Electricians, the workers who install, maintain, and repair electrical systems, receive important safety training through apprenticeships and vocational programs. Those wanting to learn how to become an electrician should keep in mind that it takes a trained technician to install safe, reliable and energy-efficient wiring systems.
What Does an Electrician Do?
Electricians install and maintain the electrical and power systems that light up our homes; power our appliances and computers; run our factories; and in some cases, provide heat and climate control.
In the course of installing and maintaining electrical systems, electricians complete a broad range of tasks. Key skills include:
- Reading blueprints. These technical diagrams identify the locations of circuits, outlets, panel boards, load centers and other components in the electrical systems.
- Installing wiring. Electricians connect wires to circuit breakers, transformers and electrical outlets, in accordance to building and electrical codes. To install wiring, electricians use conduit benders, wire strippers and other specialized wiring tools.
- Testing electrical systems. Electricians use ammeters, ohmmeters, voltmeters, harmonics testers and other equipment to test connections and ensure safety.
- Maintaining and repairing electrical systems. Electricians inspect electrical equipment and identify any malfunctioning components through troubleshooting. They then replace faulty items such as circuit breakers, fuses, switches, wiring and electrical components.
Electricians who specialize in industrial systems may also repair and maintain complex tools such as electronic controllers on machine tools and industrial robots. Factory electricians often work with engineers to ensure the safety and proper functioning of complex industrial electrical equipment.
Before learning more about how to become an electrician, you should first decide what type of electrical work you wish to do. Most electricians focus on either new construction or on electrical maintenance, but many are capable of working in both fields. Those focusing on maintenance repair and upgrade electrical systems and repair electrical equipment. Those working in construction mainly install wiring systems in homes, businesses, factories and other types of facilities.
A number of electricians also install low-voltage wiring systems. Low voltage wiring accommodates data, voice and video equipment. Installing fiber optic and coaxial cable for electronic controls and telecommunications equipment is also accomplished by electricians.
What Are the Steps to Becoming an Electrician?
It takes many hours of training to master the technical skill and knowledge of the electrician trade. Though the path can vary depending on your area of specialization, here are some common steps to becoming an electrician:
- Focus on math classes in high school. Math will be a big component in much of the work that you do, so it'd be beneficial to have a solid base for mathematics as early as you can.
- Earn a high school diploma or GED. A high school diploma is typically the minimum requirement for starting a career as an electrician.
- Enroll in a vocational training program. Many electricians learn their trade through specialized training at a vocational or trade school, where they'll learn the basics of the trade. While not required, an initial vocational training course can help you secure a high-quality paid apprenticeship. You may also enter the apprenticeship program at a more advanced level.
- Complete an apprenticeship program. Many apprenticeship programs bring together formal classroom instruction and on-the-job training. Electrician training programs generally last four years and incorporate at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and two thousand hours of on-the-job training. Training covers key areas of knowledge, including electrical theory, blueprint reading, mathematics, and electrical code requirements.
- Pass the licensing exam. This will test your knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code and state and local building codes. Though the requirements vary by state, many state and local authorities require electricians to demonstrate their mastery of the trade through licensure. There are special licenses for some electrician roles, such as public electricians, electrical contractors and inspectors.
How to Become a GREAT Electrician
Skilled electricians take pride in their knowledge and the role that they play in keeping today's electrical systems in safe and effective condition. Here are some steps to becoming an electrician of the highest order:
- Be Flexible: Typically, electricians work 40 hours a week. However, sometimes working overtime is necessary. Electricians involved with maintenance work may be required to work nights and during the weekends and might have to be on call and work when necessary.
- Stay in Shape: Top-notch electricians must be able to lift heavy objects, bend conduit and stand for long periods of time.
- Continuing Education: Some of the resources available to help you advance your skills include continuing education courses, specialized licensing and a college degree in electrical engineering. You can also pursue certification as a master electrician. Master electricians have at least seven years experience in the field and often have a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
- Advancement: Experienced electricians have opportunities to advance into supervisor jobs. Those working in construction are eligible to become project managers or construction superintendents. Some begin their own contracting company which requires a special electrical contractor's license. Also, some electricians find employment as electrical inspectors.
Resources for Electricians
- National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee
- National Electrical Contractors Association
- Independent Electrical Contractors Inc.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Electricians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm
- The National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, http://electricaltrainingalliance.org/