensing.
How Many Hours of Work are Required?: Journeyman can work full time. Since you don’t require supervision, you can choose to work as a journeyman for many years.
If you’re on the road to becoming a master electrician, you’ll probably spend at least two years (or about 4,000 hours) as a journeyman before you’re considered eligible to take the master exam in most states.
Required License: You usually need a license to be a journeyman, but the process and licensing body varies by state. In Alaska, the journeyman license requires 6,000 hours of commercial electrical experience.
In South Dakota, license requirements include training under either residential or commercial apprenticeships. Check out this state-by-state guide for journeyman license requirements.
Related Exams: To advance in your career, you will need to study for and take the master electrician exam.
At this stage of your career, you’re ready to be the boss on a project. You have at least 10,000 hours of experience.
Average Pay: $65,000/year
Type of Work: You can work unsupervised, run your own team, and pull permits to work on major projects. Master electricians can work on complex installations and repairs and will typically supervise apprentices and journeymen.
Education: Some master electricians have a four-year degree in electrical engineering. However, as of 2014, a two-year degree in electrical engineering yielded the same salary on average as a four-year degree with the same title.
Master electricians also complete continuing education (CE) during their careers. In California, electricians must complete 32 hours every three years to renew their license. Texas electricians renew their license every year and must provide proof of four hours of continuing education. Many trade schools, community college, and private companies are approved to provide CE.
Required License: Most master electricians require a state license, and some may require a city license. If you have a limited license, you are permitted to work only on a specific type of electrical systems (such as heating and cooling). An unlimited license grants you the right to work on all types of electrical projects. Master electricians also can pull government permits when required.
Related Exams: You need to pass your state’s master electrician exam. Many local colleges offer courses to help you pass, like this exam review at Lone Star College in Texas). The cost to take the exam varies by state; in Montana, the application fee is $240 and the exam fee is $80.
Average Pay: $66,000/year
Type of Work: The final step in your journey as an electrician is to become an electrical contractor. A contractor license opens new opportunities for you. You’ll be able to: hire electricians, bid on multi-million dollar projects, and work with both government and private entities. You can run your own business as an independent contractor.
Education: You don’t need any additional education to become an electrical contractor aside from studying to take any required exams.
Required License: A contractor license is a business license, and a master electrician is a professional license. You need the professional license before you can qualify to become an electrical contractor. You’ll also be required to carry additional insurance as a contractor. General liability, workers’ compensation, and other forms of insurance are recommended; you can find more detailed insurance information here.
Related Exams: In some states, you may have to prove your experience and take an additional exam to receive a contractor license.
There are a few ways to find work once you’re a licensed electrician. Talk with the connections you made during your apprenticeship and journeyman training. Also, your existing network can help you find a job.
You may want to choose a union apprenticeship. Once you’re in a union, such as the IBEW, you’ll have access to job boards. Union jobs also guarantee certain wages and benefits.
It also pays to stay plugged into the industry at large. Attending electrical trade shows and other events grants you access to a lot of people who own businesses. Local trade shows, educational seminars, and conventions will help you meet new people.
Learning how to become an electrician is the start to a rewarding career. Once you become a licensed electrical contractor, let Housecall Pro help you run your business. We make scheduling, communicating, and invoicing customers easier.