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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

How to Become a Licensed Electrician in California

August 8, 2018

SJVC electrician program student standing in electrician classroomEditor’s Note: This article was edited on July 26, 2021 to include updated BLS data.

If you enjoy solving problems, are technically savvy and like to work with power tools, then becoming an electrician might be the perfect career choice for you. Are you interested in learning more about this career and how you can get started as a licensed electrician in California? We’ve put together a comprehensive electrician career overview that should help answer your questions. Let’s get started!

What does an electrician do?

Electricians are tasked with repairing, installing and maintaining control systems, lighting, communications, and electrical power in factories, businesses, and homes.

On the job, electricians typically do the following, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • Read technical diagrams or blueprints
  • Maintain and install lighting, control and wiring systems
  • Inspect transformers, circuit breakers and other electrical components
  • Use a variety of testing devices to identify electrical problems
  • Replace or repair fixtures, wiring or equipment by using power tools and hand tools
  • Follow local and state building regulations that are based on the National Electrical Code
  • Train and direct workers to repair, install or maintain equipment or electrical wiring

Why should I become an electrician?

The BLS says that “employment of electricians is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.” An increasing demand for alternative energy sources as well as increases in construction spending will drive up the demand for electricians.

With an emerging field in alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, more electricians will be needed to install and link these energy sources to power grids and homes throughout the next decade. “Electricians who can perform many different tasks, such as electronic systems repair, solar photovoltaic installation, and industrial component wiring, should have the best job opportunities,” the BLS reports. However, government policy will determine whether or not there will be increases in employment from these new sources.

How much can electricians make in California?

In addition to the growing demand for qualified electricians, the pay can be viewed as another pro to an electrician career. According to the BLS, “the median annual wage for electricians was $56,900 in May 2020.” In California, the annual mean wage for electricians was $75,900, according to May 2020 BLS data. It’s important to keep in mind that wage varies by location, years of experience and other factors.

California has the highest employment level for electricians in the U.S., with a reported 71,010 employed in the state, according to May 2020 BLS data.

Where do electricians work?

According to Career Builder, electricians will spend most of their time working indoors in buildings that are under construction and/or renovation, or outdoors on telecommunication and power systems.

One thing to note is that electricians often work on a remote site for a period of time, which can range from a day to a few months. They will then move on to another site and these sites can be far from their homes, so it’s expected for electricians to travel to complete their work. Electricians may also work in cramped conditions and be standing and kneeling for long periods of time. Electricians usually work by themselves on a project but they may also be part of a larger crew at larger companies.

Is a career as an electrician right for me?

One thing to keep in mind is that working as an electrician will put you at a higher risk for injuries and/or illnesses because of the nature of the job. According to the BLS, some of these injuries include burns, electrical shocks and other minor injuries. This is why electricians are required to wear safety glasses and protective clothing and gear to decrease the chance of these injuries.

Do you know what qualities make for a successful electrician? The BLS reports that anyone interested in becoming an electrician should have the following important qualities:

  • Color vision: Electricians need to be able to recognize electrical wires by their color
  • Communication skills: Electricians are working with people regularly and they need to be able to answer customers’ questions as well as be friendly.
  • Critical-thinking skills: Electricians are diagnosing problems from the results of tests that they perform. They might use a multimeter to check the voltage of an outlet that isn’t working, or check the amperage or resistance to see what the best course of action will be to fix the problem.
  • Physical stamina: While connecting fixtures to wires and running wires, electricians will need to be moving around all day long.
  • Physical strength: There will be heavy components and equipment that could weigh up to 50 pounds and electricians will need to be strong enough to move them.
  • Troubleshooting skills: Finding, diagnosing and repairing problems is what electricians do. If a motor stops working, electricians will perform tests to figure out what caused the failure and then based on those results, they will either fix or replace the motor.

Do I need to be licensed and certified to become an electrician?

Yes, you will need to be certified and licensed in the state of California in order to work as an electrician. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), if you have no prior experience and want to become an electrician, then these are the steps you will need to take.

  1. You will need to register as an electrician trainee
  2. In order to qualify as an electrician trainee, you will need to either:
    -Be enrolled in a state recognized school
    -Or working directly supervised by a certified electrician
  3. You will then need to complete at least 720 hours of related classroom instruction from a state recognized school or apprenticeship
  4. You will also need to acquire 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience, which can also be part of an apprenticeship

Once these steps are complete, you will be eligible to take the state certification exam, which you will need to pass to work as an electrician.

How do I start my training to become an electrician?

To begin your training to become an electrician, you will need to either enroll in an apprenticeship or a technical school.

How long does it take to become an electrician?

According to Career Builder, an apprenticeship program can last anywhere between four to five years. During this apprenticeship, electrical trainees will need to complete 144 hours per year (for 5 years) of technical training that includes learning about electrical theory, mathematics, electrical code requirements, safety and first aid practices, and blueprints. Apprentices will also need to complete 2,000 hours of practical on-the-job experience each year.

Another route you can take to start your electrician career is to attend an electrician school. You can start your training by enrolling in SJVC’s electrician program, which is approved by the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Students who are enrolled in a DIR-approved program are eligible for an Electrician Trainee Card (T-card). SJVC’s electrician program can be completed in as few as 10 months for a Certificate, or about 14 months for an A.S. Degree. Once a student completes the program, he or she will be OSHA 30 certified and prepared to sit for the California General Electrician’s Certification Exam (Journeyman’s test).

Interested in SJVC’s electrician program?

Learn more by visiting our Electrical Technology program page, request information or call us at 866-544-7898 to speak to admissions.

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