How do you become a licensed electrician?

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.

What does an electrician do?

Broadly speaking, electricians can work on maintenance projects or on new construction projects. Maintenance work deals with repairing or replacing wiring and components in existing structures or systems. Electrical work in new construction projects deals with installing systems, wiring and components in newly-built factories, office buildings, shopping centers and homes. In either case, work can be done inside and outside of the building site.

Most electricians tend to specialize in a particular category of work. Outside linemen, as the name implies, work outside on things such as utility poles, transformers and cables that connect utilities with residential, commercial and industrial properties. This work can be physically challenging as it involves climbing utility poles and dealing with harsh weather. Inside wiremen work indoors and focus on wiring for new construction or on the re-wiring of existing structures. This work can involve homes, commercial properties or industrial properties. Often times, inside wiremen specialize in either new construction or work on existing buildings.

Many skills are required of electricians. You must have a good understanding of electrical infrastructure (the grid, transmission systems, circuit breakers, panel boards, appliances, etc.). You must be able to read blueprints, and work with specialized equipment such as ohmmeters, voltmeters and oscilloscopes. And much more. This all comes with on the job training and experience.

Becoming an electrician requires years of apprenticeship and training. The first step is to serve as an apprentice for several years where you receive a combination of “on the job” training and classroom training. The next step is to become a licensed journeyman where you can work without direct supervision. After years as journeymen, some electricians choose to advance further and become master electricians. This involves years of exposure to specialty work, passing an exam and providing letters of reference to a local governing board. Some master electricians decide to take the next (and final) step up by becoming independent electrical contractors. This allows you to have your own business, to employ other electricians and to bid directly on work. Becoming an independent electrical contractor involves a lot of responsibility but can be very rewarding.