Author Topic: Advice on How to Become an Electrician  (Read 525 times)

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Offline Ampera

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Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« on: November 07, 2019, 11:44:36 pm »
For a long story put short, right now I am looking into the practicalities and requirements to become a trade electrician in the US, specifically New York (general views are fine).

My first stop when doing my own research was looking into the idea of entering a trade school. To me, this was the obvious first place to start, my impression being that I would enter an electrician program for
general work, one that would likely take me 1-2 years. During this time I would get a variety of classroom and practical knowledge that I could then use to become a paid apprentice. My next understanding was that, after I completed my apprenticeship, I would be capable of working under my own volition with my own experience.

This knowledge was all well and good until I actually talked to a friend who is an electrician by trade. What he said threw me a bit. My friend told me to not bother with a trade school, the reason being that within the trade ranks of apprentice to journeyman (to master), the progression from apprentice to journeyman would be the result of going to a trade school, leaving me with the credentials and otherwise legal means to work on my own, but without the actual working experience necessary to be hired by any real company. The caveat being, as I would have attained journeyman status, I would be unable to find work as an apprentice. What he told me specifically is that my credentials would not only overqualify me, but somehow prevent me from taking a job under a particular pay grade, such as apprentice, due to that fact.

I think there was the possibility of misunderstanding on my part, I'm going into this rather fast, so that's to be expected, which is why I've come here. Is what my friend telling me true? Is there more to the situation? What would be some tips as to how I would get involved in the trade. Things to know in general would be good.

Just know that I am dedicated to the concept of becoming and electrician, and I am not willing to go to a normal college/university to accomplish this (unless they happened to double specifically as a trade school). To put another long story short, I'm trying to become an electrician to get out of college as I'm not handling it well.

Thank you very much to any insight anybody can provide me, definitely throw me links and point me in places, I'm not above doing my own research, but I need other people to help straighten me out a bit.
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Offline Dundarave

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2019, 06:06:55 am »
Different jurisdictions have different rules. Where I live, there is a “Red Seal” governmental program for the major trades, and the path to journeyman/woman is prescribed in detail.

I suggest you contact your local Electrical Workers Union office and ask them about the local requirements for becoming a certified electrician.
 

Offline Berni

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2019, 06:39:44 am »
I have no idea how it works in the US, but it sounds to me that might only be a problem if you want to get work at a large company.

Even if you are over qualified i don't see why you couldn't find a job as a apprentice at some small company by telling them you are fresh from school and are willing to work for cheap so that you can get the experience. Sure you would probably start off doing basic jobs that anyone could do like dragging cables trough conduit or drilling holes. But as you are around the job site you can watch how things are done, talk to the other senior electricians and in general pick up on how things are done in the real world rather than a text book.

Over here this process is a bit more automated because finishing trade school requires you to also do practical experience as part of the final year. Companies get to employ you for free or very cheap on some really loose terms for 3 months and you have to write a report on what you did there. The companies come into contact with the school, so that they can help there students find a place they would like to work at. This allows companies to cheaply scout for good talent and gives students the much needed initial experience boost. If you did well at the company you been doing work experience at, then they will in most cases want to give you a real job too.

The process for a lot of other professions is similar. Being an electrician doesn't require a huge amount of experience, but you really have to know what you are doing.

When it comes to professions like Electronics, IT, Programming, Pentration Testing... then the way in is making hobby projects. These are fields where experience is much more important than knowing a bunch of text books on how to do things correctly. You can pick up a ton of experience with your own hobby projects and if they fail there is no harm in it as you can just try again. Then once you show up to get a job they will love to take you in as you can start working on real stuff on day 1 rather than them having to teach you the ropes. If its electronics build electronics projects at home, design PCBs, solder tiny SMD parts. If its programing go make some simple games or something, go look on places on github and find a software project you like and contribute to it by fixing bugs or adding features. If its IT or PenTesting buy some old servers and network gear on eBay and put together a crude IT lab where you set it up the gear to do various things, try hacking your own systems, go make a crack for some simple software... etc
« Last Edit: November 08, 2019, 06:42:29 am by Berni »
 

Offline Marck

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2019, 08:13:33 am »
The best advice I have ever received about becoming an electrician was Don’t become an electrician go into telecommunications.  You never really have to work really hard and the voltages generally won’t kill you or others.

In Australia to become an electrician it’s a full 4 year apprenticeship with school mixed through it.  In all seriousness I wish I had have done electrical also it would have been very handy. 

M
 

Offline Ampera

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #4 on: November 08, 2019, 01:08:10 pm »
The best advice I have ever received about becoming an electrician was Don’t become an electrician go into telecommunications.  You never really have to work really hard and the voltages generally won’t kill you or others.

In Australia to become an electrician it’s a full 4 year apprenticeship with school mixed through it.  In all seriousness I wish I had have done electrical also it would have been very handy. 

M

So you're saying that don't have to work really hard and that's a bad thing?

For one, any job is work, and how hard that work is, is up to the eye of the beholder.

For two, there's dangers, and then there's unmitigatable risk. Electricity kills the stupid, lazy, and unmindful, not the people who pay attention and, in the words of AvE, always think of the next thing that's gonna kill ya.
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Offline Berni

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2019, 02:52:06 pm »
Well yeah everyone enjoys a different kind of job.

I will admit i wouldn't want to me an electrician. It usually involves crawling around building sites, working above your head on a ladder installing the 50th lamp/sensor/dodad on the ceiling. There is dust there is cement, it might be really hot or really cold, it might be noisy...

I prefer my electronics engineering job in a lab, but this is close to a office job where you sit most of the time so its not for everyone, but i like it like this.
 

Offline Gregg

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2019, 06:30:34 pm »
In most places in the US the IBEW union holds apprenticeship classes along with paid on the job apprenticeship training which is much better than any classes from a for profit school.  The apprenticeship pay is fairly low and the classes are held after work which tends to discourage the slackers. 
Search for the nearest union apprenticeship facility, go there and talk to the people in charge about what it takes to sign up and future job prospects.  The 23 year old son of a friend of mine was trying to find meaningful work and I suggested he become an electrician.  This was in the boom times of 2001 and there was high demand for electricians.  In 5 years he was making a 6 figure income and rode out the recession because he made good connections and had the skills to keep ahead of others. 
As with any field, there is a lot of politics involved in connecting with people, making good impressions and never burning bridges.  Unions are very political, but if you play the game right there are many opportunities. 
Don’t just do residential installations, but get into bigger things like data centers and hospitals where unique skills are required.
 

Offline orion242

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2019, 02:36:58 am »
IBEW unions and their strength varies widely depending on the specific area.  The pay difference and opportunity differences also vary wildly between them by specific area.

NYC is nearly impossible without union workers in commercial.  Not sure what the story is in the rest of NY, doubt its iron fisted as NYC.  Associated builders and contractors (ABC - https://www.abc.org/) runs apprenticeship classes for the non-union side typically.

That said I started as a non-union sparkie and held licenses in a few states.  The states set the rules on what it takes to get your license and preform work on your own.  Getting a license in one state, doesn't equate to license in any other state.  Sometimes its easy, others might be a complete reboot of the process.  In the midwest where I mainly held licenses, the typical requirements were 8K hours (4yrs) under a master electrician before you could apply for your journeyman license.  It was required to be enrolled in a state approved apprenticeship course.  Some trade schools would qualify and they would also count to some part of your 8k hours.  Taking EE courses at collage level could also count to some degree as well.  You pass the their code test, you get your journy license.  To get a masters, its another 2yrs and another test.  Masters license allows you to pull permits.  Jounry you can work on your own, but cannot pull permits.  As an apprentice you can do pretty much anything, but it has to be under the supervision of a jounry or higher at all times.

The path I took, the contractors were part of ABC.  The classes, typically one day a week for 4hrs off memory.  I didn't pay anything for the training other than my time, aka it wasn't paid hours.  If I had to leave a site early to make class, that was paid.  I got full day pay regardless, but the class time was mine.  These days with the shortages in skilled trades, I wouldn't be surprised if time is paid time now regardless.

Union vs non, that choice is mainly on your specific area and choice of work.

If you want to get in the trade, I would think more about the type of work you want to be doing.  Commercial controls work is high paid, light duty and requires the same licensing in most areas.  Industrial controls, another area to think about.  Both have a lot of paths to advance well above skilled trades pay scale.  If controls doesn't pan out, you can easily transition in to power since you carry the same licensing.

Look around.  There are guys in muddy trenches wiring up parking lot lights in the rain and there guys that deal with small wires in enclosed buildings on a bad day.  Wiring 3K outlets one after another for weeks, mind numbing.  There are several niche fields within the "electrician" category.  I don't carry my licenses anymore but use both union and non-union contractors near your area.  PM me if you want.  Would be happy to see if my top boots on the ground would answer questions with no BS for someone looking to get in the field.  Would also be happy to talk about how I got in the field and where I ended up.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2019, 03:15:29 am by orion242 »
 
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Offline Gregg

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2019, 06:26:20 pm »
I probably should clarify my earlier post about the IBEW apprenticeship program.  I meant to imply that it should be one of the best ways to get training in real world situations.  The union doesn’t hold a person hostage to stay with them for the rest of their lives; although they try to provide incentives to do so like retirement and healthcare.
My advice to the OP is to check out all of the options, get a lot of diverse experience in the field and follow what you like to do.  Always be ready to jump on opportunities and make a lot of potential business connections along the way.
I have known a number of electricians that have broken away from the union and started their own businesses.  Some have even signed up their businesses as union shops.  Some have found that they can work part time for several small companies and are making more than they would through the union.  Most of these people are really hard working good electricians and good self-promoters.  Most of those who left the union were disgusted at the way the union protects the slackers.
 

Offline Ampera

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2019, 10:21:26 pm »
Some more details and updates.

So I'm getting a better picture of how the trade is organized, at least from a point A to B to C sorta thing. I understand what I'm looking for is an apprenticeship, and the concepts of union/non-union labor.

As for specialization, I'd definitely be looking for commercial applications on the primary, I'm not here to fix grandma's kitchen light switch, but I have no problem with taking a variety of jobs if for whatever reason that would be involved. Industrial, Residential (or housing projects), Commercial, I'm not above any job in general, but I know commercial is where the big jobs are.

I should also include that I do have a good background in computing. I've got no certifications or anything that useful, but I have excellent hobbyist knowledge about how a lot of infrastructure gets put together, so things like datacenter jobs are absolutely an option I am willing to consider.

I did look into the IBEW, specifically the Albany chapter (I'm in the capitol region of NY, Schenectady/Troy/Albany area), and while I don't mind the idea of having to deal with union politics and all that jazz, my concern is that it looks like they almost operate like a trade school and lock me into a 5 year program I either complete or go elsewhere. I don't mind being an apprentice for that long, but there's a practical element to consider, as I'd need at least 30-40k a year in order to make living practical. If unions are a foot in the door to other pastures, and someone can tell me how, that would be excellent.

I'm not against working hard and learning hard, even if for whatever reason I need a classroom element (so long as it's not a college classroom), but I need to ensure that I get working experience, and as a journeyman I am totally able to get a job off that experience. My big confusion is I get the number 2 years repeated to me by almost everyone, and a 2 year apprenticeship, not that I'm absolutely impatient, would be excellent. I just need pushes in the right direction from the pool of knowledge here. Numbers, addresses, names, anything would be awesome.
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Offline Gregg

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2019, 03:12:29 am »
I wouldn’t try to convince anyone that becoming a union electrician is a great career path; it could be a great stepping stone to better things for the right person.  Make up a list of pros and cons for various scenarios and decide what is best for you and your situation. 
Here are a few pros and cons that come to mind; maybe others will add to the lists to help you out.

Community college / publicly funded trade school:
Pros:
•   This may be a good choice depending entirely on the school and curriculum
•   The cost is minimal and often classes are held at night
•   Many instructors are motivated to teach rather than babysit
•   Probably faster to a state approved license than the union apprenticeship
•   Some schools are very good.  YMMV
Cons:
•   Not much if any out of class experience
•   Interaction with professional electricians probably limited to the instructors and a few guest lecturers
•   Very little interaction with possible employers
•   Politically motivated and SJW activists often detract from the learning so much that it is almost wasted time and school administrators do nothing to stop this behavior.  YMMV

For profit trade school:
Pros:
•   Possibly fastest way to pass the state exams
•   May be able to pay for this with GI bill or other subsidized funds
Cons:
•   The major motivation of for profit schools is to separate students form their money
•   Zero guarantees
•   Instructors motivated by their paychecks with administrators making most of the money
•   In many cases this is just overseen cramming for the tests, if you are disciplined,  you may be able to do as well on your own

Union apprenticeship program:
Pros:
•   Very diversified training from real professionals that are motivated to teach their skills.  Even after the apprenticeship is over, more experienced union foremen and above are willing to teach their skills to newer journeymen with the usual union attitude of “all for one, one for all”.
•   Some pittance pay during the apprenticeship program
•   Real job experience
•   Benefits, unless you leave the union
•   Opportunity to make a lot of contacts for your future
Cons:
•   Takes time and effort.  Work days and study nights
•   The union will want you to stay with the union; the union has a vested interest in getting more qualified electricians to keep their pensions and benefits going. 
•   Union leaders are making huge salaries off the rank and file hard work
•   No guarantee of work
•   The union will sometimes defend slackers more than they would competent workers

Hiring on with a company directly:
Pros:
•   Immediate salary and possibly benefits
•   If you really know what you are doing and can demonstrate your skills to management, this may be the fastest road to success
•   Some companies don’t really care if you have a state license to work on electrical equipment as long as you regard the rules and provide value to the company
Cons:
•   Often there is a trial period where there are no benefits
•   Learn to “suck up”

Working in corporate America:
•   Companies no longer owe workers anything, but you can use this to your advantage as you don’t owe the company other than the time you put in. 
•   Always be honest, competent and friendly so that you are ready to jump ship to a better job when the opportunity arises.
•   Don’t ever burn bridges or talk bad about someone even if they deserve it; you never know who you might be working for next.
•   Be self-promoting but not arrogant; nobody is going to do it for you
•   Admit your mistakes early and do your best to correct them. 

 
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Offline orion242

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2019, 05:42:51 am »
I wouldn’t try to convince anyone that becoming a union electrician is a great career path;

IMO that depends on the specific location and what one wants to focus on.
 

Offline Ampera

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Re: Advice on How to Become an Electrician
« Reply #12 on: November 10, 2019, 03:35:56 pm »
Excellent advice, Gregg, and I've come to think the same things for most of what you said.

For union labor, I think I'm gonna give it a pass unless it is my absolute last option. I gather it to be very systematic and organized, providing me with the benefit of something that doesn't require a lot of me getting down and dealing with the broader system, but with the huge detriment of dealing with shit like a 2 year waiting list for a job (as an apprentice), and some pretty shit classroom arrangements (I can't start until September). I do like the idea of hard pay, hard benefits, and hard unity, and I've got no problems with dealing with politics, they're everywhere anyways. I do know that NYC is mostly union labor, but there's other places, and I want to look for other companies. The only issue is getting in contact with people and seeing if anyone I know can lend me a foot in the door.

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