The rules and regulations that apply to obtaining an electrician’s license differ from state to state. In fact, within many states licensing rules can be different from one county or municipality to the next. So for your particular situation, be sure to check with your state and your local authorities. Much of this information is available online.
In general, the path to becoming a fully licensed electrical contractor involves several steps:
1. You begin by working as an apprentice, gaining on the job experience supervised closely by a licensed electrical contractor. Your apprenticeship will include both on the job training and classroom work. Requirements vary from state to state, but in general this period can last 4-5 years, including up to 1,000 hours of classroom study. The goal at the end of this stage is to take and successfully pass your journeyman examination. Once you do, you will become a licensed electrical journeyman.
2. As a licensed journeyman, you will be able to work on residential and commercial projects without direct supervision. You will be doing a lot of “basic” electrical work such as wiring, installing new equipment and repairing existing equipment. You are not working totally “on your own”, you are working on a team but without the direct supervision you had in your apprenticeship phase. You will be exposed to a variety of work (residential, commercial, utility, HVAC, elevators, escalators, solar, etc.). Many people find one line of work during their journeyman period that they like and decide to remain a journeyman forever. Others choose to advance from the journeyman stage and become a master electrician.
3. For those who choose to advance from journeyman to master electrician, they will have to accumulate a couple more years of experience in the field. This experience could include specializing in one area of electrical work or a variety of work. With additional work under your belt, you would apply for a master electrician’s license with a local governing authority. You will need to take an examination, and provide letters of reference from customers and supervisors. Once you become a master electrician, you will be able to work without supervision, hire electricians to work for you and perform work directly for government agencies. Some master electricians decide to “take the next step” and become an independent electrical contractor.
4. Independent electrical contractors are master electricians who own their own companies. These companies can be smaller with just a few electricians focused on residential business or large, multi-million companies bidding on large commercial projects. As the owner of your business, you will be responsible for hiring, payroll, bidding on jobs and perhaps specializing in a particular line of work. To become a licensed electrical contractor, you will be required to: complete an application, detail your career experience, prove financial stability, become bonded and get various types of insurance (general liability, workmen’s comp, bodily injury, property damage). Some local authorities require you to pass a written exam.
A career as an electrician can be very rewarding, whether you are a journeyman or an independent electrical contractor. Many experts in the field predict solid growth for the industry for many years in the future, providing a nice tailwind for those choosing to get into this line of work.