How to be a Qualified Electrician
Almost every building has an electrical power, communications, lighting, and control system installed during construction. These systems power the lights, appliances, and equipment and must be properly maintained and repaired.
A Career as an Electrician
The median annual pay for electricians in 2016 was $52,720. Electricians install, maintain, and repair electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems in homes, businesses, and factories. They work in every type of facility, indoors and outdoors, are at risk of injuries such as electrical shocks and burns, cuts, and falls. While most electricians learn through an apprenticeship, some attend a technical school with programs related to circuitry, safety practices, and basic electrical information. Most states require electricians to be licensed.
- Read blueprints or technical diagrams
- Install and maintain wiring, control, and lighting systems
- Inspect electrical components
- Identify electrical problems
- Repair or replace wiring, equipment, or fixtures
- Follow state and local building regulations
- Direct and train workers to install, maintain, or repair electrical wiring or equipment
Steps to Becoming a Qualified Electrician
High School Diploma
Earning a high school diploma or GED is the first, most basic requirement for becoming an electrician. Interested high school students may find classes like shop and mechanical drawing helpful and they should strive to excel in math and science.
Trade School or Vocational College
Before an apprenticeship, learn the fundamentals of electrical work at a trade school or vocational college. Electrician programs introduce the profession, theory, processes, regulations, and safety. You may also get hand-on training. You’ll learn about setting up, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems and specialties such as residential or commercial construction and maintenance. Graduates usually receive credit toward their apprenticeship. Costs per year range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.
Apprenticeship requirements vary by state and locality. Aspiring electricians learn the trade in a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship program, in which they receive thousands of hours of paid on-the-job training as well as some classroom instruction. Apprentices learn electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices. They may also receive specialized training related to soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and elevators. Several groups, including unions and contractor associations, sponsor apprenticeship programs. Also, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics provides some resources for finding apprenticeships.
Most states require electricians to be licensed, though requirements vary. Some states require classroom instruction, supervised hands-on training, and a licensing exam. There may be multiple levels with different requirements, such as residential wireman, journeyman electrician, and master electrician. Contact your local or state electrical licensing board or visit the National Electrical Contractors Association’s website. Continuing education courses are required to maintain licenses and may cover safety practices, changes to the electrical code, and training from manufacturers in specific products.
Essential Qualities for Electricians
To be a successful, qualified electrician, you will need the following skills and characteristics:
- Color vision: You need to be able to identify electrical wires by color.
- Communication skills: Electricians work with clients and co-workers and can clearly explain problems and answer questions.
- Critical-thinking skills: Electricians perform tests, diagnose problems, and use a variety of tools to determine the best solution.
- Physical stamina: Electricians often work on their feet and move around all day.
- Physical strength: You’ll need to be strong enough to move heavy components weighing up to 50 pounds.
- Troubleshooting skills: A major responsibility of electricians is to find, diagnose, and repair problems.
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