What is an Apprenticeship?
It is a post-secondary training that is "On the Job Training" (OJT). You go to work full time and are trained to perform tasks that meet an industrial standard. You will be under the supervision of certified journeymen and in essence you will earn while you learn. Most of the recognized industrial trades train this way. The training combines OJT and technical training. The technical training can occur at a local collage, union training center, private institute or increasingly online.
Once you have enough OJT and technical training, you can become certified to practice the trade by taking a certification exam. After successful completion of the exam you will be issued a license to practice your trade in the state you wrote your exam in.
The Electrical trade can be broken up into a number of areas of work, some taking longer to master than others. That is why there are 2, 3 and 4 year apprenticeships. Typically to be certified in all the major areas of the electrical trade the apprenticeship is 8000 hours of OJT with 576 hours of related technical training.
Each year of work is calculated to be around 2000 hours of OJT and during the year you will attend classroom training for the theory and technical training. This can be one or two nights a week for two semesters or it can be done in blocks over 10 days or 2 weeks at a time (sometimes longer). Each state, trade specialty and organization runs it slightly differently. Your actual hours of work are recorded so not working for any reason also means your hours do not go up and on our Electrician Salaries page you will see how this affects you.
The shorter apprenticeships are in essence limited licenses. Outside Lineman (3 1/2 years, 7000 hours) or Residential Electrician (2 years, 4000 hours) are examples of limited licenses. However each state defines, regulates and licenses Electricians so the requirements can vary.
To accept an apprenticeship is to become "Indentured". A Department of Labor registered apprenticeship requires a written and signed agreement (Indenture) between the program and you the apprentice. You agree to perform the work faithfully with diligence and to complete the related technical training. The company you work for has agreed to make every effort to keep you employed and to comply with standards of the program.
How to Get An Electrical Apprenticeship
There are two routes to an Electrical Apprenticeship. We are not going to endorse either of these routes because we have seen both work just fine. We have also seen each one of them go off the rails so to speak.
There are two major organizations that conduct Electrical Apprenticeships in the US. The biggest is the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, just recently changed to a new name, Electrical Training Alliance (ETA). This is a joint training program between the National Electrical Contractor Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union. It runs the largest electrical apprenticeship and training program in the US.
The second organization is the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC). This organization has been around for over 50 years and runs Electrical Apprenticeship programs in 38 States and the District of Columbia. Both of these organizations have been approved by the US Department of Labor's Bureau for Apprenticeship and Training.
The difference between the two is whether you want to work in a union shop or not. Both require you to have virtually the same prerequisites, both require you to apply through a formal process although the IEC can be more flexible about this as usually they are smaller electrical companies with fewer employees. Both system are 'Earn While You Learn' OJT systems and both provide periodic raises based on the current wage scale. This is a document that is produced locally by these organizations and it details what an apprentice will be paid based on their hours and technical training completed. For the IBEW it is based on a negotiated contract and the hourly rate for each of the specialty areas. For the IEC it is the average hourly rate of a Journeyman Electrician. Here is a link to a typical Minimum Wage Scale document, again this is locally specific so you cannot assume this will be your wage. It says the Apprentice will be paid 40% of a Journeyman's wage of $32.59 per hour if he/she is a 1st Period Apprentice. See our Electrician Salaries page to learn more about what you will be paid.
Which Path to Choose
First find out if both system operate where you live. For the IEC here is a link to their Chapters by State. Here is a link to the IBEW Union Directory for all of USA. Go to your region and find out what Specialties are available. There are organizational members readily available to talk to you so call or email them. Finally research Electrical Companies where you live and contact them to see if you can talk to their Journeymen and Apprentices. Ask them directly what they did and how it works. We have never known a company to turn someone away who is interested in the trade and wants answers to their questions.
Get a Basic Construction Job To Help Your Application
Both organizations will want to see some effort on your part. Do you have any construction experience? If not apply for basic laborer positions (often called helpers). When you first apply for an apprenticeship there will be administrative processing which will include tests etc, all which takes time. Don't waste this time sitting around, apply for these basic positions and get some work experience in construction. This will be taken into consideration on your application and remember you are competing with many other people who want this apprenticeship so you have to show drive and seriousness.
What to Look Out For in the Long Term
Thinking down the road is important so here are a couple of serious concerns
First is there steady work with the IBEW where you live? You will be dispatched by the Union and you must go to where they tell you in the beginning. If you don't you might not get called back to go to the next job site. This might mean long commutes or living away from home for some time. The same is true for the IEC route in some cases also. Travelling and living out of town can be common issue if the area you live in is locally depressed for work. Can you or your family handle that?
Secondly is the program you are entering have a portable license. In other words once you have completed the required hours, all the technical training and passed the certification exam is your license recognized in any other states? Usually it is recognized by all 50 states but make sure you confirm this before you start this long process.
Another concern is safety. Statistically injuries happen in this industry more often than other major industries so is the program you are going on providing Health Care and to what level. Again take this into consideration. You do not want to be hurt and off work with no hope of health care or compensation of some sort.
Do You Need An Apprenticeship To Work In The Electrical Industry
The short answer is No. We have known many people who started out as Helpers and never went any farther for many reasons (mostly personal). Although this is not the norm (in fact quite rare) some employers will not encourage you to progress. Fly by night operations can train you as a helper to do most of the repetitive electrical tasks, have a traveling Journeyman come around to sign off on the work and pay you a lot less than they would have to if you were an Apprentice moving up through the pay scales. Also some people cannot handle the technical training and simple stay where they last got too.
Good organizations will push these people to keep going as it does the company or union no good if apprentices are not completing their training. Remember each year thousands of Electricians retire and the system must constantly replenish or in very short order will not exist. That is why the future is so bright for this trade.
Typical Technical Training Topics
Here is a semester topic listing for 1st Year Technical Training. This list came from the Washington IEC website and will be slightly different for your organization and State.
CPR and First Aid
Tools and Blueprints
Applied Math, Circuit Theory, Plans & Specs
Applied Math, Electrical Symbols & Outlets, Ohm’s Law
General-Purpose and Small Appliance Circuit
Conductor Sizes, Types & Connections, Type NM Cables
Voltage Drop, Other Wiring Methods, and Print Reading
Front Bedroom Lighting and Introduction to Series Circuits
Master Bedroom and Series Circuits
Lighting and Small Appliance Branch Circuits
Living Room and Study Branch Circuits – Introduction to Parallel Circuits
Laundry Outlets and Parallel Circuits
Garage Circuits and Parallel Circuit Calculations
Conduit Fill and Special Purpose Outlets
Special Purpose Outlets – Kitchen
Special Purpose Outlets – Bathroom, Exhaust Fans and Hydromassage Tub
Heating and Air Conditioning
Low Voltage and Fire Alarms
Recreation Room – Multiwire Branch Circuits and Introduction to Combination Circuits
Workshop Lighting and Receptacle Branch
Circuits – Combination Circuits
Service Entrance Equipment
Knots, Rigging, and Specialty Tools
Service Entrance Calculations
Swimming Pools, Spas, and Hot Tubs
Home Automation, Standby Power, and Review