Things You Should Know Before Entering An Electrician Apprenticeship Program

Updated on August 5, 2015

If you have an interest in entering into an electrician apprenticeship program and are seeking information about becoming an electrician then you have landed on the right page.

Spending 25 years in the electrical construction field as a journeyman electrician including residential, commercial and industrial areas as well as holding a position as a service manager has given me a clear understanding of electrician apprenticeship programs and what it takes to become an apprentice electrician

Your 1st Decision About any Electrician Apprenticeship

You will need to make a decision as to what type of electrical worker you want to be. The entire electrical industry can be sectioned off into three main branches.

  1. Outside linemen are the electricians you see using boom trucks and climbing up poles to access and repair high voltage distribution lines. Linemen need highly specialized skills to perform their job since high voltage in this case really means 'high voltage'. We're talking 10's of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of volts. Working out in foul weather with ridiculously high voltages? Doesn't sound like fun to me.
  2. Low voltage technicians are the electrical workers who install audio, video, data, fiber optic and security cabling for various low voltage requirements. Each of these different areas of expertise can involve it's own specific industry but often times they partner up with each other to form a larger, more efficient business model.
  3. Inside linemen are the electricians that work in the construction field who take care of distributing electric power from the service drop to residential, commercial, manufacturing and various other industrial end users. These are the electrical workers that are associated closely with 'electricians'. This is where my background and expertise is so that's the area that we will be focusing on.

Becoming a journeyman electrician and earning the above-average pay that comes with it will require around 180 hours of classroom instruction each year along with four years of actual work experience out in the field.

These are fairly typical requirements of an electrician apprenticeship program but will vary depending on where you live.

Four years does sound like a lot of time but don't forget that your are 'earning while learning' and the electrician apprenticeship program is usually paid for by your employer or the local union. You will be responsible for the additional classroom instruction on your own time.

This 4 year time investment is completely worth it however and one of the reasons is that most everyone agrees that a journeyman electrician holds the BEST job of all the construction trades… bar none.

By becoming an electrician you will be looked up to… not only by other people in the construction field but also by your family, friends and acquaintances.

Here's the Best Part About Being an Electrician

Electricians usually don't need to work nearly as hard as many of the other tradesmen. For sure there is difficult work involved but electrical workers do a lot of thinking and planning before actually starting with the work.

And as you may already know, electricians are among the highest paid workers in the construction field (except maybe for plumbers).

So let me ask you… would you rather be an electrician or a plumber?

I thought that might be your answer!

To give you an idea as to how much you can make in the electrical field… I was earning $75,000 per year at the end of my employment.... at a non-union job. As a union electrician or getting on a 'prevailing wage' job can earn you even more money.

Although you're certainly not going to get rich on electrician wages but you will always be able to make a pretty nice living.

A job in the electrical industry will give you the skills to take home an above-average wage while doing work that is not only respected but challenging and fulfilling too.

What About a Union Electrician Apprenticeship Program?

This is a question that every prospective apprentice electrician will have to deal with. Much of this decision will be based upon where you live. Some localities are considered ‘union friendly’ while other cities may not be.

Electrical union contractors usually get involved with more sophisticated types of jobs. They obviously have a larger labor base to dip into in order to man-up those bigger projects. They typically have the necessary financial resources to take care of the insurance and bonding issues that these larger jobs require.

If the local union is very active in your area, this might be a good choice for you as the union electrician apprenticeship program is one of the best around.

As a union electrician your wage scale is usually higher than an equal position with a non-union contractor. That fact however can be deceiving. If the local electrician union runs out of work, guess what? You are out of work too. You cannot just go find a new job in the private sector… at least not and maintain your good standing in the union.

You do however have the option to travel to where there is a union job that is hiring. How do you think the term 'journeyman electrician' was originally coined?

This all boils down to the fact that if you get laid off for a while (which is not uncommon) your unemployment benefits will obviously have the negative effect of averaging that high union hourly union rate downward.

You need to somehow get a feel for how active the local union is in your area before you can make a rational decision regarding which way to go. Just take a trip down to your local IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) office and ask them a few pertinent questions but don't make any commitments at this point. Union business agents can be very persuasive when it comes to the area of recruitment.

What Are Your Other Electrician Apprenticeship Options?

Each state has their own electrician apprenticeship, electrical testing and licensing programs you will be subject to. They usually will be working closely with the non-union electrical contractors in your area.

Here is the best way to go down this employment path.

Just put together a list of some of the electrical contractors in your area and go out and talk with them. You don't need to call or write first and don't bring a resume with you even if you happen to have one. Just barge into the office and ask to talk to someone about employment possibilities as an apprentice electrician.

Don't be shy or intimidated. These contractors aren't uppity type businessmen who require an appointment to see them. They're former construction workers who now run their own businesses and departments. If they need help they are ALWAYS looking for an intelligent and motivated person who will make them some money down the line.

If you can confidently walk in and make a good impression, they will quickly see that you might be worth some time and effort in training you as an apprentice electrician.

Believe me, there are plenty of marginal, unmotivated and unreliable electricians out there in the work force. I've had to fire my fair share of them. A business owner is ALWAYS consider that one-of-a-kind electrical apprentice who will be a true asset to his business.

I've seen a few motivated and smart apprentice electricians running their own jobs after only a couple of years. This is the exception of course but it's entirely doable for a quick learner (but won't happen in a union shop).

By getting out there and talking to electrical contractors you will get a good feel as to exactly what electrician qualifications are necessary for your area.

You will find out just how the electrician apprenticeship program works in your locality. Of course not everyone will be able to talk to you when you just walk in but that's okay… some of them will and you can gain not only some valuable information but an important contact as well.

The best time to stop by is between 8 and 9 am… this is the sweet spot that comes after the early morning hustle-and-bustle but before the boss leaves for morning meetings.

You may also want to contact the local agency that is administering the electrician apprenticeship program in your city.

One such organization is ABC or Associated Builders and Contractors. They are a really good source of information and will have a list of the local electrical contractors that they work with.

Where do Electrical Trade Schools and Online Training Courses Fit in?

I realize these training options have their place. Some of the smaller electrical contractors won't necessarily be affiliated with the default state electrician apprenticeship program so an online training course or local trade electrician school might be able to fill the gap.

Don't forget that you will eventually need to pass the state journeyman electrician test as well as provide proof of your on-the-job work time. That's in addition to your documented classroom training hours.

You will want to be absolutely sure that any online course or electrical trade school is accredited by the state you live in.

Just remember that when you opt for this route you will be incurring tuition costs.

Finding a local electrical contractor who is tied into the state electrician apprenticeship program is the much preferred avenue to take. This way you will be getting paid while gaining valuable on-the-job training while your employer is footing the bill for the classroom instruction.

There is a catch with this arrangement however and that is you will be tied to the same company for the remainder of the apprenticeship program so choose an electrical contractor you can live with for four years.

An issue that can come up occasionally is when an apprentice electrician gets fired or laid off.

If that happens don't fret since all of your field work and classroom hours are documented and can be rolled over to a new employer that is involved in the same electrician apprenticeship program. There is typically only one state approved apprenticeship program per local area BTW.

Entering into an electrician apprenticeship program is certainly a fulfilling career. After spending 25 years working in the industry, I should know. It could work out to be the perfect job for you.


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    Papermaker28 3 months ago

    I just made an account to say thank you ToughNickel and Mr. Higgins for writing such a useful and informative article. I particularly like the bit about walking into a contractor's office and speaking to them directly. This was the method I used to get my last job, and I am happy to see it is reinforced in this article.