How to Get the Most Out of Your Electrical Apprenticeship
For many people, an electrician apprenticeship is something they start after having worked a couple of different jobs, but for some people, an electrical apprenticeship is something they take on right out of high school or trade school.
Either way, an apprenticeship is "uncharted territory," and you'll need to keep a few things in mind as you get started. Here are some tips and pointers for getting all you can from your electrician apprenticeship.
Be On Time, Every Time!
I'm putting this first, because it is the most important thing you'll read all day: your value as a worker equals your ability to show up to a job on time.
I'll put that another way: if you don't show up on time, it doesn't matter how good your work is. If you're an average electrician who is reliable, you'll find a lot more success than if you're a superstar who nobody can count on. Seriously. It doesn't matter if you understand electricity better than anyone in the world---if you can't show up on time, every time, your career is going to flounder.
Here's yet another way to look at it: when you're on the job, what's literally the first job you have? The first responsibility you need to take care of? It's getting there!
One other thing: the "On time, every time" rule also applies to the classroom work you'll need to do during your apprenticeship. A lot of guys are excellent about getting to work on time, but the mess it up when it comes to getting to class on time. No good. Your classwork is just as important as your field work, so be on time there, too.
Record Your Hours Properly
This one is also super-important. Ultimately, you're looking to become a licensed electrician, and depending on where you live, there are different regulations that determine the number of hours you work. One thing is for sure, though: none of the hours in your apprenticeship are worth a dime if you can't account for them.
In other words, keep clear records of the hours you work, and make sure that the way you're recording your hours fulfills your state's obligations.
It's a terrible thing to work all those hours and then have them not count. It's rare that it happens, but why leave it up to chance? Be 100% certain that you are properly fulfilling the requirements of your apprenticeship, and completing the required hours necessary for eventual licensure.
Get Comfortable with the National Electrical Code
There's a post about the National Electrical Code here but we'll mention it again: the Bible for electricians is a book called the National Electrical Code. It's an intimidating book, but before long, you'll learn it backwards and forwards and you'll feel right at home with it. So, if at first you're intimidated---don't worry about it. You'll get the hang of it.
Don't Take Anything Personally
As an apprentice, you're going to learn ALL you need to learn to be an electrician. But you're also going to be doing a lot of drudge work.
That means clearing away trash and dirt and debris from a work site. It means setting up and breaking down for the crew. It means getting lunch for everybody (not paying for it, just picking it up).
It means fetching stuff. A looooooooooot of fetching stuff.
It means a lot of tasks that are mundane and irritating and low-skill and boring and beneath your level of intelligence and skill.
But guess what---you gotta do 'em! It's part of the job, and EVERY single one of the electricians you see who's completed an apprenticeship did the SAME thing. Everybody gets the same treatment.
So don't take it personally when you're asked to do an endless amount of dull tasks. Everybody is an apprentice at one point, and goes through it.
Tap Everybody's Mind
If you think about it, an apprenticeship is an incredible thing. It's a fixed period of time that's specifically set aside for you to learn your craft and master it. Not only that---it's a time that all the established figures in your field recognize as a time for training.
In other words, never again in your life will you have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like, so ask away.
That Said... Learn WHO'S Mind You Should Tap
The trades are like any other gig: there are some people who are always professional: they're always on time, they always know what they're doing, and they always go the extra mile. The All-Stars. The people who take pride in their work and are always trying to learn new things and master their craft.
And then there are guys who... well, they show up every day, and that's about all you can say for them.
These are the guys who do the bare minimum, are unreliable, and who seem to move from employer to employer. They're awful, in other words, and while they may have very strong opinions about what the work is and how to do it---these are the guys you want to take with a grain of salt. Don't avoid them---just be careful about how much you listen to them.
You want to find the guy who been an electrician for years, knows the job inside and out, and is proud of the work that he does. That's the guy you want to bring your questions to.
Don't Burn Yourself Out
I actually went to college, and I was in a fraternity there. When I was pledging (pledging is basically like a months-long job interview, where you have to learn about the fraternity and complete a bunch of tasks for the fraternity brothers), one of the guys who was already in the fraternity told my pledge class, "Don't be Super Pledge. Super Pledge always quits."
I didn't quite understand what he meant, but sure enough, there was this one guy who volunteered for every single task---in fact, he took on so many tasks that he couldn't handle them all, and the tasks he did complete were done poorly. He showed up early and he stayed so late that he missed sleep, and then his studies slipped. He was trying really hard---but he was trying TOO hard, and, as you'd guess, he eventually quit.
There's a fine line between working hard, and working so hard that you burn out. Your apprenticeship is four years long---you don't need to learn everything in the first month.
Which brings me to the last pointer:
Trust the Process
The apprenticeship process is a centuries-old process, and there's a reason for that: it works, and it works really well. By the end of your time as an apprentice, you'll have a very clear understand of the work and how to do it.
So have confidence. Do the work you're given, and have faith that at the end of it all, you'll have the skills you need to build a life for yourself. That's a beautiful thing.