How to Become a 120V Electrician

Looking for a career with great potential? Here's how to become an electrician.

Electricians typically command the highest wages of all the construction trades. So it’s understandable that while all construction trades need young people to enter training, many who do gravitate toward electrician training.

Overall, demand for electricians continues to run above average according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which projects 10 percent growth through 2028. But there’s a catch. The workforce remains top-heavy with experienced tradespeople, limiting how many new electricians can be brought online, according to Jennifer Mefford, director of business development at the Detroit Electrical Industry Training Center (EITC).

Current age distribution in the industry weighs heavily toward workers more than 50 years old, she says. But industry expects many to retire over the next decade, creating pressure to transfer that knowledge while those experienced workers are still active.

What Electricians Do

General 120v electricians can work in many aspects of construction and industry. From commercial building and renewable energy to line work and electric vehicle charging, an electrician can follow a path into a specialty or maintain a more general scope. After attaining journeyman status, electricians can work toward becoming a master electrician,  electrical engineer, project foreman or business owner, among many options. Master electricians must meet specific work requirements and pass an exam.

Wages

Although wages differ by program sponsor and region, the Detroit EITC program starts apprentices at $19.08/hour and steps them up to $31.79/hour through the course of their apprenticeship. Upon graduation, the starting wage jumps to $42.39/hour. The BLS pegs the median wage for electricians at $55,190/year.

Qualifications

As with most programs in the construction trades, the basic requirements include a high school diploma, a valid driver’s license and adequate transportation. Mefford says math is particularly important for electricians, who rely heavily upon algebra and trigonometry. Many of those who fail to pass the general competency test lack the math skills required. The Detroit EITC program draws a competitive cross-section, often including candidates with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. “We’re really looking for the brightest and the best,” she adds.

Education and Training

The good news, Mefford says, is that once candidates pass the competency test and an interview with a board made up of employers and union members, they will get a call for an apprenticeship. But that call may take up to 18 months to come. Mefford advises anyone thinking about entering the trade to complete the competency and interview steps as soon as possible to start the clock.

Most electricians enter the field through an apprenticeship, such as the one offered by Detroit EITC. That program is allied with a network maintained by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association, which sponsor programs across the country and are recognized by the Department of Labor.

Trade schools and working up the ladder offer alternative paths. But only apprentices follow a progression guaranteed to make them a qualified electrician.

Apprenticeship programs last from three to five years, depending upon the demands of the specific training involved, and they cost the trainee little. Mefford says that the Detroit EITC program charges about $100/month for materials, clothing and tools, which are more than offset by a full-time wage. Apprentices receive eight hours of classroom instruction every two weeks, in addition to working in the field under a journeyman or master electrician. Graduates of the program enter the field without any debt.

For more information on a career in the trades, Mefford recommends visiting constructyourfuture.com, a clearinghouse site for information.

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