Learning to be an electrician is a hands-on experience. Although classes are required, electricians get most of their training as apprentices. Licensed journeyman and master electricians are responsible for the complex wiring and circuitry that bring power to the places where people live, work, shop and play. Apprentices develop their craft under the supervision of skilled electricians.
Electrician apprenticeship programs take about four years and are sponsored by electrical industry and trade organizations. To qualify, you have to be 18 and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Apprentices need to have at least one year of algebra, but additional math, science and shop classes are helpful. An apprentice electrician should be in good physical condition and able to distinguish the colors used to code electrical components. A prospective apprentice has to be drug-free and able to pass a qualifying exam.
As an electrician apprentice, you start with simple tasks like stringing wire through conduit pipes and drilling holes. You’ll learn how to use wire cutters, screwdrivers, saws, electrical testing devices and other tools. Apprentices gradually progress to more complex tasks and learn to diagnose and solve problems as they install and repair wiring and electrical devices. Attention to safety is essential. An electrical apprenticeship is a full-time job, so you can expect to work 2,000 hours a year or about 40 hours a week.
The first responsibility of an electrical apprentice is to learn and classes are part of the job. Typically, apprentices take 144 hours of course work each year. Topics include electrical theory and related mathematics, blueprint reading and safety procedures. Apprentices also learn first aid, study local and state building electrical codes, and the National Safety Code. Some apprenticeships include specialized training in areas such as soldering, communication and fire alarm or elevator electrical systems.
Once you complete the apprenticeship program, you must pass a state-administered licensing exam covering electronics, mathematics and electrical codes. Licensing is required in all 50 states. Once you have your license, you are considered a journeyman electrician. After seven years of work experience you can qualify to take the master electrician’s exam. Electrician apprentices are usually paid an hourly rate that is a percentage of a journeyman electrician’s pay. Wages for apprentices start at 40 to 50 percent of average journeyman rates and increase as they advance through the training program. The median pay for electricians was $49,840 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest paid 10 percent made under $30,420 and the 10 percent best paid electricians made over $82,930.