In general, most electricians begin apprenticeships under the supervision of experienced or master electricians. Apprenticeships typically require four years to complete and allow electricians to earn money while training. To complete an apprenticeship, an electrician must complete 144 hours of classroom training as well as 2,000 hours of on-the-job training each year. Once the apprenticeship is completed, electricians may take the exam to receive state licensure.
Before pursuing apprenticeships, some electricians complete electrician certificate or an associate of science in electrical engineering technology. By obtaining formal education prior to apprenticeship, electricians can increase career opportunities because of the additional training and expertise acquired. Electrician degree programs, 1-4 semesters in length, teach students how to read electrical codes, follow proper safety procedures and install, repair and maintain electrical systems. The only prerequisite for these programs is possession of a high school diploma or GED.
An electrician certificate program teaches students to read electrical blueprints, adhere to National Electrical Code standards and perform various repairs and maintenance procedures on electrical systems. Most programs require one semester of study and include courses in:
- Electrical systems control
- Electrical theory
Associate of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology
For advanced coursework in electrical technology, students may pursue 2-year associate's degrees. Students learn basic and advanced electrical processes in traditional classrooms and electrical labs. Electricians with associate's degrees in electrical engineering technology often have greater career prospects than those without formal education. Common courses may include the following:
- Industrial electricity
- Direct current circuits
- Commercial and residential electricity
- Electrical components
Popular Career Options
Most employers prefer to hire electricians with 3-5 years of electrical experience. Even entry-level positions require electricians to have at least one year of experience. Most electricians gain experience through apprenticeships that last at least four years. With an apprenticeship, electricians learn on the job but still earn an hourly wage. After completing apprenticeships, electricians typically have enough experience to meet employer requirements.
Electricians in most states must be licensed. In order to obtain licensure, electricians must obtain electrical experience (requirements vary by state) and pass comprehensive electrical exams that cover the National Electrical Code, wiring systems, circuits, electrical blueprints and other aspects of electrician work. Additionally, electricians who perform electrical services for the general public, as opposed to contracting or construction companies, must have additional licensure. Instead of special licenses, some state may require public electricians to obtain certification as master electricians. To obtain master electrician certification in most states, electricians must have seven years of experience in electrical engineering.
Technical and vocational schools that offer electrician programs may host day-long workshops for students and beginning electricians. Workshops cover a variety of electrical topics and may be focused on industrial, commercial or residential electrical work. Some schools may offer workshops for academic credits.
Because of changes to the National Electrical Code or regulations in the electrical industry, employers occasionally require electricians to participate in continuing education workshops. These workshops are usually sponsored by employers and last several hours.
Several electrical organizations offer conferences, seminars and conventions throughout the year. The Independent Electrical Contractors and the National Electrical Contractors Association both hold yearly events and meetings for electricians. Such conferences may exhibit new electrical equipment and tools at tradeshows, provide networking and union information, and inform electricians of changes to the National Electrical Code. Conferences are held at different locations every year and tend to last 3-5 days.
Electricians who work with the general public must have good communication and interpersonal skills. Electricians need to have good eyesight, dexterity and coordination in order to identify electrical wires and other small components of electrical systems. Electricians who establish their own companies should have good marketing, management and bookkeeping skills.
Prospective students now have a firm grasp of both certificate and associate degree programs, as well as the litany of advanced education options available after graduation. These options include state licensure, professional certification, conferences, and workshops that all help students hone their craft.