How Hard Is It To Become An Electrician?
SO, YOU'RE interested in a career as an electrician. Wonderful! Electricians are proud men and women who literally keep our country running. You're excited to get started, but you want to know, specifically, how hard is it to become an electrician?
First, we’ll provide some intro information about how people become electricians—the various training options people have. Then we’ll take a look at the different aspects of the job—the easy parts, and the difficult parts—and then we’ll talk about the one topic everybody dreads: the math.
How Do Electricians Get Their Start?
Let’s start at the beginning, with some “need-to-know” facts:
- Electricians need a license to work. There are entry-level positions and assistant positions available that don’t require a license, but those positions have very limited pay and employment opportunities; the ultimate goal of most electricians is to become a licensed electrician (aka, a “journeyman electrician,” or a “journey electrician”).
- In order to get a license, an electrician must complete an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships last, usually, between three and five years, depending on the state.
- There are a couple of difference ways to get an apprenticeship. You can 1) find an entry-level job, make professional connections, and find an apprenticeship through your employer (that’s called “starting green,” and it’s a very popular way to do things); 2) Contact employers and/or unions directly, and ask if they have apprenticeship opportunities. This can be difficult, but people do find apprenticeships this way; and/or 3) Go to a trade school or electrician school, graduate, find a job and make professional connections, and get an apprenticeship.
So now that you know HOW people become electricians, let’s take a look at each of those options, and find out how difficult they are.
Then we’ll talk about the math.
Is Electrician School Hard?
Trade schools and electrician schools are specifically set up to introduce you to a career as an electrician, and you’ll start from the beginning and build on your knowledge as you go along. It’s important to study hard, because students build a skill set, and learn one skill after the other—so each skill is important. Instructors usually help students who are struggling, but that depends on the school you go to—so make sure you go to a good school, and make sure your program is reasonably priced!
Trade schools can be a good way to get ready for your apprenticeship. As we discussed on our "Electrician Apprenticeship vs. Electrician School" post, it's a great way to have a teacher help you with the math skills you need, learn basics about job, and find a job as an electrician's assistant.
Keep in mind, you do not need to go to a trade school or electrician school to become an electrician. Some people choose to go to school; others do not, and still have satisfying careers as electricians. If you can find an apprenticeship right off the bat, that should be your first choice.
What Will I Learn In Electrician School?
There are a number of different subjects you'll be introduced to. They include:
- Electrical Theory. What is electricity? How does it work? This is actually a pretty big question, and even electricians who have been practicing in the field take a while to truly understand electrical theory.
- Algebra for the Trades. You may have read that electricians do a lot of math—particularly algebra—on the job site. That's true. If you're like most of us, you took algebra in high school, and you've forgotten almost everything about it. That's TOTALLY ok. Your school will teach you all the basics and equations you need to know.
- The National Electrical Code. In the United States, electricians use a guidebook called the National Electrical Code (NEC). The code is incredibly dense—more than 1,000 pages—so you'll just get introduced to the main ideas presented in the book. You'll actually learn about the NEC over the course of your entire apprenticeship (which we'll talk about in a second).
- Basic Residential and Commercial Job Responsibilities. When you're on a job site, what will be expected of you? These courses will give you the basic skills you need to assist a crew.
- Power Distribution. How does electricity flow from a source to all of the locations on a grid? What are the rules and regulations that determine its use? Again, you will learn more about this over the course of your apprenticeship, but these classes are a great intro.
- Heavy Machinery and Electricity. What are the machines you can expect to in an industrial setting? How you will install/maintain them? Industrial electricians work primarily in factories and power plants, and need a great deal of knowledge to work in such settings. Classes like these are the seeds of that knowledge.
Note that every school curriculum is very different, but there are some basic courses that are very common.
Is An Electrical Apprenticeship Difficult?
As far as training goes, apprenticeships are unparalleled. There is simply no better way to learn the electrician trade than completing an apprenticeship over four years. You will work side-by-side people who will answer all of your questions, give you instruction when you need it, and share their experience with you. There are many folks who say that an apprenticeship is better than college, and it's easy to see why: at the completion of the apprenticeship, you will know EVERYTHING you need to know.
The hardest thing will be actually getting an apprenticeship. You may have to wait a while. There are many, many people who want to become electricians, and apprentice positions are numbered.
Also, the exam for the apprenticeship can be difficult. There is a great deal of math, and if you're unfamiliar with it, you can fail the exam and kiss the apprenticeship goodbye.
There's one other thing that can be challenging: at just over four years, the apprenticeship is a LONG training period (so it's a good thing you get paid as you move through your apprenticeship!). So, yes, it takes a while to become a fully licensed journeyman electrician. You have to have your act together, or be able to get it together. But many electricians believe that it's worth it.
If you have more questions about apprenticeships, take a look around the site—we've answered a lot of the questions that people have.
How Challenging Is The Math That Electricians Use?
It's definitely harder than simple arithmetic, but it's not impossible. Many electricians have said that it gets much, much easier with time, especially when you work in the field day-in/day-out, and you see the concepts in action.
Here's an example of a few problems that you may find in an apprentice exam. If those look daunting to you—and it's ok if they do—then you probably need to brush up on your math skills before you get started.
If you're worried about the math aspect of things, here's some good news: you'll have PLENTY of time to learn. The apprenticeship is LONG, and if there's a concept you don't understand, you'll have a lot of time to figure it out!
Is The Actual Work That Electricians Do Difficult?
It's definitely not as hard as the physical work that is demanded of other tradespeople, but it is a much more physical job than any desk job you'll ever have. Plus, there are some other factors that can make it challenging:
- The weather can be bad. You may be working in attics during the hottest months of the summer, and working in garages—or outdoors—during the coldest months of winter. For some people, however, this is the best part of the job—being outside, and not getting stuck in the monotony of office work.
- You'll be on your feet all day. Another thing that's actually a positive aspect of the job. They're finding out that people who sit in an office all day long have some pretty serious health problems because of it, such as diabetes and obesity. Not electricians, though! Electricians can be pretty tired by the time they get home.
- You're in it for the long haul. This is another aspect of the job that's actually a good thing. Many Americans get laid off and have to change careers half-way through their professional lives. Most electricians are electricians for their entire working career, and if you decide to become an electrician, chances are strong you'll be a lifer too!
Is It A Good Job, Overall?
That question is ultimately a matter of personal opinion—but in our opinion, yes! Because electricians can be paid well, many of them experience a good deal of financial security. But even without that, though, many electricians enjoy a high level of job satisfaction. For those who have become masters of the craft, many find that the work is always new and interesting.