Understanding the Purpose of Electrical Apprenticeships and the Role of the Apprentice

If you’re like most electricians, an apprenticeship is the first stop on your path to a career in the electrical trade, providing you with the knowledge, problem-solving skills, and hands-on proficiency to turn your dream of becoming an electrician into a reality.

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Electricians are part of a group of highly skilled tradespersons who learn the intricacies of their craft by working alongside masters of the trade. For electricians, there simply is no substitute for an apprenticeship, which is why this method of education and training is as much a part of the vocation today as it was a hundred years ago.

What is an Electrician Apprenticeship?

Today’s apprenticeships are structured, regulated, and all-inclusive, consisting of at least 4-5 years of classroom study and on-the-job training (between 500 and 1,000 classroom hours and between 8,000 and 10,000 hours on-the-job).

Although most apprenticeships include the classroom component, you may complete an electrician diploma or associate degree program beforehand, if desired, and satisfy all of the required classroom hours before beginning your apprenticeship.

The benefits of an electrical apprenticeship are obvious:

  • Apprentices are paid while they learn. As the apprentice receives more training, pay increases. This form of training and education allows students to learn as they earn.
  • Apprentices work under the close supervision and guidance of journeymen and master electricians, making the quality of the training and exposure to real-world wiring work second to none.
  • Many apprentices receive employment offers from their program sponsor when they complete the program

Admission Requirements

Admission into an electrician apprenticeship can be competitive, so be prepared to meet a number of strict requirements:

  • You must be at least 18 years old (A few programs admit students as young as 16)
  • You must be a high school graduate or hold a GED certification
  • You must hold a valid driver’s license and have access to reliable transportation
  • You must be able to take and pass a physical examination and drug screen
  • You must take and pass a basic aptitude test
  • You must sit for a personal interview

Apprenticeship Sponsors

Electrical apprenticeship sponsors may be union or non-union, and all must adhere to state regulations.

The largest apprenticeship training program—the Electrical Training ALLIANCE—is union. This 70-year old program is a combined effort between the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Depending on your career goals, you may choose an ALLIANCE apprenticeship focused on becoming an inside wireman (called the IBEW/NECA Joint Apprenticeship Training Program) or becoming an outside lineman (called the IBEW/NECA Area Wide Joint Apprenticeship Program).

A number of other organizations and employers offer electrician apprenticeships:

  • Community colleges and vocational/trade schools
  • Private employers
  • Apprenticeship training centers
  • S. military

ALLIANCE and other vocational/trade school programs provide their own classroom study component (many via online study), while private employers rely on local area community colleges or online course providers to satisfy the classroom component.

Your state’s licensing board maintains a list of approved apprenticeship sponsors. The following sites are also valuable resources for locating electrical apprenticeships in your state:

What is an Electrical Apprentice?

Through an agreement with an apprenticeship sponsor, electrical apprentices work under a licensed electrician during a period of time to learn the craft. During this time, your sponsor becomes your educator, your employer, and your mentor.

Once you are accepted into an electrical apprenticeship, you will begin a blend of classroom learning and on-the-job training.

Although your specific schedule will depend on the program, you can expect to work full-time while taking courses related to:

  • Communication and testing equipment
  • Electrical theory
  • Industrial controls
  • Lighting and power distribution
  • High-voltage distribution
  • National Electric Code

Your education and training could include specialized electrical work related to fire alarm systems, computers, instrumentation, welding, and job site management and supervision. First Aid, CPR, and OSHA training will be an integral component of your apprenticeship program.

Courses in an apprenticeship program include:

  • First Aid and CPR
  • Low-Voltage Systems
  • Outlets, Appliances, Lighting, and Heating
  • Remote Control Systems
  • Inductance and Transformer Theory
  • Motors and Transformers
  • Industrial and Commercial Wiring
  • Grounding, Bonding, and Overcurrent Protection
  • Blueprint Reading Fundamentals
  • Power Distribution Systems
  • Contactors, Starters, and Solenoids
  • Maintenance and Troubleshooting of Fire Alarm Systems
  • Solid State Electronic Control Devices

You will be expected to pass all tests you will be given during your classroom instruction (generally 70 percent or higher) to continue your apprenticeship.

Once you have successfully completed all components of the apprenticeship, you will take a final examination through your local licensing board to become a journeyman electrician.

Job Duties Electrical Apprentices are Authorized to Perform

Your duties and responsibilities as an electrical apprentice will grow and evolve along with your education and training.

During the first few months, you may do little more than haul gear and equipment and observe the work of licensed electricians. However, as you gain experience, knowledge, and confidence, you will soon develop the skills necessary to connect wires, run cables, install light fixtures, circuit breakers and fuse boxes, as well as repair installed electrical devices and related wiring.

As an electrical apprentice, you will be expected to learn and perform a number of duties and responsibilities as the program progresses:

  • Reading and interpreting drawings, blueprints, schematics, and electric code specifications for residential and commercial electrical equipment installations
  • Installing, repairing, or replacing electrical wiring, receptacles, switch boxes, conduits, lighting, and alternative electrical parts
  • Testing electrical equipment and parts for continuity, voltage, current, and resistance
  • Installing electrical circuits, including panels, conduit, switches, and protecting devices
  • Correcting connections and wiring on equipment controls
  • Installing, repairing, and replacing transformers, motors, AC/DC motors and drives, starters, relays, and hydraulic and gas electrical controls
  • Performing preventive maintenance and testing of electrical systems, including power distribution equipment

You will also be required to work at a specific standard, which will include:

  • Understanding terms, language, and skills associated with job tools and duties
  • Producing a quantity and quality of work according to employer standards
  • Producing work that meets or exceeds the National Electrical Code
  • Maintaining equipment and tools in proper working order
  • Complying with all company/employer policies and industry and safety standards and procedures
  • Maintaining a focus on:
    • Reliability
    • Punctuality
    • Professionalism
    • Reliability

Limitations of an Electrical Apprentice

Your role as an electrical apprentice will be limited by your current level of knowledge and training, as well as by the conditions set forth by your state regulatory board. In most states, this generally means you must be supervised by a licensed journeyman or master electrician at all times while on the job.

The term “supervision” varies from one licensing jurisdiction to the next, with some requiring direct oversight of most tasks and others ok with general supervision and a review of completed work. In all cases, a licensed journeyman or master electrician must be on the same job site.

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