How to Become an Electrician in California

Few skilled trades offer as much stability, potential for career advancement and opportunities to specialize as the electrical trade. With the California Development Department projecting a 32.5% increase in the number of jobs for electricians in the state during the ten-year period leading up to 2024, now is the time to get the experience and training you need to start your career as a licensed electrician.

You’ll begin your journey as a trainee, then go on to earn your residential or general electrician license through the State of California Department of Industrial Relations. After these initial phases, you’ll  become eligible for an electrical contractor license through the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB).

Follow these steps to learn how to become a licensed electrician in California:

Gain the Experience Required to Become a Residential Electrician
Take the Examination Required to Become a Residential Electrician
Earn a General Electrician Certificate
Consider Becoming Licensed as an Independent Electrical Contractor

 


 

Step 1. Gain the Experience Required to Become a Residential Electrician

In California, you will need to enroll in a state approved union or non-union training program as the first step to becoming a professional electrician.

Your on-the-job and classroom-based technical training hour requirements will differ based on the type of license you pursue:

  • 4,800 hours (approximately 2.5 years) to apply for and take the residential electrician exam
  • 8,000 hours (approximately 4 years) to apply for and take the general electrician exam

In both cases, you would be required to complete at least 150 hours of classroom and lab-based technical training for each year you are enrolled in a training or apprenticeship program.

Technical Training in the Classroom

The California Department of Industrial Relations recognizes 85 approved schools that offer electrical technical training, including vocational-technical schools, Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committees (JATCs) sponsored by local chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, as well as local chapters of the non-union organization Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.

California has enacted the Registered Trainee (RT) process to ensure proper registration and documentation for those receiving classroom-based technical training through a vocational program or through union and non-union employers. After enrolling in an approved program, you would register as an electrician trainee by submitting this application along with a $25 check to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

After a few weeks, you’ll receive an electrical trainee registration number, at which point you may begin pursuing apprenticeships or other on-the-job training opportunities to accumulate the hours required to earn your residential or general electrician license.

Job Experience Through Apprenticeships and Other Training Opportunities 

If you are enrolled in a vocational-technical school program …

Some vocational and technical (vo-tech) schools offer full general or residential electrical programs specifically designed to align with California’s licensing requirements. These programs typically last two years. During this time you would study in the classroom and be placed with a state-licensed electrical contracting company to begin gaining the job experience required to earn your license.

At the conclusion of the program, you would generally have about half the total hours required to become licensed. In most cases, you would simply continue working with the same employer to accumulate the remaining hours over the course of about two years. When you qualify for your license, you would start the next phase of your career as a skilled journeyman with the same employer that provided your training.

If you are enrolled in a union or non-union training program …

The State of California Department of Industrial Relations provides a database of apprenticeship programs available throughout the state. Apprenticeships approved by the California Apprenticeship Council (CAC) include those offered or otherwise made available through:

Union – The California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and California chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Together the NECA and IBEW partner to offer apprenticeship programs through the Electrical Training Alliance. These programs are available through Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee (JATC) offices located throughout California. While enrolled in a union apprenticeship program you would complete the required classroom and lab-based technical training hours through classes held at the JATC.

Non-Union – Two California chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc (northern and southern california) facilitate electrical certification through apprenticeships with non-union employers. If you choose to train through one of these chapters, you will be placed in an apprenticeship with a non-union member contractor.

Renewing Your Trainee Registration 

You would need to renew your electrician trainee registration each year you work as trainee. This would involve:

  • Filling out this renewal application
  • Furnishing copies of transcripts showing what classes your completed in the previous year
  • Documenting the number of hours worked with your employer


 

Step 2. Take the Examination Required to Become a Residential Electrician

A residential electrician is authorized to install, construct, or maintain electrical systems in single family, multi family, and other residential units under the employment of an electrical contractor. The requirements for this license are:

  • 4,800 hours of work under a certified electrician
  • A passing score on the state electrician exam

To work as a residential electrician, you first need to fill out this application to take the state exam. Along with the application, you need to submit history of your employment. To submit your employment history, you need to get a Social Security Administration Employment History Report and attach it to your application.

You’ll also need to be aware of how many hours you spent doing specific tasks during your initial 4,800 hours of employment. On the application form, it shows you the maximum number of hours you can put down towards specific areas, such as Residential Wiring and Troubleshooting and Maintenance. You must put down hours in at least two categories.

Once you submit your application and you’re approved to take the test, your application will be forwarded to the testing vendor, PSI Services. They will contact you with testing information.

The residential electrician exam is three and a half hours long, has 80 questions, and is open book. The study material for this exam is the 2011 National Electric Code. Details about the test can be found in this bulletin for the California Residential Electrician Exam. The breakdown of the topics on the exam is:

  • Safety – 5%
  • Determination of Electrical System Requirements – 23%
  • Installation – 66%
  • Maintenance and Repair – 6%

Once you earn your residential electrician certification, you’ll need to renew it every three years. Your license can be renewed through this application. It’s very important to renew your application on time or you will have to retake the exam.

To renew your certification, you need to have worked 2,000 hours as an electrician and completed 32 hours of continuing education. You can complete those 32 hours at any one of the 85 approved schools.

 


 

Step 3. Earn a General Electrician Certificate

After earning a residential electrician certificate, you can take the next step and earn a general electrician certificate. General electricians have more experience than journeyman electricians and are typically authorized to get permits from the county to perform work on residential properties. Here are the requirements and instructions for earning a general electrician license in California.

A general electrician is authorized to install, construct, or maintain any electrical system covered by the National Electric Code under the employment of an electrical contractor. The requirements for this license are:

  • 8,000 hours of work under a certified electrician
  • A passing score on the state electrician exam

To work as a general electrician, you first need to fill out this application to take the state exam. Along with the application, you need to submit history of your employment. To submit your employment history, you need to get a Social Security Administration Employment History Report and attach it to your application.

You’ll also need to be aware of how many hours you spent doing specific tasks during your 8,000 hours of employment. On the application form, it shows you the maximum number of hours you can put down towards specific areas, such as Residential Wiring and Troubleshooting and Maintenance. You must put down hours in at least two categories.

Once you submit your application and you’re approved to take the test, your application will be forwarded to the testing vendor, PSI Services. They will contact you with testing information.

The general electrician exam is four and a half hours long, has 100 questions, and is open book. The study material for this exam is the 2011 National Electric Code. Details about the test can be found in the bulletin for the California General Electrician Exam. The breakdown of the topics on the exam is:

  • Safety – 6%
  • Determination of Electrical System Requirements – 22%
  • Installation – 66%
  • Maintenance and Repair – 6%

Once you earn your general electrician certification, you’ll need to renew it every three years. Your license can be renewed through this application. It’s very important to renew your application on time or you will have to retake the exam.

To renew your certification, you need to have worked 2,000 hours as an electrician and completed 32 hours of continuing education. You can complete those 32 hours at any one of the 85 approved schools.

 


 

Step 4. Consider Becoming Licensed as an Independent Electrical Contractor In California

In order to sell your electrical services to the public in California, you will need to register as an electrical contractor with the State. With this license, you can hire general electricians and run a business as a local contractor. Contractor licenses are issued by the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB).

An electrical contractor is classified as a C-10 Electrical Contractor, which is a specialty contractor. The requirements for a C-10 License are:

  • Fill out the contractor application
  • Be 18 years or older
  • Have 4 years of full-time electrician experience OR hire a qualifying individual who has
  • Have more then $2,500 in operating capital (calculated by subtracting your current assets from your current liabilities)

The qualifying individual, which can be yourself, must be regularly employed by your company and work at least 32 hours a week.

Once the CSLB receives and approves your application, you’ll receive information about the two-part exam all contractors must take. There are study guides for the C-10 Exam and the Law and Business Exam.

The C-10 Exam is closed book and covers:

  • Planning and Estimating – 26%
  • Rough Wiring – 24%
  • Finish Wiring and Trim – 11%
  • Startup, Troubleshooting, and Maintenance – 21%
  • Safety – 18%

The Law and Business Exam is also closed book and covers:

  • Business Organization – 12%
  • Business Financial – 18%
  • Employment Requirements – 15%
  • Bonds, Insurance, and Liens – 13%
  • Contract Requirements and Execution – 15%
  • Licensing Requirements – 11%
  • Safety Requirements – 11%
  • Public Works – 5%

Once you pass the exams, you have to pay your initial licensing fee of $150, and submit the following insurance requirements to the CSLB:

  • File a $12,500 bond
  • File additional bond of $7,500 if hiring a separate qualifying individual
  • Submit proof of worker’s compensation insurance if hiring employees

Finally, your contractor license must be renewed every two years by the last day of the month that you originally received your license.

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