CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an electrician.
Is becoming an electrician right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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While in high school, future electricians can lay a foundation for their career by taking courses that expose them to the principles of electricity. Algebra and trigonometry are maths that electricians use to measure wiring lengths, determine circuit angles, and calculate the force of an electrical current. Classes in physics, English, workshop, and mechanical drawing are also relevant to the electrical trade.
If possible, seek out opportunities to work with an electrician as a summer helper or to volunteer for organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Trade / Vocational School
Trade and vocational schools offer electrician training at the certificate and/or Associate’s Degree level. A sample classroom/lab session curriculum includes:
• Introduction to Electricity: electrical theory, electrical drafting
• Electrical Components: conduit, panels, switchboards, motors, controllers, generators, transformers
• Grounding Systems and Overcurrent Devices
• Electrical Power Distribution
• Alternating Current Fundamentals
• The National Electrical Code
• Electrical Safety and Accident Prevention
• Electrical Drawing and Blueprint Reading
• Electrical Systems Analysis and Problem Solving
• Tools, Materials, and Jobsite Management
• Residential Wiring
• Commercial Wiring
Depending on the level of the training program, lab sessions may introduce students to some or all of these tools and technologies of the trade:
• Cable reels
• Stripping tools
• Wire and cable cutter
• Voltage meters
• Frequency meters
• Tension gauges
• Infrared scanners
• Construction Master Pro software
• SAP software
• Craftsman CD Estimator software
Most four- to five- year electrical apprenticeships are composed of between 576 and 1,000 hours of classroom instruction and between 8,000 and 10,000 hours of on-the-job training with an experienced electrician. Credits earned in a certificate or Associate’s Degree program may be applied to the classroom requirement, which includes blueprint reading, safety, mathematics, and electrical theory. The hands-on component comprises drilling holes, testing wires and switches, and installing conduit according to the National Electrical Code (NEC) and jurisdictional regulations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists four organizations as sponsors of electrical apprenticeship programs:
The IBEW and the NECA conduct their programs through the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. To search for a sponsored apprenticeship, consult the Office of Apprenticeships Sponsors website.
In addition to passing a job interview, apprentice applicants need to take and pass a basic aptitude exam, which tests reading comprehension and ability to perform simple math and first-year algebra. In most cases, candidates must also meet specific physical requirements, pass a drug test, and be able to demonstrate a certain level of mechanical aptitude. Some states require electrical apprentices to register before receiving permission to work on job sites.
Generally, licensing jurisdictions cover an entire state. There are cases, though, in which licensing takes place at the city or county level. While some variations exist between jurisdictions, the typical journeyman licensing examination is composed of multiple choice questions and takes between three and hours to complete. Subjects evaluated include:
• General electrical knowledge
• Wiring and protection
• Feeder circuits
• Wiring materials and methods
• Raceways and boxes
• Branch conductors and circuits
• Equipment and devices for general and specialized use
• Special conditions
• Communication systems
• Grounding, bonding, and surge/overcurrent protection
• Special occupancies
• Motors and generators
• Reading plans and blueprints
• Control devices
• Photovoltaics and solar power
• Electrical system installation
• Low voltage electrical systems
• Electricity safety
• Local, state, and federal electrical codes
• Local, state, and federal safety standards
• National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) National Electrical Code
• Other topics covered in Ugly’s Electrical Reference
Some states issue different licenses for specific areas like residential/commercial, specialty installations, and industrial electric.
Employment / Continuing Education / Specialty Licensing
With a journeyman electrician license, you are ready to work on residential and commercial electrical wiring, installations, and repairs. You will be able to complete tasks without direct supervision of every assignment.
Electrical codes and jurisdictional regulations change. For this reason, continuing education and periodic license renewal will be a part of your career, to ensure you remain up-to-date.
As you accumulate hours of experience on your way to becoming a master electrician, you may choose to take additional steps to qualify for one or more specialty licenses. Obtaining these credentials involves specific further education and experience, as well as passing a licensing exam.
Some of the more common specialty licenses are:
• Maintenance electrician
• Outside wireman
• Photovoltaic/solar power
• Electrical signs
• Refrigeration, heating, and air conditioning
• Low voltage
How to become an Electrician
The path to becoming an electrician starts in high school, when students aspiring to enter the field typically lay a career foundation by taking courses in math, physics, and technical sciences such as electronics.
Increasingly, the first part of formal education for prospective electricians is training at a trade school or vocational college. Diploma, certificate, and Associate Degree programs allow students to learn the fundamentals of the trade and prepare them for the apprenticeship application process. Programs typically focus on the National Electric Code, workplace safety, and electric theory; as well as provide some hands-on training.
At the heart of learning to become an electrician is an electrical apprenticeship. During this four-to-five year period, apprentices participate in both classroom and on-the-job training in the various aspects of the electrical trade. They are overseen by a master electrician and directly supervised by a journeyman electrician. Master electricians are those who have already passed through both the apprentice stage and journeyman positions, and have exhibited a high degree of technical skill in the trade. A journeyman electrician has completed apprenticeship, but has not yet gained the skills or experience necessary to become a master. With the guidance of these professionals, apprentices learn how to read blueprints and technical diagrams relating to electrical plans, as well as how to install, maintain, and repair electrical wiring, lighting fixtures, electricity-distribution equipment, and control systems. They also become familiar with the National Electric Code and state and local regulations concerning residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.
After becoming a journeyman, an electrician is permitted to work on most types of electrical systems, but is usually barred from the design of those systems. Restrictions vary by city, state, and country of residence.
In most cases, electricians must be licensed in the state or local area in which they work. The majority of jurisdictions stipulate that applicants have a certain number of years of experience and pass an examination. Journeyman and master electricians are subject to different licensure requirements.