Electricity powers our lights, charges our smartphones and runs our factories. But we can't harness its power without the help of electricians. What do electricians do? Their jobs often include all following:
- Reading blueprints and technical plans.
- Installing wiring into newly constructed buildings.
- Inspecting electrical work to identify potential problems.
- Replacing or repairing old or malfunctioning wiring.
- Supervising and training other electrical workers.
While all electricians understand the basics of wiring, these professionals may choose to focus on a specific type of work. Here are some common specializations you might want to pursue after graduating from an electrician school.
- Residential electricians install electrical systems in new homes and maintain those in existing properties.
- Commercial electricians focus on providing power to retail stores, office buildings and similar structures.
- Industrial electricians may be employed by manufacturers to meet the more complex needs of factories and heavy machinery.
- Lineworkers are hired by utility companies to maintain outdoor electric delivery lines. Electrician education requirements may be different for these workers because of the nature of their work.
How to Become an Electrician
Electricity can be dangerous so you must have proper training to work in this field. In most cases, electricians follow a career path that includes most of the following steps:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED.
- Enroll in an electrician trade school. Completing a certificate or degree program can be a relatively fast way to prepare for a new job.
- Participate in an electrician apprenticeship program. If you'd rather not attend an electrician vocational school, you can complete an apprenticeship instead. These provide on-the-job instruction, but they can take years to complete.
- Become licensed. You'll need to pass a licensing exam in most states before you can begin working on your own.
- Get certified. Professional certification isn't required for most positions, but it can give you an edge over other job applicants.
Whether you attend an electrician school or complete an apprenticeship, your training will cover the following topics.
- Blueprint reading
- Electrical code requirements
Electrician Certificates and Degree Programs
Electrical education programs have a variety of outcomes. Some schools provide enough hands-on instruction that graduates will be ready to sit for their Journeyman's exam. Other programs are designed to lead into an apprenticeship. If you're wondering how long is electrician school, the answer depends on the program you choose.
Here are the most common educational awards offered in this field.
- Career Diploma: If you attend an electrician trade school online, you could earn a career diploma. These programs often focus on providing a foundation of technical knowledge but don't necessarily offer the hands-on instruction needed for state licensure. Diplomas can be earned in a few weeks to a few months.
- Certificate: Study full-time and you could earn an electrician certificate in less than one year at some schools. These programs may provide apprentice-level skill training and prepare students for entry-level work immediately after graduation.
- Associate Degree: Although normally completed in two years, associate degrees at some electrician vocational schools can be finished in less than 15 months. These programs may feature extensive instruction in shops that mimic real-life work environments. Depending on state licensing laws, graduates of some intensive programs may be OSHA certified and ready to take their Journeyman's test upon receiving their associate degree.
Electrician Apprenticeship Programs
Some people prefer to skip electrician school and learn their craft in the workplace. Electrician apprenticeship programs are sponsored by industry groups and unions such as the Independent Electrical Contractors. It can take 4-5 years to complete an apprenticeship, but the good news is that apprentices get paid on the job while working. A typical electrician apprenticeship program includes 2,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as some classroom instruction, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The best trade school for electrician technology is the one that will meet your state's licensure requirements and your career goals. Before enrolling, be sure to ask whether you'll be able to work immediately after graduation or need additional training first.
Community colleges are most likely to have programs that meet state licensing guidelines, but don't overlook the options offered by technical schools, online colleges and industry groups.
Electrician Licensure and Certification
Before you pursue a career as an electrician, contact your state's licensing board so you understand exactly what is required to work in the field.
Many states have more than one electrician license and each has its own requirements. For instance, there may be Apprentice, Journeyman and Master Electrician designations, and they may be awarded based on education, experience and/or age. A few states don't license electricians, but there may be local ordinances regulating the profession instead.
While licensure is required in most states, certification is voluntary. Electrician certification programs are often offered by industry groups and show competency in specific skills. Here are some certification examples:
- Lighting Associate from the American Lighting Association
- Residential Electrical Inspector from the International Code Council
- Traffic Signal Technician from the International Municipal Signal Association
Career Advancement for Electricians
Electricians often have to take continuing education classes to maintain their license. They may progress from Apprentice to Journeyman to Master Electrician designations or decide to focus on specialty work. With enough education and experience, they may move into supervisory roles or work at electrician schools as instructors.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for Electricians
In addition to technical knowledge, electricians must have the following traits and abilities to do their job well.
- Troubleshooting: An electrician needs to be able to pinpoint the problem in an electrical system in order to repair it.
- Critical thinking: Once the cause of a problem has been determined, critical thinking skills are needed to figure out how to fix it.
- Problem sensitivity: Electrical systems are complex, and a good electrician will be able to anticipate where he or she will run into trouble. This is known as having problem sensitivity.
- Finger dexterity: Electricians must hold and manipulate wires and use small tools, making good finger dexterity essential.
- Near vision: What's more, an electrician needs to be able to see all those wires and connections clearly.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Electricians
Tuition for a formal education program could be thousands of dollars. You undoubtedly want to know whether you'll earn enough to justify the electrician school cost. Below is average electrician salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, keep in mind that your income might be different. When it comes to how much do electricians make, their pay varies depending on education, experience and other factors.
As long as we have electricity, we will need electricians. Take a look at the expected career growth in the field below.
Projected Job Growth
Professional Resources for Electricians
From apprenticeships to continuing education, here are three resources to help you pursue a career as an electrician.
- Apprenticeship.gov - The U.S. Department of Labor has put together this website to help you learn more about apprenticeships and find one in your area.
- National Electrical Contractors Association - With roots going back to 1901, this industry organization advocates for the electrical industry and provides networking and education opportunities.
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - The IBEW is a labor union representing the interests of approximately 750,000 men and women working in skilled trades.