Written by Terri Oppenheimer
June 20, 2022

Electrician Trade School

Becoming an electrician can mean enjoying a flexible, financially rewarding, and high-growth career. You can become an electrician in a short amount of time via electrician trade schools, or you can choose to pursue an apprenticeship over a degree or certificate.

Electricians are well paid and in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for electricians is $60,040, and a 9% expected growth rate over the next ten years. That rate of growth may underestimate the actual need. The combination of higher demand for residential and light commercial EV charging installation increased electricity consumption in the US, and record retirements among experienced electricians are all creating a significant shortage. Now is a great time to become an electrician.

Requirements for Becoming an Electrician

Electricians have different levels of responsibilities, licenses, and expertise, but they all start with the same basic steps. They first must earn a high school diploma or GED and apply for and complete an apprenticeship that provides them with instruction, hands-on experience, supervision, and mentorship. Though it is not strictly required, one of the most effective methods of getting the training and education that you need is to attend a trade or vocational/technical school.

One advantage of attending a school is that licensing organizations generally allow formal education to substitute for a significant number of hours of on-the-job experience. In addition to a trade school or college, an apprenticeship can also be pursued through a union or non-union organization of electrical contractors. 

An apprenticeship generally takes four years, requiring 576-1,000 hours in the classroom and 8,000-10,000 hours of on-the-job training. After completion, you will be ready to pass an electrical exam and qualify for the electrician’s license. 

Electrician Trade Schools

As the easiest and most accessible starting point to a career as an electrician, electrician trade schools teach attendees fundamental skills and knowledge involving:

  • AC and DC power
  • Current
  • Resistance
  • Voltage
  • Electrical construction
  • Wiring
  • Electrical controls
  • Motors
  • Electrical Theory

These lessons address industrial, commercial, and residential applications, conduit bending, electrical mathematics and theory, and blueprints.

The classroom portion of electrical trade school generally takes less than a year to complete and provides several hundred hours of classroom instruction, as well as a significant amount of time doing hands-on work.

Students can find electrical trade school programs at most community colleges or technical colleges. At the end of an electrician trade school program, graduates secure a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. 

Electrician Apprenticeship Programs

Electrician apprenticeship programs generally take four years to complete. They can be pursued through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which is a labor union, or through non-union resources after having attended trade school. These schools often have relationships with electrical contractors who are willing to take on apprentices and provide the required training and mentorship.

Apprenticeships are paid positions. Union apprenticeships involve choosing a specialty and starting at a salary that is roughly half that of a professional electrician. Apprentices are offered wage increases every six months to a year. Non-union apprenticeships are less structured: they are applied for in the same way that a candidate would apply for a job. Trade schools generally have relationships with local electricians, who make their positions available to the school’s students to apply for, get hired, and gain experience. 

By the end of an electrician program, you should have a strong understanding of the National Electrical Code, the foundational code for electricians followed by all 50 states.

What’s the Difference Between Electrician Trade Schools and Apprenticeship Programs?

While moving directly into an apprenticeship program allows aspiring electricians to begin earning wages immediately without having to incur any educational expenses, they do not include the classroom sessions that some states may require, and it will take 3-5 years to complete the required number of training hours.

By contrast, electrician trade schools can cost tens of thousands of dollars to attend but provide the required number of classroom hours while also facilitating access to non-union apprenticeship programs. Additionally, the hours spent in the classroom are frequently applied to required training hours, thus shortening the amount of time before the candidate is eligible for licensure.

When choosing your route to becoming an electrician, start by investigating your state’s requirements. Using those rules for guidance provides a much-needed framework, as does understanding the differences between apprenticeship programs and electrician trade schools, and the distinct advantages and disadvantages each offers.  

What Does an Electrician Do?

Though an electrician’s specific responsibilities shift depending upon their area of specialty and the environment in which they work, all are trained to install, repair, troubleshoot, and maintain electrical systems and equipment. In addition to possessing technical know-how, electricians are problem solvers and critical thinkers. 

Electricians are categorized by their level of education and experience, as well as by the environment in which they work. 

By education and experience there are three different levels:

  • Apprentice Electricians are first learning the trade, usually as part of a four-year, hands-on job training program that places them under the supervision and mentorship of an experienced professional electrician.

  • Journeyman electricians have completed their apprenticeship and have passed exams that lead to licensure and the ability to work without supervision. Journeyman electricians do not have the experience needed to serve as supervisors, train apprentices, or seek permits for electrical jobs.

  • Master electricians have at least two years of experience. In most states, achieving this professional level requires passing an exam and provides the ability to train, supervise, and pull permits.

Electricians can work in several different environments and specialty areas, including the following: 

  • Residential electricians work in home settings, including single-family homes and multi-unit residences. Their work generally consists of the installation and repair of wiring, electrical systems, and appliances.

  • Commercial electricians work in office buildings, shopping centers, administrative buildings, and other environments that have more extensive power needs and different types of wiring and applications. 

  • Industrial electricians are responsible for electrical work in manufacturing facilities, power plants, chemical plants and other facilities whose operations depend upon large equipment and machinery. 

  • Independent contractors are electricians who have put in the years needed to become master electricians and then set out on their own. They are required to be self-insured and may hire staff to assist them.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Electrician?

Though each state has its own requirements, becoming an electrician generally requires 4-5 years. Every electrician is required to fulfill a minimum of 8,000 hours of hands-on work, as well as a minimum number of classroom hours. 

Attending an electrical training program can concentrate and facilitate fulfilling the classroom requirements and may translate into a reduction in the number of hands-on hours needed to be completed before taking a licensure exam and becoming a Journeyman Electrician.

Once you have invested four years into becoming a Journeyman Electrician, it takes two more years of work to qualify to take the exam to become a Master Electrician.

Picking an Electrician Training Program

To identify the electrician trade program that best suits your needs, begin with your location. You want to attend a school that meets the requirements of the state where you plan to work and seek licensure. Beyond geography, the factors that are most important for you to consider include:

  • The reputation of the program

  • Availability of classes in specialty areas of interest

  • Program length

  • The flexibility of the class schedule

  • Program costs

  • Availability of a robust career placement program that refers to apprenticeship programs

FAQs

  • Do electricians attend college or trade schools?
    • Electricians can attend four- or two-year college programs, but there is no requirement that they do so. Trad schools are available and provide a quick way to learn the basics, but attendance is not required. The majority of electrician training comes through their apprenticeship.
  • How much do electricians make?
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average median salary for an electrician is $60,040.
  • Is it hard to get an electrician apprenticeship?
    • There are several routes to obtaining an electrician apprenticeship. They can be arranged through the union where available, or non-union apprenticeships can be sought through electrician trade school referrals or job applications.