How to Become an Electrician: 6 Basic Steps to Journeyman Status
Here's a general overview of how to become an electrician when you're starting from scratch: First, make sure that you've earned a high school diploma (or the equivalent such as a GED). Next, take the optional (but recommended) step of completing a pre-apprenticeship electrician-training program at a local trade, technical, or vocational school. After that, apply for an electrician apprenticeship and, if required, register as an electrician apprentice or trainee in your state. Complete your four- or five-year apprenticeship under the guidance of a master or journeyperson* electrician. Finally, if required, get your electrician license or become certified in your state and/or municipality, which may involve passing an exam.
Those are the basic steps to becoming an electrician. Of course, it's wise to look into each of those steps in more detail so that you know exactly what to expect. After all, confidence is an important trait to develop, especially while you're learning how to be an electrician. The more you know, the greater your confidence will be as you move forward. And electrician careers are definitely worth all of the attention. They often provide reliable and meaningful ways to earn good wages and benefits.
So check out what the following steps involve. And explore the whole article in order to learn the answers to additional questions like:
- How long does it take to become an electrician?
- What education do you need to become an electrician?
- How do you get an electrician's license?
- How hard it is to become an electrician?
- What is a typical electrician salary?
1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent
This step is essential. You may not be able to progress any further until you can show that you've successfully completed high school or earned a GED or other type of equivalency certification. It's one of the most basic educational requirements that you'll need to meet before you can become an electrician.
If you're still in high school, then pay special attention to subjects like math, physics, and English. Shop and mechanical drawing classes are also helpful. Among many other things, being an electrician requires knowing how to perform algebra, read technical documents, and understand basic scientific concepts.
If you are an adult who didn't complete high school, it's possible to earn your high school diploma online. This is a convenient way to take care of this important first step.
2. Consider getting pre-apprenticeship training at a trade school or vocational college
Increasingly, this step is vital for making you stand out among your competition. Learning the basic fundamentals of electrical work is often easier when you aren't yet employed as an apprentice and worried about pleasing your boss. Electrician programs at trade schools, technical institutes, and career colleges provide a more comfortable introduction to this trade and can help you gain the foundational expertise that you'll need going forward.
You'll be able to learn about the National Electric Code, workplace safety, electrical theory, and many other things that can give you a head start on other people who may apply for the same apprenticeships. Most trade-school programs even include hands-on training in addition to regular classroom instruction. That way, you'll have solid footing when you pursue the next step of the process.
3. Apply for an apprenticeship
Once you're ready, begin looking for apprenticeship opportunities as soon as possible. You never know how many other people might be applying for the same apprentice jobs, so it's good to get a jump on them if you can. In fact, having a sense of urgency may be one of the most essential aspects of knowing how to become an electrician apprentice.
You may be able to find a local apprenticeship through the United States Department of Labor or by exploring newspaper classifieds and online job boards. In addition, electrical apprenticeship openings periodically become available through organizations such as:
- The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)
- The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
- Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC)
As part of the application process, you may need to pass a basic aptitude exam. In most cases, the exam will test your reading comprehension and ability to perform simple arithmetic and first-year algebra. In addition, you will need to pass a job interview. And you may need to meet specific physical requirements, pass a drug test, and be able to demonstrate a certain level of mechanical aptitude.
That's why a lot of employers recommend getting some basic electrical training before applying for the apprenticeships that they sponsor. Trade and vocational schools specialize in helping students get up to speed on what they'll need to know in order to succeed during the application process.
4. Register as an electrician trainee or apprentice in your state (if required)
Some states, such as California and Texas, require electrical apprentices to register before being allowed to work on actual job sites. It's generally a very easy step since it only involves filling out a form and potentially paying a small fee. But every state has its own requirements, so be sure to check with your state's department of licensing, labor, or consumer affairs.
5. Complete your apprenticeship
This step is the heart of the whole process. Your apprenticeship will combine on-the-job training with courses online and/or in the classroom. You'll be mentored and supervised by a master or journeyperson electrician throughout four to five years of training. And you'll get paid an hourly wage.
Along the way, you'll study important concepts and receive practical job-site experiences that are related to a typical electrician job description. For example, you'll get the opportunity to practice and learn about aspects of the trade such as:
- Reading construction blueprints and technical diagrams for electrical plans
- Installing, repairing, and maintaining electrical wiring, lighting fixtures, electricity-distribution equipment, and various control systems
- Making sure that all work complies with the National Electric code as well as state and local regulations
- Testing and inspecting electrical systems and components for problems by using special devices
At the beginning of your apprenticeship, you'll be performing very basic tasks. But you will gradually get to carry out more and more complex tasks as you refine your skills and practical understanding of relevant concepts. By the end of your apprenticeship, you will likely be capable of performing a full range of construction- and maintenance-related electrical work at the journeyperson level.
6. Get licensed or certified in your state and/or municipality (if required)
One of the most important things to understand when exploring how to become a licensed electrician is that every state sets its own standards. In fact, some states (such as Illinois and Pennsylvania) don't license electricians at all. However, some towns and cities within those states do have licensing requirements.
So it's important to contact your state as well the municipalities that you plan to work in. Ask them if you need a license to perform electrical work. In some cases, you may need a license in order to work as an employee of an electrical contractor. In other cases, you may not need a license unless you plan on starting your own electrical business.
In locations that do require a license, you may have to pass an exam that tests your understanding of the National Electric Code, various electrical concepts, safety practices, and local laws and building codes. You will probably also have to prove that you have completed a certain amount of relevant classroom instruction and practical training under the supervision of a licensed journeyperson or master electrician.
Learn more about how to get an electrician's license in your region below.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Electrician?
In total, it usually takes between five and six years to become a journeyman electrician or journeywoman electrician. That's because you may spend about a year or less completing a pre-apprenticeship program at a trade or vocational school. Then, your actual apprenticeship may last about four or five years. In certain cases, you also may have to wait a few weeks or months for an apprenticeship opportunity to become available since spots are sometimes limited in some regions. However, you may be able to shorten your apprenticeship by getting credit for some of the classroom hours from your pre-apprenticeship program.
What Education Do You Need to Become an Electrician?
At a very minimum, you need a high school (or equivalent) education. But if you truly want to succeed, then you'll benefit from placing extra focus on certain subjects such as math and science during your high school studies. And you may want to pursue at least a small amount of post-secondary education in order to give yourself the sturdiest foundation you can.
That's because, when it comes to becoming an electrician, education requirements don't actually vary that much. Regardless of your particular path, you'll need to study and understand subjects such as:
- Simple mathematical arithmetic using fractions, whole numbers, decimals, and integers
- Basic algebra
- Geometry, including ratios and proportions
- Units and measurements
- Basic trigonometry
- The physics of electricity
- Electrical power distribution
- Blueprint reading
- Electrical safety
- The National Electric Code
- Electrical components like conduit, panels, switchboards, motors, controllers, generators, and transformers
- Grounding systems and overcurrent devices
- Tools, materials, and jobsite management
- Testing and problem solving
During your vocational training and apprenticeship, the classroom curriculum at your particular school may vary a little from what you would study at a different school. However, most schools will emphasize some combination of the subjects above.
How Do You Get an Electrician's License?
It depends on your location and where you plan to work. Licensing requirements vary from state to state and from municipality to municipality. Some states have multiple levels of electrician licensing, whereas others have no licensure requirements at all. In addition, those states that do require licensure tend to have multiple pathways for attaining it.
That said, the most common way to get electrician licensure is to complete a specified number of hours of classroom instruction and supervised real-world training and then pass an exam. For example, here's how to become an electrician in California if you don't have any prior experience:1
- Register as an electrician apprentice or trainee
- Complete at least 720 hours of relevant classroom instruction through a state-approved school (can be part of an apprenticeship)
- Acquire at least 8,000 hours of supervised on-the-job experience from a certified electrician (can be part of an apprenticeship)
- Pass the state certification exam
In New Jersey, the process is similar. However, you do not need to pass an exam in order to earn certification to practice as a journeyperson electrician. A licensing exam is only required if you want to own an electrical contracting business. So here's how to become an electrician in NJ:2
- Complete at least 576 hours of classroom instruction
- Accumulate at least 8,000 hours of practical on-the-job experience that involves installing, repairing, or altering electrical wiring
Texas provides another example of how the licensing requirements differ from state to state. There, a license is required for anybody who carries out electrical work. You also need to register as an apprentice before you can train on an actual job site. But the state breaks the trade into multiple levels, each with a different set of requirements. For instance, here's how to become an electrician in Texas at some of the most common levels:3
- Residential wireman—Complete 4,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training under the guidance of a licensed residential wireman or master electrician and pass an exam
- Journeyman electrician—Acquire 8,000 hours of supervised on-the-job experience under the direction of a master electrician and pass the required exam
- Master electrician—Accumulate 12,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training as directed by an already-licensed master electrician, maintain a journeyman license for a minimum of two years, and pass the appropriate exam
Again, not all states require licensure. But it is essential to contact your state, as well as the towns and cities that you want to work in, to find out what the requirements actually are for you. Discover how to become a certified electrician in your region by using an online resource such as NECA's list of state licensing requirements.
How Hard Is It to Become an Electrician?
Like any other career pursuit, becoming part of the electrical trade can feel a little challenging at times. But it can also be a lot of fun. After all, electrician training involves using your hands as well as your mind. In this skilled trade, it's almost impossible to feel bored—especially when you're still learning something new every day.
Plus, you'll probably have a lot of support throughout your training. And you'll begin slowly, gradually developing your skills and understanding of the trade over time. So becoming an electrician may not be nearly as challenging as you may think.
However, not everyone puts in the required work or stays consistently committed. As a result, they may not be able to earn their license on the first try. So you'll need to study and practice on a regular basis in order to move ahead and attain your goal of becoming a licensed journeyperson electrician. But if you commit to the journey and stay focused, then you may just exceed your own expectations.
What Is a Typical Electrician Salary?
People in the electrical trade often earn good incomes in exchange for ensuring that our homes, schools, businesses, and industrial buildings stay safely powered. Electrician earnings, however, usually come in the form of hourly wages as opposed to yearly salaries. In 2015, the median hourly wage of electricians in the U.S. was $24.94, which equates to about $51,880 for a year of full-time work. Some electricians eventually earn pay as high as $42.37 or more per hour.4
Of course, pay often varies significantly from region to region. For example, the highest median wages in the nation were in Alaska, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey. In those states, the median pay ranged from $33.14 per hour to $38.18 per hour.4
Also, keep in mind that electrician apprentices usually start out at about 30 to 50 percent of a typical full wage. As they acquire more skills and expertise, they gradually earn pay raises.
Empower Your Career Goals
Are you ready to do more than just explore how to become an electrician? Many trade schools and technical colleges offer convenient programs that make it easy to start getting the skills for this worthwhile trade. Find one in your area right now by putting your current zip code into the following school finder!
*While we acknowledge that the term "journeyperson" correctly refers to any gender of tradesperson, we have chosen to also include the more commonly used term "journeyman" and use the terms interchangeably.
1 State of California, Department of Industrial Relations, website last visited on August 18, 2016.
2 New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, website last visited on August 18, 2016.
3 Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, website last visited on August 18, 2016.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on August 18, 2016.