5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known as a Rookie Electrician

We spoke to a veteran electrician to find out the five things he wishes he had known before his first day on the job.

5 Things I Wish I Would've Known as a Rookie ElectricianConstruction Pro Tips

In the fall of 1977, John Williamson woke up, ate a light breakfast, then headed out for his first day in the field as an electrician. Since then Williamson has worked in and around the industry as a licensed master electrician and electrical inspector. We sat down with Williamson to talk about everything he has learned over his career as an electrician and what he wishes he had known on his first day in the trade.

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1. Nail Down the Basics

Every job comes with essential skills that newbies can develop and eventually perfect as time goes on. Williamson’s advice to rookie electricians is learning everything there is to know, especially about electrical grounding and bonding.

“The apprentice electrician really needs to devote their own time to studying and mastering electrical grounding and bonding,” he says. “Proper grounding and bonding is what protects people and property from serious harm. Electrical grounding and bonding is like the silent sentry, always on guard duty. It never gets any real respect, it’s a non-glamourous part of the job that usually goes unnoticed, and yet it usually plays a critical role when bad things happen.”

2. Develop Camaraderie

There’s a prevailing stereotype that people in the trades can be prickly, rude and rough around the edges. While that may be true in some cases, Williamson said it should not stop you from developing good relationships with the people working around you.

“Work hard at building relationships, earning the trust of everyone, treating people the way you want to be treated, and respecting and appreciating the knowledge and experience of seasoned electricians (and all of the other tradespersons you work with),” he says.

3. Never Stop Learning

The National Electrical Code (NEC) has hundreds of pages covering every aspect of electrical work. Saying there is a lot to know would be an understatement. The best way to understand the ins-and-outs of the NEC and the electrical trade is to “always be a student of the code,” Williamson says. “After 42 years in the trade, I still learn new things almost every day!”

He recommended a few forms of continuing education that can be beneficial as electricians look to advance their careers, including:

  • Going to night school to learn special skills, like high voltage cable splicing or welding;
  • Obtaining an electrical engineering degree;
  • Teaching at trade schools and technical colleges;
  • Participating in the code development process;
  • Joining local electrical trade associations.

4. Keep a Work Journal

Being an electrician is a job with a lot of moving pieces, which can be overwhelming for someone just starting out. To help keep track of everything thrown at you, Williamson recommends taking five minutes at the end of every work day and jotting things down in a work journal. Record anything and everything of note that happened, from project locations and the day’s highlights to new knowledge and lessons learned.

“An up-to-date daily journal is worth its weight in gold in good times and bad,” he says. “It can be used to capture your experience and training for some day down the road when you might pursue a less physically demanding career in the electrical industry, such as inspecting or teaching.”

5. Plan for the Future

Typically, people starting out in the trades are on the younger side, so their bodies can handle more physically. But if you’re not careful, the daily grind and labor that comes with the trades can wear you out. So Williamson recommends keeping an eye on the road ahead. Pay attention to the aspects of the work you particularly like and are passionate about. They could become your long-term job.

“The electrical industry is very diverse,” he says.  “An experienced electrician with 15-20 years of experience under their belt is a great candidate for an electrical inspector position, or a teacher, project manager, estimator, quality control engineer, consultant, sales, and numerous other job opportunities in the wider electrical industry.”

About the Expert

John Williamson is the chief electrical inspector for the state of Minnesota. A licensed master electrician and certified building official with more 40 years experience in the electrical industry, Williamson has worked for the state more than 23 years. He has also provided electrical code consultation to various book and magazine publishers for the past 25 years.