How to Become an Electrical Contractor
If you have a knack for working with electrical systems and you’re looking for a stable career in a big industry that will never disappear, becoming an electrical contractor might be a great option for you. Electricians earn a great salary that climbs quickly as they gain more years of experience in the job, they work stable hours, and they regularly enjoy the rewarding experience of putting their skills to work making life better and easier for thousands.
This article outlines a detailed path to becoming an electrical contractor. We’ll explain all of the steps in the process, what’s required to advance to the next level, and what you can expect once you reach the conclusion of your formal training and enter the workforce. We’ll also offer some insight into the different types of work you could find yourself doing, and what you can expect to earn as an electrical contractor.
Become an Electrical Contractor in Five Simple Steps
For starters, let’s outline the steps you should take to becoming an electrical contractor in the simplest terms. Then, we can dive in deeper on each item and look at how you can get the best results. Here are the basic steps you need to follow:
- Complete a High School Diploma
- Successfully work as an Electrician’s Helper
- Complete Vocational Training or an Apprenticeship
- Pass a Certification Exam
- Find Work with a Construction or Contracting Firm, or Contract Yourself
- Now let’s look at each step in more detail to better understand what’s required.
Complete a High School Diploma
If you haven’t earned a high school diploma yet, it’s crucial that you do so before advancing your career. High school is full of difficult educational and developmental challenges, as teenagers and young adults navigate a growing workload along with the social pressures of adolescence. Still, finishing high school proves to a prospective employer that you’re a good worker who can stay committed to a task until the job is done.
If you previously dropped out of school, consider returning to night school or adult education to make up the missing credits and get your diploma – even if you never become an electrician, completing the core high school curriculum expands your general knowledge and will help you all through life.
Successfully Work as an Electrician’s Helper
Helper jobs are generally easy to get – with fewer people entering the trades than before, an older Master Electrician would love to have you along. You’ll mostly be cleaning tools and digging ditches, but you’ll learn a lot about electrical construction, required tools and how to maintain them, and electrical safety.
This is also the best time to really reflect and determine whether electrical contracting is something you want to pursue. On-the-job training gives you a unique chance to see what it’s like being a full-time electrical contractor and determine if it’s really for you.
If the electrician’s work doesn’t look like fun, and if you dread getting out of bed every morning, you may want to choose a different career. However, if you’re loving every minute, then you’ve definitely found something worth pursuing. Hold on to that enthusiasm! Loving your job is one of the best things in life and you’re just getting started.
Complete Vocational Training or an Apprenticeship
If you’ve done well as an electrician’s helper, it’s time to make the first big choice that will impact your future as an electrician.
You don’t need to attend a college program to become a licensed electrician, but doing so will give you a solid practical and theoretical foundation for everything you do in the future. Whether that benefits you depends on your personality and learning style – do you need to understand the “why” behind everything you do, or are you more excited by getting your hands dirty and learning on the job?
Educating yourself will help you communicate better with clients and you’ll develop soft skills like effective listening and teamwork, but you’ll lose out on some of the practical experience that’s associated with an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are available far and wide, including through the army, and through job boards and electrician organizations. Here are some places you can start looking:
- US Army Electrician Program
- International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW)
- National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)
- Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC)
Whether you choose to attend college or not, a paid apprenticeship is your golden ticket into this career and one of the most important formative experiences you’ll have as a new electrician. You’ll start to earn money, and you’ll gain a lot of experience that will lead to the next step.
Pass a Certification/Licensing Exam
Before you can become a journeyman electrician and start selling your services outside of an apprenticeship, you’ll have to pass your state’s certification or licensing program for electricians. If you’ve completed a college program and/or apprenticeship, you should be adequately prepared through your job training, but you’ll still need to make sure you meet the licensing requirements in your area.
In California, candidates must be registered as electrician “trainees”, and have completed 720 hours of classroom time and accrued 8,000 hours of job experience. That works out to two semesters of study and four years of full-time apprenticeship. You may also need to pass a math-and-reading aptitude test, and you’ll definitely need to know the ins and outs of the National Electrical Code.
Find Work as a Contractor
Once you’ve passed your state licensing exam, you are now officially a journeyman electrician. Congratulations! With your acquired skills and knowledge, you’re ready to start making ends meet as an electrical contractor. Salaries for a new electrician range from $37,000 to around $81,000 per year and the most highly paid electricians are those that work for themselves.
Get in touch with local contractors and offer your services, advertise locally to work directly with builders or homeowners, or apply at a construction firm and start putting your skills to use. You could even work maintaining electrical systems for a local utility company.
Becoming an electrical contractor is a long road, but the rewards at the end are absolutely worth it. The best part is that rather than spending a lot of time in a classroom, you can focus on expanding your knowledge through practical experience that really makes a difference for your customers and people in your community. Becoming an electrical contractor will also allow you to join professional organizations, expand your network, and find new opportunities in construction and contracting. Good luck!