Are you interested in learning how to become an electrician? Perhaps you have a natural inclination to fix things but do you have the skills needed to become an electrical technician?
Learn what an electrical technician does and skills you’ll need to succeed.
The U.S. Department of Labor expects the electrical technician field to grow by 14 percent between now and 2024, which is much higher than the national average for occupational growth for this time. While the job market for electricians fluctuates with the economy, there’s no reason to expect a decrease in demand for electricians, especially in highly populated areas. Based on 2015 figures, the median hourly wage for electrical technicians was $24.94, which averages close to $51,880 a year.
What Does an Electrical Technician Do?
Electricians perform a wide variety of tasks, ranging from complete installation of wiring in a new construction project to repairing and replacing older systems. Some of the most common duties include:
- Using tools, calibration equipment, and wires to build electrical systems.
- Collaborating with architects and engineers to design the best placement of electrical wiring in new construction.
- Testing existing wiring for safety and quality control.
- Updating older electrical systems to meet the current codes and safety regulations required by your state.
- Repairing broken equipment and making suggestions on newer methods of delivering electricity that replace previous standards.
- Assessing and improving electrical systems for an increased demand, such as for adding electronic devices or large appliances.
- Modifying existing electrical systems to meet the standards for more environmentally-friendly technologies.
- Reading blueprints to learn where panel boards, circuits, outlets and other electrical components are found or will be positioned.
Type of Work
Most electricians fall into one of two categories:
- Inside electricians. Technicians in this job typically work for one particular business or factory while handling the maintenance and repair of equipment, electrical systems and motors. The ability to update or install a whole wiring system is also a requirement as many factories need a regular overhaul to meet code conditions. Technicians are employees of the company they work for rather than a contractor.
- Residential electricians. In addition to troubleshooting power and wiring problems in a home, residential electricians are also called on to build systems in new construction. In this position, you may work for a construction company or an electrical contractor. Instead of working in a set environment, you’ll receive a list of jobs at the beginning of each shift, which may change throughout the day.
- Telecommunications electricians. Technicians in this position typically lay, install and repair the cable and systems needed for all forms of communication: phone, computer LAN wiring. These positions can either be business-specific or government contracted positions.
Five Skills Every Electrical Technician Needs
Although this career route may be attractive to a lot of people, there are some electrical technician requirements that can’t be taught in a classroom or during an apprenticeship. It’s important to consider whether you have the following skills necessary to be good at the job, otherwise your safety and the safety of those around you may be in jeopardy:
- Mechanical aptitude. It might seem obvious, but not everyone has an innate sense of mechanics. If you’ve always enjoyed taking things apart to see how they work and are successfully able to put them back together, electrical work might be a good fit. On the other hand, if a simple do-it-yourself project leaves you frustrated, this might not be the right career path for you. Being comfortable around electrical work and being confident in your own abilities is a must.
- Problem-solving skills. Diagnosing and repairing electrical problems is a large part of a technician’s job. Once the apprenticeship is over, you will be largely on your own to respond to issues and find their solution. Understanding an overall electrical problem and investigating ways to fix it is a critical component of this job. Learning how to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions to problems is another vital skill for a successful career as an electrical technician.
- Reading comprehension. Many work orders are assigned to electricians through written communications, either on paper or through email. Interpreting these work orders and writing a summary of your own work are important components to ensure job details are followed properly and so other electricians can understand your methods should they work on the project after you.
- Business skills. Since many electrical technicians go on to become independent contractors, business skills are something you can acquire over the years. A general knowledge of business practices, such as invoicing, tracking inventory, managing employees and strategic planning will help many electrical technicians make the jump to supervisory positions and, hopefully one day, running their own companies.
- Customer service skills. The amount of interaction an electrician has with customers varies greatly depending on their type of position. If you work for a large company and spend most of your time servicing machinery within that company, you might not come in contact with many direct customers.
On the other hand, if you work for a private contractor who services individual businesses and residences, you’ll likely need to develop a rapport with the customers. In most cases, a homeowner’s need for an electrician comes at a time of crisis, making them feel overwhelmed and out of control. Helping them feel comfortable and reassured about the project goes a long way in word-of-mouth recommendations.
How to Become an Electrician
There are two main paths to take if you want to become an electrician, but they both take time. Due to the specialized equipment electricians use and the need for impeccable safety practices, becoming a fully certified electrical technician can take up to five years. However, the rigorous training produces highly-skilled technicians capable of taking on any job. Since most of the work is completed on-the-job, you will be able to make money while learning your trade.
Most electricians become trained through an apprentice program or a technical training program at a trade school. In both cases, a high school diploma is necessary before starting a program, along with an understanding of math through the algebra level. Your choices for training options are:
- Technical school: Most trade schools across the country offer programs that lead to a certification for electrical technicians. These programs provide education and hands-on experience in installing and maintaining electrical wiring systems, circuitry, safety practices and standards codes.
After finishing these programs, technicians still need to complete an apprenticeship. They will also need to take continuing education courses. The apprenticeship period for someone who has earned a degree at a technical school usually takes two years to complete.
- Apprentice program: In most cases, an aspiring electrical technician will complete a 4 or 5-year apprenticeship program with a local contractor. Many of the larger electrical contractor companies have an educational program in place, so it’s important to contact several companies in your area to find out their requirements.
A typical program will consist of at least 144 hours of classroom/textbook learning and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. This training is paid, but it’s at a lower rate than what’s typical of an electrical technician. This hands-on style of education will encompass state coding laws, blueprint interpretation, communications and soldering.
When you contact a local electrician company about an apprenticeship, make sure the program is sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) or the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC). These are nationally recognized programs that include coursework and on-the-job training and will set you on the path to a long, fulfilling career in electrical work. In many cases, your apprenticeship can lead to a full-time position within the company, so it’s a good idea to find a company you’d like to work with in the future.
Once either a school-based or an apprenticeship education is completed, the student becomes a journeyman and is able to complete electrical projects on their own, but the work should be checked and supervised by a licensed contractor. The journeyman time period can take up to two years to complete.
After completion of the journeyman education, a potential electrical technician will need to pass a qualification exam in their state. This exam will measure your knowledge about the National Electrical Code and your general aptitude in electrics. Many of these tests are offered several times a year, and you can use your notes or textbooks during the exam. A typical test costs about $40-$75 depending upon the level of training you’ve received and the particular license you are applying for. Examinations are normally available in English and Spanish for no additional cost.
Physical Requirements to Become an Electrician
While the personality traits and education requirements listed above may come as no surprise, there are also some physical characteristics that need to be considered. In most cases, these requirements are simply suggestions, but they are each based on providing safety for the electrician and those around them. Check with your state and local license issuers to see if there are any physical requirements in your area.
At a minimum, the suggested physical requirements for an electrical technician include:
- Age. Any certified educational program or apprenticeship will require you to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma. Some programs require students to be at least 21 before starting their education. Exceptions might be made for someone who is almost 18 or 21, but that depends on an individual company’s requirements.
- Vision. In addition to having good general vision, with or without glasses, an electrical technician has to be able to see colors accurately. Since many electric wires are color coded according to national standards, an electrician must be able to correctly identify common colors. Being color-blind can disqualify most candidates from the job for safety reasons.
- No history of substance abuse. A driving record with DUIs or a criminal record of drug use will prevent most people from becoming an electrician because of the potentially dangerous projects they might be working on.
- General health. The job of electrician often requires long hours carrying heavy equipment and being in small spaces. Although there is no physical exam to pass, you’ll need to be in good general health to keep up with the demands of the job.
Electrical Technician Licensing
Each state has different licensing requirements for electricians. This is often based on the type of construction needs for a particular area. You will want to check with your local or state department of labor for the laws in your state.
Texas law, for example, requires that an individual doing any type of electrical work within the state be registered with a valid license. Electrical work is defined as any work related to the installation or maintenance of a wiring system. Electricians within the state may also be licensed in the city where they perform work, but this type of municipal license does not extend past the city’s boundaries. A state license is necessary for technicians who wish to work in other parts of the state.
New York state, meanwhile, requires that licensed electrical technicians be at least 21 years old with a minimum of 7.5 years of experience or similar training under a master technician.
Both states require continuing education programs for licensed electrical technicians. Texas requires four hours per year in courses that address fire regulations, rules of conduct and general safety.
Most states also have a reciprocal licensing program, meaning that once you are licensed in one state, the license will carry over to another state. So if you receive an electrical technician license in Texas, you will be able to also work in New York. After being in a different state for a few years, you should take the licensing test in that area, though, if you plan to stay in that state. But if you are only working in a new state for a one-time work project, you won’t need a new license.
The career path for an electrical technician takes a lot of hands-on work and several years to complete, but for people who show an interest and aptitude in this area, the rewards pay off in the end. Working with individuals and companies to create and maintain a functioning electrical system is the type of career that continues to offer new areas to explore. An Electrical Technician Diploma from Vista College may be one of the best ways to get started in this field.
You may find that after a few years on the job, there is a particular area (lighting, environmentally-friendly systems or security, for example) you gravitate toward. If this is the case, there are plenty of opportunities for growth and promotion. Or, if you find that general electric contracting is for you, there’s always the possibility of starting your own business and working for yourself. The opportunities in this continually growing field are endless, and the path is yours for the making.