Every electrician starts their career as a first year electrician apprentice. It doesn’t matter if its a trade school, apprenticeship, or working for a local contractor – everyone has to start somewhere.
For me, I started my electrical career at Bates Technical Community College in Tacoma, Washington. After learning about an IBEW apprenticeship program – I applied, was accepted, and left the trade school to begin.
I received my dispatch slip on Friday and was scheduled to start work the following Monday.
I didn’t know anything about working in the trades and being a first year apprentice with zero experience – it was going to be interesting.
My First Day As An Electrician Apprentice
My first day on the job was at the Hilton hotel in Bellevue, Washington. There wasn’t much there, just a shell of a building, lots of traffic cones and detours, people yelling – and I was super nervous.
Parking was hell and I was sure I’d have a ticket by the end of the day.
I had the phone number of the foreman and was instructed to call him once I was on site. So I gave him a call and he told me where to meet up.
He knew right off that I was as green as an apprentice gets – clean hard hat, clean safety vest, clean work pants, shiny tools, and no idea what the hell I was doing.
He showed me around the job site, where the break area was, where the port-a-johns were, and where to park…tomorrow.
The first few months all I did was pull thousands of feet of fire alarm cable. It was confusing.
I didn’t understand the labeling, I wasn’t setting the wire cart up correctly before the wire pulls, I didn’t have the other ends of the wires labeled – if it was wrong, I was doing it.
I thought to myself, “This is stupid. I’m not learning anything I thought I was going to learn about the trade. Do electricians really do fire alarm? I don’t want to do this.”
Turning My Attitude Around
My attitude started to slip and I contemplated looking into something else. Fortunately I stuck with it and started to get really good.
I learned to place the wire reels on correctly before each pull, how to make a good head on the wire that wouldn’t bind up in the pipe, and how to properly feed and pull the wire as a team.
After four months all the main cables were pulled and I finally started learning how to do other things. Kaz handed me a pipe bender and told to run 40 feet of 1/2 inch EMT (conduit / pipe).
“Umm, what do I connect the ends to? How does this conduit bender work? What holds it on the concrete beam?”
Kaz was very patient with me and showed me the in’s and out’s of how to bend conduit.
So after I bent my first conduit run, secured it with anchors, and attached a box to the end of it, I stepped back and beamed.
I thought I was the Michaelangelo of pipe bending – that is until Kaz said, “That looks like shit. Take it down and do it again, but this time do “this” instead of “that”.
Crushed but ready to try again, I followed his instructions and this time I was rewarded with a silent nod of approval.
And off I went to bend tens of thousands of feet of 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch EMT.
Even Though I Was First Year Electrician Apprentice, People Noticed My Progress and Ability
Once my foreman realized that I wasn’t an idiot and had some initiative, he started showing me how to do more technical things. I was given tasks to mount lighting cabinets, install relays, wire various sensors, and a few other random items.
I learned how to terminate different devices, install end-of-line resistors – and why they’re needed, install smoke / heat detectors, photo sensors, reflectors, and alarms; which led to understanding the “how-to” and “why” we did certain things and how it affected the end result.
Towards the end of my first year I really began to feel as if I was adding value to the crew.
As soon as the morning brief was over I knew exactly what material we needed for the day – the different types of fittings, connectors, anchors, tools, and wire.
I’d load up work carts with boxes of fittings and tear the tops off for instant access. I created a visual layout in my head of how a material cart should be arranged that would allow us to be more efficient.
Fittings, couplings, straps, and anchors on one side – screws, bolts, washers, boxes and covers on the other – and always a box for miscellaneous stuff.
At the end of each day I would clean and reorganize our (although I considered it mine since I kept it well stocked) cart, making sure to make note of which material was running low.
I kept a pocket notepad and pen in my safety vest; which turned out to be handy for keeping track of wiring diagrams and color codes as well as material lists.
Getting Laid Off and What I Learned
Getting laid off sucked! Right at the end of my first year the construction of the hotel was completed. About a month before my lay off I noticed every Monday that the break area would be less full. Fridays were lay off days.
But I was certain that I would be sent to another job site because, well, because I thought I was a bad ass apprentice. And who would lay off a bad ass apprentice?
And then it happened. In all reality I wasn’t mad. At first, I was a little disappointed in myself but came to understand that the job was over and the other jobs had full crews.
I asked the foreman on how I could improve and he gave me some tips, which I wrote down of course, shook hands and parted ways.
Starting off as a green first year electrician apprentice, I had no idea what to expect when entering a skilled trade. But I did learn the ins and outs of how survive a job site.
Over the course of a year I was able to turn myself into a valuable asset by learning, paying attention, asking questions, and getting the job done.
With every job comes bad days, hard days, long days, and days where you take a step back and realize that you’re actually DOING something. Those are great days.