How to Become an Electrician and Spark Your Career Path Today

Male electrician standing behind the cable wall

The recent stories about students graduating with four-year college degrees and a mountain of debt are affecting the choices of Gen Z when it comes to getting an education.

Many of them are choosing trade schools because the pay is good, the jobs are plentiful, and they can get a license without all that debt.

That’s why many are asking how to become an electrician instead of applying to expensive colleges.

Even Millennials, who are known for resisting trade schools in favor of four-year degrees, are now rethinking their lives and signing up for trade schools.

Here's what you need to know:

Five light bulbs

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What Do Electricians Do?

When asking “How to become an electrician” it’s important to understand the role of someone who works in this profession.

Electricians install electrical systems in residential homes, commercial buildings, factories, and anyplace else where power is required.

But that's not all:

In addition to installing these systems, they also maintain them to keep them in proper working condition.

​Spark Fact!

​Because electricians work with so many different colored wires, they must pass a color blindness test before they can begin work in this field.

Electrician Job Titles

When learning how to become an electrician, you may be tempted to think that all electricians have the same role.

But they don’t.

In fact, you can work in five distinct roles when learning how to become an electrician.

Electrician helper

When just starting out learning how to become an electrician, you may start the process by working as a helper.

People in these roles work in various tasks, depending on who you work for.

Your main job might be cleaning up the area as the electricians work, or performing simple tasks such as digging around buried wires, holding tools, and handing them to the electricians as they’re needed.

Some electrician helpers assist electricians as they install electrical systems.

Working as a helper is a great way to learn whether or not the career is right for you. And you just may meet some contacts who can help further your career once you decide it’s what you want.

Electrician apprentice

An electrician apprentice is someone who is learning how to be an electrician. When working in this role, you will perform basic tasks under the supervision of a fully-licensed electrician.

All electricians must complete an apprenticeship, but some use it as the only means to obtain their license.

And even better:

When you work as an apprentice, you will get paid. The apprenticeship serves as paid on-the-job training.

​People serve as apprentices for four to five years before moving on to the next step of becoming a licensed electrician.

​​​​Journeyman electrician

A journeyman electrician, also called an electrician journeyman and journey electrician, is the next step when learning how to become an electrician.

Once an apprentice meets all the hours and classroom requirements in their apprenticeship — or goes to trade school and then works in an apprenticeship program — they can take an exam and move on to this role.

Journeyman electricians are licensed and trained in all aspects of electrical design, maintenance, and installation.

They no longer require supervision to work, and can even train apprentices themselves.

Many electricians work toward becoming a journeyman and see it as their goal, but others want to even further and become a master electrician.

Master electrician

When learning how to become an electrician, many people regard becoming a master electrician as their goal. But the requirements for this license are arduous.

Take a look:

You must have worked as a journeyman electrician for years — how many depends on the state you live in — complete a four-year apprenticeship program or get an electrical engineering degree.

You must also pass another exam showing that you have a deep understanding of electrical systems, how they function, and how to install, maintain, and repair them.

​​​​Electrician contractor

An electrician contractor is the highest paid of the electrician titles, and if you want to know how to become an electrician, you should definitely consider making this your goal.

An electrician contractor designs, installs, and maintains electrical systems for every type of building and structure.

Many people who achieve this level in the field start a contracting company and hire other electricians to work for them.

The licensing and training programs for an electrical contractor is the most extensive in the field.

​Spark Fact!

​Lots of famous people started out as electricians. Some of the most famous are Elvis Presley, Mr. Bean, Alfred Hitchcock, and George Harrison, the famous Beetle. He later said of his electrician days, “I had a short go at being an electrician’s apprentice, but I kept blowing things up.”

via GIPHY

Types of Electricians

Once you finished learning how to become an electrician and have taken the steps to become one, you will work as one of the following four types of electricians.

Inside wiremen

This type of electrician works on industrial structures or commercial buildings either during construction or after the building is operational.

Some of the job duties of an inside wireman are to hook up power to the structure during construction, plan the power grid for a new system, install wiring, and hook up power to HVAC systems, motors, and all other systems.

In addition:

They also install security systems, fire alarms, and lighting, and then maintain them afterward.

​Spark Fact!

​Electricians need to be problem solvers. An important part of the job is diagnosing and solving problems with electrical grids. The more skilled you are at solving problems, the more success you will have as an electrician.

Outside wiremen

Outside wiremen are the people you see outdoors working on utility lines.

The lines may be on poles high above the ground or buried underneath the ground.

These electricians ensure that the power from the plant reaches homes and businesses to ensure they have electricity.

And at other times, they perform other life-saving measures:

​Outside wiremen earn an excellent salary because the work is considered hazardous.

Here is a video that shows an outside wireman talking about what the job is like:

Residential wiremen

​When you call an electrician to your home, a residential wireman is who shows up.

These electricians are responsible for ensuring that the wiring in new homes, existing homes, and multi-family homes are up to code and functions safely and efficiently.

These types of electricians must have a deep understanding of local and state building codes so they can ensure the properties they work on are in compliance with local law.

Although many electricians start out as residential wiremen, some branch out and work in the commercial aspect of the field.

​​​Telecommunication technician

A telecommunication technician works with inside wiremen.

But:

Instead of installing the electrical components of an electrical system grid, they concentrate on the phone lines, computer cables, security systems, access control systems, and other low-voltage wiring systems.

Electricians Earn a Great Salary

At this point, you may wonder what you can earn as an electrician.

After all, when learning how to become an electrician, it’s important to know what to expect as far as salary.

Well, we have great news!

​According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for electricians nationwide is promising.

Here are a few takeaways from its latest statistics:

  • ​Over 600,000 people work as electricians nationwide
  • ​Hourly wages range from $15 to $45 (The mean hourly wage is $27.84)
  • ​Annual salaries range from $30,000 to $93,000 (The mean annual salary is $57,910)

​The wages you earn as an electrician will depend on where you live, and what type of electrical work you do.

For a state-by-state breakdown of what you can expect, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ interactive map.

Benefits of Becoming an Electrician

As you’re probably beginning to realize, you will have some great benefits when becoming an electrician.

Here are a few you should know about.

  • ​You can join a union

When joining a union, you will have access to better pay and benefits because unions work with employers to ensure their members are taken care of.

As an electrician, you aren’t forced to join a union, but you will have the option of doing so.

Unions also provide electricians the ability to work toward financially stable retirement goals.

  • ​You'll have job security

Robots are replacing fast food workers, and because of the new disruptive industries, realtors, taxi drivers, and even some hotel workers aren’t sure about their future.

But electricians will always have a job because people will always need power.

If you’re learning about how to become an electrician and job security is one of your main concerns, you should feel confident about your future job prospects.

  • ​You'll earn a high salary

We already talked about the potential salary you can earn as an electrician, but we want to put it in perspective for you.

Take a look at the chart below:

Salary Comparisons

​Keep in mind that although the mean average salary of electricians is almost as high as those with a master’s degree, they don’t graduate with a lot of debt.

  • ​You can start your own business

One of the biggest benefits in learning how to become an electrician is the fact that you always have the option of working for yourself.

As more and more people start their own businesses in this gig economy, electricians are not left out of the equation.

In fact, by the time you get your license, you will already have everything you need to start an electrician business!

When you possess such an in-demand skill, you can make it easy to expand your business by hiring other electricians to work for you.

And get this:

Some people who start their own electrician company earn in the six figures.

Tell that to those who spent all those years and money earning their master’s degree!

  • ​You won’t break your body

One of the biggest detractors from working in the construction field is the toll it takes on the body.

But although electricians are technically in the construction industry, they don’t do the same back-breaking work that other construction workers do.

That means electricians have the best of both worlds:

The ability to work on their own in the field earning a high salary while staying physically active — but not to the point of harming their bodies.

  • ​You'll get a professional license without the debt

As you can see from our earlier chart, electricians earn just as much as those with a college degree, but they don’t have all the student debt.

You can get an electricians license from a community college or trade school for very little, and you will probably graduate with little to no debt.

And then go on to earn just as much as those who have debt.

How to Become an Electrician

When learning about how to become an electrician, you probably want a step-by-step guide that takes you through the process.

Follow along as we walk you through the process.

Step One: Meet the Basic Requirements

Whether you decide to go to trade school or get your electrician’s license by completing an apprenticeship, you need to meet certain requirements.

Before you begin your journey, you should check to ensure that you have or can complete these prerequisites to become an electrician through an apprenticeship program.

Here are the basic requirements to become an apprentice:

  • ​You have to be 18 years old

​Only those who are 18 years old can become an electrician.

  • ​You need a high school diploma

​You will need a high school diploma to become an electrician. Some apprentice programs allow an equivalent such as a GED.

  • ​Good health is importan​t

You must be in good enough health to perform the job duties of an electrician.

While electricians don’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting, they may have to carry heavy spools of wire, dig around buried cables, or perform other physical activity.

  • ​You need some math knowledge

In order to train as an electrician, you have to have passed a high school algebra class. Keep in mind that a pre-algebra class won’t meet this requirement.

Every state is different, but some require that you earned a grade C or higher to qualify.

  • ​​​​​​A driver’s license is mandatory

​When learning about how to become an electrician, you need a driver’s license in the state where you will work as an apprentice.

  • ​You will have to pass a drug test

​In many states, you will have to pass a drug test before being admitted to an apprenticeship program or trade school.

  • ​Your criminal history matters

​If you have a misdemeanor or felony, some apprenticeship programs won’t accept you. If you do have one, talk to the person who organizes the apprenticeships to find out about their rules.

  • ​​​​​​​You must take an aptitude test

Before organizers accept you into an apprenticeship program, you must prove that you’re able to do the job.

And they determine this with an aptitude test.

The test will evaluate your knowledge of simple algebra, reading comprehension, and the basics of electrical flow.

​Spark Fact!

​Many people are surprised to learn that the aptitude test isn’t just a check in the box. Apprenticeship organizations take these tests seriously, and you must pass it to have a chance at getting one. It is a timed test, and you have two-and-a-half hours to complete it.

Keep in mind that it is sometimes difficult to find an apprenticeship. The requirements are strict, and not everyone gets in.

But the good news is that you have options:

You can also go to trade school.

​Spark Fact!

​If working toward a master electrician license is your goal, you need to be in it for the long term. That’s because master electricians train for almost as long as doctors! There’s a reason for that:

​Here are ​the ​Basic ​Requirements to ​Attend ​Trade ​School

Are you ready to learn about how to become an electrician by attending trade school?

Steady yourself:

Here are the requirements you must meet:

You must have a high school diploma or a GED.

That’s it!

​So while getting your license with an apprenticeship will save you the expenses of going to school, it’s much easier to get into a trade school.

Step Two: Decide Whether to Start with an Apprenticeship or Go to Trade School

Once you know that you’ve got what it takes to pursue your dream of becoming an electrician, it’s time to decide whether you will go to trade school to get your license or do it with an apprenticeship.

But here’s the deal:

Even if you decide to go the trade school route, you will still have to complete an apprenticeship to earn your license.

So many people ask why not just start with an apprenticeship to begin with?

And that’s where we get into the pros and cons of each choice.

Cropped electrician working with wires

Image via Freepik

​The ​Pros and Cons of Apprenticeships and Trade Schools

As you can imagine, there are pros and cons to each method of obtaining your electrician’s license.

We’ve broken them down for you.

The pros of an apprenticeship program

Here are the reasons why an apprenticeship program may be right for you.

  • ​You have three ways in

​There are three organizations that provide apprenticeships to people who want to earn an electricians license.

  • The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which is a union apprenticeship
  • Non-union groups such as the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), and the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC)
  • Federal programs that offer local apprenticeships
  • ​It won’t cost you anything

When you use an apprenticeship program to earn your license, you won’t have to pay for school.

You will have to take some classroom hours to meet the requirements, but many times, the organization that sponsors your apprenticeship will pay for that.

Electrician handshake with business man

Image by user1052654 via Freepik

  • ​​You earn as you learn

An apprenticeship is an on-the-job paid training opportunity which means you will get paid as you learn.

You will go to work every day just as you would in a regular job, and get a paycheck at the end of the week.

  • ​It’s a faster track

Since both paths must include an apprenticeship, starting with it is a faster way to work toward your license.

Because the people who choose to attend trade school will first have to graduate school, it will take longer to get their license.

  • ​You get on-the-job training

It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and learn how to become an electrician, but it’s another to get the experience you need by watching people do it and learning hands-on.

When you work as an apprentice, a licensed journeyman or master electrician will make sure you get the education you need to do the job right.

Two electricians coworking on site

Image via Freepik

The cons of an apprenticeship program

As far as we can tell, there is only one con to using an apprenticeship program when you want to learn how to become an electrician: it can be difficult to get in.

Aside from having to meet all of the requirements we told you about above, you will also have to find an organization with open spots.

Electrician apprenticeships are in high demand, and it can be challenging to find one with open spots.

Your other option is to attend a trade school, and then begin your apprenticeship after that.

Here are the pros and cons of this method.

The pros of trade school

When thinking about how to become an electrician, you should consider these pros of going to trade school.

  • ​It’s easier to get in

​You need a high school diploma or a GED, and that’s it. You won’t have to take an aptitude test to get in or jump over any other hoops.

​Spark Fact!

​Electricians use a lot of tools and gear. On any given day, they may use hand tools, benders, scissor lifts, cordless tools, excavators, and a number of other things. If you love using tools, this might be the right gig for you!

  • ​​You may be more appealing to apprenticeship boards

If you apply for a scholarship after earning a certificate from a trade school, you will prove to apprenticeship organizations that you’re serious about learning how to become an electrician.

This extra education may make you more attractive to them and could cause them to offer you an apprenticeship.

  • ​It may give you a boost

​If you know you want to learn how to become an electrician, but you don’t have any knowledge or the right math skills, a trade school may give you the extra boost you need to prepare to apply for an apprenticeship.

Male electrician looking at wires

Image via Freepik

​The cons of trade school

But there are some downsides to this path.

  • ​It takes longer

​You will still have to do an apprenticeship, so you will work longer and put in more hours to earn your license.

  • ​You have to pay for it

Trade school doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it’s not free like an apprenticeship. You will have to pay out of pocket or borrow the money to pay for your tuition.

As you can see, each path that leads to a job as an electrician has its pros and cons, but one thing is clear: you will have to do an apprenticeship before you can get your license.

Your best bet is to talk to the people in your area and determine whether or not you’re ready to apply for an apprenticeship.

If you don’t think you are, then entering trade school is probably the right move for you.

Electrician thinking forward

Image by Senivpetro via Freepik

Step Three: Register with Your State

Some states require that you register as an apprentice or electrician trainee before beginning work in the field.

You will need to complete this step if you decide to apply for an apprenticeship.

Step Four: Get a License

After you’ve worked four to five years as an apprentice, you will finally be able to get your electrician’s license.

Keep in mind:

Not all states require that electricians have a license, but most of them do. To find out the licensing rules in your state, take a look at this handy guide.

Even though every state has different rules and requirements, there are some general guidelines you should know about licensing.

The Four Phases of Electrician Licensing

​If you happen to live in a state that doesn’t require you to have a license, you aren't in the clear just yet.

You will probably have to pass an exam that proves you have knowledge of the National Electric Code as well as knowledge about safety practices for electricians, electrical concepts, and the laws and building codes for your local area.

And that's not all:

You may also have to provide proof of the number of hours you worked under the supervision of experts.

If you’re unsure about the licensing rules in your state, check out this state-by-state licensing guide to get the answers you need.

Step Five: Get a Job or Start Your Own Business

Now that you have the training and skills, it’s time to start your career as an electrician.

Your apprenticeship program may have opened doors for you that resulted in your first job. If not, talk to local electricians in your area to find out about job openings.

But you have choices:

Your other option is to start your own residential electrical business.

You can work on your own now that you don’t need supervision, or you can hire other electricians to work under you.

Now that you’re licensed, you can even participate in apprenticeship programs and begin training the next generation of electricians.

Question Answered: How to Become an Electrician

Do you feel more prepared to learn how to become an electrician than when you first started reading this article?

A career as an electrician can be an exceptional route to take if you want to earn good money, have job security, and work in a professional environment where you get to help people solve problems.

Do you already work as a licensed electrician, or are you about to enter a trade school or an apprenticeship?

We would love to hear about what made you choose electrician as your career in the comments below!

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Suzanne Kearns

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