Many people are considering a trades career, but not sure what it takes to land a strong, long-term career. Navigating all the trades careers can seem overwhelming, but fear not, there are resources to help you thrive and understand everything about the process.
That being said, entering a technical field isn’t a cakewalk; tradespeople are really scientists with dirty hands. To become the most successful technician, you’ll need to be willing to get hands-on with your education and training.
Luckily, we’ve got you covered with how to get started in one of the most successful industries: electrical work.
Electricians can obtain a competitive salary with college graduates, and are in constant demand with the energy requirements that modern people need.
Once you become licensed, you’ll see a starting wage of about $27 an hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not bad when you consider you’ll finish your certification in just two years with little to no debt. However, this requires studying, working at an apprenticeship, and using that work experience to prove you are ready to obtain the necessary certifications.
These are the steps to follow to become a certified electrician in California:
First, is this the right career for you?
You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have some curiosity about becoming an electrician, but this needs to be discussed regardless.
Electrical work requires a strong understanding of both the practical and theoretical aspects of the trade. This line of work can be dangerous in the wrong hands, so you should consider what interests you in the field.
Finding a line of work that you’re passionate about will make all the difference. Before you get started, talk to other electricians and see if you can shadow them to confirm whether your expectations about the field are in line with the actual day-to-day responsibilities.
Do you have the right qualifications?
Before you get started on your trade career, be sure you have the right starting point to maximize your chances of success. You should be at least 18 years old and ideally possess a high school diploma for starters.
Depending on which state you’re in, there may be exams or other requirements which you’ll need to complete (see more about this here). In this article we’ll focus on obtaining a license in California.
You’ll also need a means of transportation for getting between jobs, or in some cases, to the company shop to use their work mobiles. While some companies supply you with transportation, as an apprentice you may need to have your own means of getting between job sites.
Lastly, when studying under a professional in the industry, you’ll need to have a good balance of creative thinking and listening skills. Being able to take criticism, understand what’s being asked of you, and applying what you know well will help boost your career in the industry immensely.
Should you go to school?
To take the exam to become a certified electrician, you’ll generally need to enroll at a school recognized by the state as an electrician trainee. To find a school, browse our list of trade programs in California.
Then, see here if your school is approved by the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Students who are enrolled in a DIR-approved program can receive an Electrician Trainee Card (T-card). This process will usually require you to receive 8,000 hours of on the job training (typically through an accompanying apprenticeship) and receive around 720 hours of instruction.
Note: if you’ve already received training through employment, you may bypass the schooling requirements and take the state exam immediately.
Preparing for the exam
Before taking the state exam, you should review the Official DIR Application, as well as the Candidate Guidebook. Applying for the certification will cost $75, plus an additional $100 for the exam itself, so be sure to prepare for the exam ahead of time to avoid needing to take it twice.
You must also provide 1 form of state issued identification (driver’s license or state ID), which bears your signature and has your photograph in order to take the exam.
See the table below for more information about the exam and the specific subject areas covered.
Exam subjects tested
The examination may also contain questions based on trade knowledge or general industry practices. In order to prepare effectively, be sure to view the references section of the Candidate Guidebook which will provide you with a list of textbooks and other useful reading materials.
Without a doubt, becoming an electrician can land you into a high paying and successful career. Should you choose to become a certified technician, you'll reap the benefits of taking the time to perfect your craft.