Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are thinking of becoming an electrician, whether you intend to enter an apprenticeship or learn informally on the job, you should have a high school background that includes such courses as applied mathematics and science, shop classes that teach the use of various tools, and mechanical drawing. Electronics courses are especially important if you plan to become a maintenance electrician.

Postsecondary Training

Some electricians still learn their trade the same way electrical workers did many years ago—informally on the job while employed as helpers to skilled workers. Especially if that experience is supplemented with vocational or technical school courses, correspondence courses, or training received in the military, electrical helpers may in time become well-qualified crafts workers in some area of the field.

You should be aware, however, that most professionals believe that apprenticeship programs provide the best all-around training in this trade. Apprenticeships combine a series of planned, structured, supervised job experiences with classroom instruction in related subjects. Many programs are designed to give apprentices a variety of experiences by having them work for several electrical contractors doing different kinds of jobs. Typically, apprenticeships last four or five years and provide at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training each year. Completion of an apprenticeship is usually a significant advantage in getting the better jobs in the field.

Applicants for apprenticeships generally need to be high school graduates, at least 18 years of age, in good health, and with at least average physical strength. Although local requirements vary, many applicants are required to take tests to determine their aptitude for the work.

Most apprenticeship programs are developed and conducted by state and national contractor associations such as the Independent Electrical Contractors Inc. and the union locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Some programs are conducted as cooperative efforts between these groups and local community colleges and training organizations. In either situation, the apprenticeship program is usually managed by a training committee. An agreement regarding in-class and on-the-job training is usually established between the committee and each apprentice.

Some students participate in a pre-apprenticeship program that provides them with the personal skills and the technical know-how to be successful in an apprenticeship. The Home Builders Institute offers a preapprenticeship certificate training for aspiring electricians. Visit http://www.hbi.org/Programs/Trades/Electrical-Wiring1 for more information. 

Other Education or Training

The National Electrical Contractors Association, Independent Electrical Contractors, Associated General Contractors of America, and the National Association of Home Builders offer continuing education opportunities for electricians and those seeking to pursue positions as electrical contractors and managers. Unions and employers may also sponsor classes that help electricians keep their skills up to date. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Electronics specialists receive certification training and testing through the International Society of Certified Electronic Technicians. The electrical training ALLIANCE also offers the following certifications: cable splicing certification, inside electrical craft certification, photovoltaic system installer certification, and instrumentation certification. 

Some states and municipalities require that electricians be licensed. To obtain a license, electricians usually must pass a written examination on electrical theory, National Electrical Code requirements, and local building and electrical codes. Other programs teach electricians how to become contractors. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience working with electronics via school clubs, competitions, and other activities is highly recommended for aspiring electricians.

You will need to have good color vision because electricians need to be able to distinguish color-coded wires. Agility and manual dexterity are also desirable characteristics, as are a sense of teamwork, an interest in occasionally working outdoors, and a love of working with your hands. Other important traits include attention to detail, strong communication skills, excellent troubleshooting skills, and the ability to work independently when necessary. If you are self-employed, you'll need good customer service and business management skills.