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What is an Electrician Apprentice and How to Become One

If you’re interested in becoming an electrician apprentice then you’re in the right place. Becoming an electrician is an excellent career choice, especially for those who want to get to work right out of high school.

With a growing shortage of skilled electrical workers its a great time to start training to be an electrician.

Why You Should Become Electrician Apprentice

Becoming an electrician has great benefits such as:

  • Learning a life skill
  • Working with your hands
  • Using problem solving skills
  • Career progression – Apprentice, Journeyman, Master electrician, Foreman, General Foreman, Project Manager, Estimator
  • Possibly start your own company

What Does it take to Become an Electrician Apprentice?

Now, wanting to become an electrician and being able to are two different things. Some people join the trade before realizing that they’re not cut out for it or they just don’t like it.

By working as an apprentice, you’re actually training as an electrician. This is called on-the-job training or OJT.

Here’s a few items that will help you understand what will be required while working as an apprentice.

Are you comfortable with:

  • Using hand and power tools?
  • Climbing ladders and working without a fear of heights?
  • Working in a small or tight spaces?
  • Working outside in the summer and winter?electrician apprentice on ladder

Are you able to:

  • Be reliable to your employer?
  • Be at work on time?
  • Work by yourself or as a team?
  • Be flexible when daily tasks change?

These may seem like very basic details – and they are – but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize what it takes to be a successful apprentice. After working or training as an electrician for a few days you should know if you want to make this a career.

To get started in the trade you need to enroll in an electrical apprenticeship or electrical training program. There are differences between the two which I’ll talk about later.

What’s the Job Description of an Electrician Apprentice?

electrician apprentice bending conduitWhat exactly does an electrician apprentice do? As an apprentice training to be an electrician, you’ll learn the in’s and out’s of the electrical trade and what it takes to be an electrician.

As an electrician apprentice you’ll learn to install, maintain, and repair electrical systems in either homes, businesses, and manufacturing plants. This all depends on what part of the trade you get into.

Your most important role as a new apprentice is to assist the journeyman electrician. Electrician’s do a lot more that just pulling wire, installing plugs and lights, and replacing bad breakers. There’s a mechanical side to the electrical trade too.

Take a look at some of the things you could learn as an apprentice. Some of these items are specialized and you may or may not be exposed to them.

  • Learning how to read blueprints, schematics, and wiring diagrams
  • Gathering appropriate material for daily tasks
  • Installing conduits (tubes that connect electrical devices) using a hand, mechanical, or hydraulic bender
  • Install new wire in existing systems or repairing old wiring
  • Learn about installing fire alarm, security, lighting control, data/telecom, and energy management systems
  • Assist with mounting panel boards, transformers, switch gear, transfer switches, and other various types of equipment
  • Troubleshooting and repairing systems

To read more about the electrician job description click here.

What Kind Electrician Apprentice Do You Want To Become?

Residential Apprentice

residential electrician apprenticeAs a residential electrician apprentice you’ll install wiring, switches, plugs, CAT 5, RG-6 cable (TV), electrical panels, services, and troubleshoot electrical problems in homes and apartments. 

You’ll learn how to operate heavy duty drills with auger bits that chew through 2×4 studs allowing pathways for conductors to the locations indicated on the blue prints.

Let’s not forget ditch digging. How else do you think underground electrical systems get put in place? This is the least fun part of being an apprentice but every journeyman electrician has done it.

There’s obviously more to it than digging but you should understand what you could be getting yourself into – no surprises!

electrician apprentice hand toolsDuties for residential electrician apprentices can include:

  • Installing Fire Alarm Systems
  • Establishing Temporary Power during Construction
  • Establishing Grounding Systems
  • Installing New Wiring and Repairing Old Wiring
  • Installing Receptacles, Lighting Systems, and Fixtures
  • Troubleshooting and Repairing Electrical Systems

Residential work is a fast pace environment – especially in new construction. It’s not uncommon to have the majority of a house wired (minus plugs and switches) in 2-3 days!

Some apprentices start working with contractors that specialize in remodeling. This type of work isn’t as fast paced because the home is usually occupied and care must be taken to prevent damage.

This is great niche to get into because of all the home automation upgrades going on right now. The ability to learn about existing and new technologies could help you start your own business once you’re licensed.

Most residential programs are around 2 to 3 years in length. So if you’re looking to jump right into the trade and become licensed this is your fastest route.

Inside Wireman Apprentice

commercial electrician apprenticeAn “inside wireman” or “commercial electrician” works in the non-residential side of the electrical trade. Commercial buildings are usually schools, gas stations, and basically any other building besides a house.

If you’ve ever driven by construction sites you’ve seen the environment where a the majority of the trade works. New construction takes a lot of man power and since electrician apprentices are cheaper than journeyman, this is a hot spot for newbies.

There’s a crazy amount of skills you can learn as an inside wireman. The exposure to all types of systems is staggering and can sometimes be overwhelming.

But if you’re the kind of person who likes to be challenged then this could be a good fit for you.

Duties for an inside wireman and what you’ll be exposed to are:

  • Planning and Initiating Projects
  • Establishing Temporary Power during Construction
  • Establishing Grounding Systems
  • Installing Service to Buildings and Other Structures
  • Establishing Power Distribution within a Project
  • Planning and Installing Raceway Systems
  • Installing New Wiring and Repairing Old Wiring
  • Providing Power and Controls to Motors, HVAC, and Other Equipment
  • Installing Receptacles, Lighting Systems, and Fixtures
  • Troubleshooting and Repairing Electrical Systems
  • Installing and Repairing Traffic Signals, Outdoor Lighting and Outdoor Power Feeders
  • Installing Fire Alarm Systems

Installing a fire alarm panel

Inside a controls cabinet

Using a tugger for pulling wire

Operating a boom lift

Bending conduit using a mechanical bender

Inside a motor control cabinet

Working from a scissor lift

This may seem like a lot, and it is, but you have to understand that you won’t learn all of this at once. Being ready to learn something new each day is a must when starting as a new apprentice.

Testing is usually done before starting up a new electrical installation to make sure there won’t be any surprises. This is a great time to ask questions and watch how equipment and circuits are checked off as safe or ready to be energized.

Depending on the project you’re working on, the pace can vary. If the contractor is under pressure to finish the job soon you’ll see a lot of hustle to get things done quickly.

Apprenticeships are usually 4 to 5 years in length. This depends on where you get your training and the type of curriculum the apprenticeship uses.

Many inside wiremen move into industrial work such as manufacturing, water treatment plants, automobile factories, and other industrial businesses because of their knowledge on specialized equipment.

If you find yourself wanting to work on industrial systems, your responsibilities could include:

  • Performing preventive maintenance on equipment
  • Replacing equipment or parts such as wiring, fuses, circuit breakers, coils, switches
  • Use specialized meters to troubleshoot and analyze problems
  • Troubleshooting variable speed drives.
  • Using programmable logic controllers.

The 3 Electrical Apprenticeships You Need To Know About

There are different routes you can take to become an electrician apprentice but one of the best ways to get started is the join an electrical apprenticeship.

Here are highlights of the three electrical apprenticeships you should be familiar with – IBEW, IEC, and ABC. 

ibew electrician apprentice

Click here to learn how to become an electrician apprentice through the Electrical Training Alliance

IEC electrician apprentice

  • Non Union
  • IEC is the national trade association for merit shop electrical and systems contractors.
  • 3,000 member companies in 53 chapters throughout the USA

Click here to learn how to become an electrician apprentice through the IEC apprenticeship.

electrician apprentice abc apprenticeship

  • Non Union
  • ABC values free enterprise within the construction industry by promoting the merit shop philosophy.

Click here to learn how to become an electrician apprentice through the ABC apprenticeship.

What To Expect When You Start An Electrical Apprenticeship

Electrical apprenticeship programs can vary in length –  typically 2 to 5 years long.  

For the inside wirman program, each electrician apprentice receives a minimum 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in the electrical industry with the supervision of a journeyman electrician

Apprentices will also receive 700 to 900 hours of classroom instruction over the course of the program.

Sometimes apprentices will complete the requirements for the electrician licensing exam before school is complete. However, they still have to meet the apprenticeship requirements to graduate.

Instructors are typically retired electricians, working electricians, or have specialized experience in the trade. They provide real world experience by using on-the-job situations in relation to school work. 

Every apprenticeship is independent and has its own set of guidelines for enrollment and scheduling classes. Classes can be offered either twice a week at night, during the day, one day a week, or in weekly sessions.

The apprenticeship you choose to attend will provide the minimum amount of hours of academic education the state licensing agency requires for electrician apprentices to obtain their licenses. 

Electrician Trade Schools – How Are They Different From Apprenticeships?

Electrician trade or vocational schools are different than electrical apprenticeships. Electrician trade schools are for profit and may or may not have affiliations with trade or contractor associations. This means they may or may not help you get a job after you finish their program. 

Some electrician trade schools are designed to be completed within 1 to 2 years. Being so short, they don’t meet the state hourly training requirements to get your electrician license. This means that once you complete the course, you’re probably going to have to get more training – which could mean more money.

Most trade schools do not have any minimum requirements to enroll and students have options for financial aid to help cover tuition costs.The type of instruction you receive will differ between schools – either online only, hybrid (online / classroom), and classroom.

Courses are available for students seeking to earn a certificate or an associates degree in the electrical field (examples: Certificate of Competency or AAS in Electrical Construction).

The mathematics, electrical theory, and mechanical skills taught throughout the courses are designed to teach you skills to gain employment, and in some cases prepare you for the licensing exam. 

Make sure you talk with a career adviser and ask for student references prior to enrollment to help you decide if a trade school is right for you.

In my opinion, I would stay away from trade schools. They don’t typically offer a full training program that allows you to finish or graduate as a licensed electrician. 

More Electrician Apprentices Are Needed In The Workforce

Skilled tradesmen are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce before they can be replaced. Worker shortages are common in areas where mega-projects are grabbing most of the man power; leaving local contractors struggling to find skilled labor.

In 2011 Mike Rowe – advocate for the skilled tradesmen, host of Dirty Jobs and founder of Mike Rowe Works Foundation (mrWF) – testified before congress about the lack of workers available for blue collar jobs. 

Mike Rowe said 

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them. Alabama’s not alone.

Mike isn’t the only one with this line of thinking.

David Hardt, the new president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), stated that,

some ECs (electrical contractors) are already turning down jobs because they can’t find enough qualified electricians to do the work. All signs point to shortages of skilled electrical workers intensifying in the near future.


He also points out that due to market growth and demand, “we will need a net increase of nearly 100,000 electricians within the next three years.” Becoming an electrician can lead to a very rewarding career.

Before You Become An Electrician Apprentice Remember…

This profession requires hard work, taking the initiative to learn, and the determination to succeed. The multiple skill sets that an electrician must learn is what makes him or her the most valuable commodity to the trades. 

Make sure the route you’re taking is going to take you where you want to be in this profession. Researching apprenticeships or trade schools in your area is a must before getting started.

If you have any questions about becoming an electrician apprentice be sure to leave a comment. EAHQ is here to help.

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About Alex M

Alex M
Hard Work Puts You Where Good Luck Can Find You

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