There are plenty of jobs you can get without a 4-year college degree. Medical assistants, dental hygienists, and paralegals all earn good incomes without spending years in school. However, if you are looking for a career that will actually pay you while you train, you might consider a career as an electrician.
How to Become a Licensed Electrician
Becoming a licensed electrician isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes at least four years to become a licensed industrial electrician. Fortunately, apprenticeship paths include more than just 144 hours in the classroom and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training (OJT)—it includes a steady paycheck.
There are three primary organizations in the United States that offer apprenticeships. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), and the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) all offer programs that meet federal and state requirements for formal apprenticeships.
After completing an apprenticeship program, candidates take a state licensing test.
While all three programs have their pros and cons, we’re going to focus on the IBEW Electrician Apprenticeship Program.
Untangling Some Alphabet Soup
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s detangle some of the acronyms floating around. The IBEW has over 750,000 members and is the largest union of electrical workers in the United States. Its members work on construction sites, keep utilities running, are vital to telecommunications, and are behind the scenes for broadcasting, manufacturing, railroad, and government projects.
The union is made up of local organizations, called IBEW Locals. Locals provide support, benefits, and information to its members, and provide a gateway between the national organization and the local branches.
The IBEW electrical apprenticeship is a joint program between the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). Once called the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC), the apprenticeship is now called the Electrical Training Alliance. Each IBEW-NECA partnership also includes the formation of a Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC), which is made up of representatives from both groups and oversees the training that takes place in the Electrical Training Alliance.
To summarize that for you:
- IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The largest electrical industry labor union, representing about 775,000 electrical workers and retirees.
- IBEW Local – The local IBEW branch, this always includes a number, such as IBEW Local 47. It coordinates the IBEW electrical activities in a certain geographical area.
- NECA – National Electrical Contractors Association. This US trade association represents the $130 billion/year electrical contracting industry and works to advance the electrical contracting industry.
- NJATC – National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. Used to be nationally responsible for the electrical industry training.
- Electrical Training Alliance – partnership between IBEW and NECA that oversees apprenticeship training. Replaced the NJATC as the designated institute for this purpose.
- JATC – Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. Also a joint effort of the local IBEW and NECA. Oversees the electrical training and hiring process. Receives guidance from the Electrical Training Alliance but has its local independent set of regulations.
Joining an IBEW Electrician Apprenticeship Program
The apprenticeship program is designed to allow students to work and earn a paycheck while learning at the same time. Participants gain valuable OJT training and meet the education requirements needed to get their license.
The IBEW Apprenticeship Application and Acceptance Process
As you might expect, apprenticeships are highly sought after, and the competition to get available slots is fierce. There is a process you’ll go through, which typically goes like this:
- Meet minimum requirements
- Submit application
- Take the aptitude test
- Participate in an interview
- Wait on eligible list
- Start apprenticeship
We’ll go through each one of these steps, so you know what to expect at every stage of the apprenticeship application process.
Meet Minimum Requirements
Every IBEW apprenticeship applicant must meet the following criteria to be accepted into an IBEW/NECA Electrical Training Alliance apprenticeship:
- Be 18 or older
- Completed high school education, passed a GED, or completed a 2-year Associate Degree or higher
- Completed one year of high school algebra
In addition, some local programs have additional requirements. Be sure to check in your area for anything else you may have to complete before applying for an apprenticeship.
Your application is the first formal interaction you’ll have with the apprenticeship program. Most program require you to fill out the application by hand, so it’s vital that you take your time and write legibly and be sure to fill every field in. You’ll also have to locate and send high school and college transcripts. If you have any questions, call the training center office and ask for help.
Take the Aptitude Test
Your electrical aptitude test will cover reading comprehension and basic algebra. Doing well on this test is one of the most important steps in the apprenticeship application process. Candidates are ranked highest to lowest based on test scores, and the highest-scoring candidates are invited in for an interview.
Participate in an Interview
The interview is one of the most frustrating elements of the process. Apprenticeships only accept candidates once or twice a year, so you may end up waiting for months without knowing if you’ve been accepted.
The interview usually takes place with a panel of IBEW members, NECA members and program administrators. Be prepared to talk about why you want to be in the program, any experience you have, and work preferences. Be honest and explain what you hope to get out of the apprenticeship program.
Wait on Eligible List
After your interview, you’ll be placed on eligibility list, and invited to come in as new apprenticeship positions become available. You’ll remain on the list for two years, at which point you will need to reapply if you haven’t been offered an apprenticeship.
After spending time on the eligible list, you’ll receive a letter with details about starting your apprenticeship. Congratulations, you’ve made it and you’re on your way to a successful IBEW career.
Which IBEW Electrical Apprenticeships are Available?
There are four different types of IBEW apprenticeships:
- Inside wireman
- Outside lineman
- Residential wireman
- Telecommunications installer technician
An inside wireman installs conduits, electrical wiring, fixtures, and electrical apparatuses inside commercial buildings and in a multitude of industrial settings. You’ll primarily work on construction sites and in industrial settings.
Inside wireman is the largest of all the electrical specialties, with over 200,000 members in the IBEW. As a five-year program, it is the longest IBEW apprenticeship.
Outside linemen spend their days climbing poles and in bucket trucks, fixing or installing electrical power lines outdoors. You’ll primarily perform electrical work for transmissions and distribution of electrical energy.
The apprenticeship program for outside linemen is three and a half years.
As you might expect, residential wiremen work in single and multi-family homes, fixing and installing wiring and cable systems. A residential wireman apprenticeship is a three-year program.
Telecommunications Installer Technician
Telecommunications installer technicians install equipment and circuits for telephones, computer networks, security systems, and more. This apprenticeship is a three-year program.
How to Improve Your Chances of Landing an Electrical Apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are awarded based on your aptitude test score and performance on the interview. Therefore, it’s vital that you put your best foot forward if you’d like to earn your spot.
Passing the Math Test
The algebra portion of the test isn’t particularly difficult, but you’ll only have about a minute a half to answer each question. This can be especially challenging for applicants who haven’t taken high school algebra in a while. Here are some tips so you can excel at the test:
- Take an online math refresher course – you’ll be able to relearn all the math you’ve forgotten since high school.
- Take an IBEW practice course – these courses, like those offered by iPrep, help simulate test conditions and show you which areas of algebra you need to study.
- Start practicing at least two weeks in advance – the earlier you begin practicing the faster you’ll be when it comes to test time, which will save you valuable seconds on every question during test time.
Excelling at the Interview
The interview portion of the application is the first time you will be face-to-face with your future colleagues, so you want to make a strong impression. Here are some things you can do to ace the interview:
- Dress for success – a suit isn’t necessary, but wear nice slacks and a button-down shirt, clean shoes, and a fresh haircut (and shave).
- Make contact – offer a firm handshake, and look the panel in the eye when responding to their questions.
- Be clear – answer questions directly, without rambling on and going off-topic.
- Practice – ask some friends to conduct a panel interview, so you can get used to answering questions in front of a group of people, or prepare on your own for the interview.
Here are several questions that have been asked during apprenticeship interviews. There are no right answers to these questions; however, successful candidates report that they practiced answering these questions using the STAR format, where they described a Situation, explained the Task they were given, talked about the Action they took, and shared the Results.
- Tell us about a time you didn’t understand the instructions you were given for a task
- Tell us about a time you had to choose between group or individual work
- Tell us about a time you missed a deadline
- What is something you built recently you’re proud of?
- Describe a time you had a certain job to do but didn’t know how.
- Describe a time when someone got hurt. What did you do?
- Are you good at taking instructions?
- When was a time you had to do something you found difficult?
- Give an example of a time you made a mistake, and how did you handle it?
- Why do you want this job?
- Walk us through a time of when you started and finished a project.
- Describe a time when you had a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it.
- Describe a time when you had a project, but weren’t given complete instructions, or were given unclear instructions.
- Is there anything else you would like to add? (This is a good opportunity to tell the panel why you would be a great member in the union!)
Now you should know everything important you have to know before starting the process of joining an IBEW Electrician Apprenticeship Program.
If you meet the minimal requirements, you can now browse the internet and find the nearest IBEW local and start the application process.
You can also start preparing for the first major obstacle and practice for the IBEW aptitude test.