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How to Become an Electrician in California

Electricians are the people who install and maintain the wires and fixtures that move electricity from the power station and through buildings. There is a growing need for chief electricians, control electricians, industrial electricians, maintenance electricians and more in California and the rest of the United States.

Becoming an electrician allows you to get a job that offers above-average pay without needing a four-year degree. If you’re good at problem-solving and like working with your hands, an the Electrical Technology program at San Joaquin Valley College could help you complete your electrician education and be ready for the Journeyman’s test ” change to “prepare to take the California General Electrician’s Certification Exam in as few as 10 to 14 months. 

In order to be certified as a General Electrician in the State of California, pursuant to certification standards established by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, an applicant must pass a certification examination and complete 8000 hours of work for a C-10 electrical contractor installing, constructing or maintaining electrical systems covered by the National Electrical Code. For additional details, please visit https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/ECU/ElectricalTrade.html

Read on to explore how to become an electrician, how to get electrician training and whether becoming an electrician is right for you.

What Is an Electrician and What Does One Do?

Electricians install, maintain and repair components of the systems that provide electrical power in buildings and other structures. Electrical work also covers systems for communications and lighting as well as control systems in factories, commercial buildings, and residential buildings.1

Electricians perform tasks such as:

  • Inspecting electrical components like circuit breakers.
  • Installing and maintaining electrical wiring, controls, and lighting systems.
  • Operating hand and power tools to repair or replace fixtures, wiring, and equipment.
  • Overseeing and training other electrical workers.
  • Reading blueprints that show where circuits, outlets and other equipment should be located in a building.
  • Using testing devices to find electrical problems.

Electricians must understand and follow local and state building codes that are based on the National Electrical Code. They may work in buildings that are under construction, installing wiring and other equipment before it’s hidden behind walls.

Electricians who maintain equipment have to identify and repair equipment not working correctly. They may have to fix or replace parts of electrical equipment that could range from a lighting fixture to a motor.

Experienced electricians may help design the electrical system for a new building while working with a building engineer or architect. They may work with other contractors on projects such as HVAC design and installation.

Benefits of Being an Electrician

When you train as an electrician, you develop skills that are in demand. As you gain more experience and learn to do more as a chief electrician, your pay can increase.2

If you’re entrepreneurial, you can be self-employed and set your own work schedule by working as an electrical subcontractor for a home builder or construction company. You could also start your own electrical contracting company if you want to use your electrician skills to build a business.

Electricians earned a median annual wage of $54,180 per year in 2019, which is higher than the median for workers in other construction trades. It is also substantially higher than the national median annual wage for all occupations, which was $39,810 in that period.2

Why Become an Electrician?

When you complete your electrician training, you’re ready to enter a field where jobs are growing twice as fast as the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that electrician job growth will be 8% between 2019 and 2029, double the 4% rate projected for jobs overall during that decade.3 The BLS predicts electrician job outlook is rosy, with about 82,200 openings each year for that period.

The need for electricians is growing because building construction is up and because the country is turning to alternative energy sources. As more power is being generated by solar and wind energy, the nation needs more electricians to fill alternative energy installation jobs.

Electricians who know how to perform a variety of jobs—such as installing solar panels, wiring industrial components, and repairing electrical systems—will have the most job opportunities, according to the BLS.

Electrician Salary

The median annual salary for electricians was $56,180, according to May 2019 figures from the BLS. Median means half of all electricians earned more than that amount and half made less. Electricians reporting the lowest pay made less than $33,410 per year, while those who made those most earned more than $96,590.2 Be advised, salary for entry-level positions may be lower than the national average.

The highest-paying jobs for electricians were with the government.

Best Places to Work as an Electrician

The amount an electrician earns can vary for factors such as the amount of experience and the kind of electrical work they perform. The geographic location where you work can also affect how much you earn.4

States with most Electrician jobs # of electricians employed Average hourly wage
California 72,870 $33.87
Texas 63,750 $25.11
New York 43,890 $38.21
Florida 41,410 $21.98
Illinois 25,400 $37.88
Cities where electricians earn the highest pay # of electricians employed Average hourly wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 11,550 $48.27
Trenton, NJ 550 $40.84
Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA 810 $40.77
Lewiston, ID-WA 240 $40.34
NYC-Newark-Jersey City NY-NJ-PA 44,330 $39.73
Chicago-Naperville Elgin, IL-IN-WI 19,390 $39.10
Kankakee IL 120 $38.88

Electrician Jobs

As a specialized tradesman, you may have various job titles, depending upon exactly what sort of work you do or the level of training you have. Electrician specialties include:5

  • Residential electricians: They install or repair electrical components in homes, from putting wiring in a house under construction to replacing an obsolete component or system in an existing building.
  • Industrial electricians: They work in large industrial buildings with heavy equipment and machinery, such as power plants or manufacturing facilities.
  • Inside wiremen: They install and maintain the electrical systems found inside a commercial or industrial building, such as lighting, heating equipment, control systems, and receptacles. The inside wireman and trainees, called a journeyman wireman, may install fire alarm systems, security systems, or conduit to take wire from a control panel to the equipment.6
  • Outside lineman: They work on the power lines that deliver electricity to buildings.
  • Journeyman electrician: They are a step above an apprentice electrician, who is a trainee learning about electronics. A journeyman has completed the required coursework and passed a certification exam. Because they have more experience and education, journeyman electricians can work without supervision and perform more complex work than apprentices.
  • Maintenance electricians: They oversee large electrical systems that are used to power plants and factories. They make sure the systems are working safely and efficiently by inspecting the equipment, replacing and repairing parts as necessary, and maintaining programmable logic functions.

Incidentally, despite such titles as “lineman,” “wireman,” and “journeyman,” not all electricians are men. The percentage of female electricians is 2.4%, according to the New York Times, and 9.5% of electrical contracting businesses are owned by women.7

The largest union of electricians is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has about 775,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. The IBEW has locals all over the state of California.8

According to Electrical Construction and Maintenance Magazine’s list of the Top 50 Electrical Contractors for 2020, several of the biggest electrical contractors in the U.S. are based in California.9 Those include:

  • Cupertino Electric Inc. of San Jose
  • Helix Electric Inc. of San Diego
  • Redwood Electric Group Inc. of Santa Clara
  • Bergelectric Corp. of Carlsbad
  • CSI Electrical Contractors of Santa Fe Springs
  • Sprig Electric Co. of San Jose

Find Your Path as an Electrician

SJVC is committed to hands-on training in the skills you need as an Electrician. Learn more about our program and exciting opportunities.

Skills for Electricians

Electricians perform a variety of tasks, from reading blueprints to using equipment such as ohmmeters and voltmeters to test circuitry and make sure the system is safe.

Successful electricians usually have skills10 such as :

  • Troubleshooting by determining what causes a problem and the best way to fix it.
  • Repairing electrical machines or systems, which includes knowing the correct tools.
  • Active listening, which is the ability to pay attention to what others are saying, understand the point they are making, and decide the appropriate time to ask questions.
  • Critical thinking, or the ability to use logic and reasoning to find the best approach to a problem.
  • Decision making, or the ability to weigh the pros and cons of different actions to select the best solution.
  • Installing, or the ability to install equipment, machines, or wiring to match the specified criteria.
  • Complex problem-solving, or the ability to recognize a complicated problem, consider related information, and develop a solution.
  • Maintaining, or the ability to perform regular maintenance on equipment and determine if repairs are needed.

Electricians should also be skilled in handling tools commonly used in the trade, including conduit benders, stripping tools, crimping tools, cable cutters, and pliers.

How to Become an Electrician in California

The California Department of Industrial Relations outlines how to become an electrician. In California, you must:11

  • Register as an Electrician Trainee. You qualify as an electrician trainee by enrolling in a state-recognized school or working directly with a certified electrician who will supervise your training. You must get 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience and take 720 hours of instruction related to electronics.
  • Take the electrician exam once you have completed the instruction and requisite work hours.
  • Work under the supervision of a certified electrician in an apprenticeship. Organizations such as the IBEW and Merit shops may offer an electrical union apprenticeship program near you. For this program, you’ll have to apply, then take an aptitude test that checks your ability with algebra and other math functions and your reading comprehension.
  • Wait for an apprentice program to have an opening, then interview for a spot in the apprenticeship.12
  • Complete all the classroom instruction and hours of work experience you need in an apprenticeship, up to five years.13

Alternatively, enroll in a state-recognized school with an electrician program. San Joaquin Valley College’s Electrical Technology program offers an Associate Degree in Electrical Technology and a Certificate of Completion in Electrical Technology. The program is approved by the California Department of Industrial Relations.14

Receive your electrical technology certificate or degree at SJVC in as few as 10 to 14 months and be ready to take the Journeyman’s test to become certified as a general electrician in California.

Pursuant to certification standards established by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, an applicant must pass a certification examination and complete 8000 hours of work for a C-10 electrical contractor installing, constructing or maintaining electrical systems covered by the National Electrical Code. For additional details, please visit: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/ECU/ElectricalTrade.html

Do I Need an Electrician Certification in California?

You need to be certified in California if you are performing electrical work for a class C-10 electrical contractor. Anyone who makes electrical connections of more than 100-volt-amperes must be a certified electrician. You don’t need to be certified if you only work with low-voltage systems or solely with electrical signs.

If you are certified in another state and move to California, you must complete electrician certification classes and receive certification before you begin working as an electrician in California.15

Do I Have to Join a Union to Work as an Electrician in California?

No, you don’t have to join a union to work as an electrician in California. However, some electricians choose to join a union because it offers training and other benefits.16

What to Look for in Electrician School

If you’re considering an electrician education, there are several factors you should evaluate while comparing programs. These include:

  • Hands-on training. If you’re training to be an electrician, you want to get experience with the tools and equipment that electricians use. Look for a school with up-to-date equipment and where class sizes are limited so there are enough workstations for everyone in the class. At SJVC, no more than 20 students can enroll in any hands-on class, so everyone has their own workstation.
  • Instructor quality. Look for instructors who are certified electricians who have real-world experience and understand what employers are looking for. SJVC surveys employers to see the skills they want new hires to have and builds those skills into the electric technology curriculum.
  • Affordable tuition and a variety of financial aid programs. Check with SJVC to find out what assistance is available. Student loans, grants, and scholarships are available to those who qualify.

How Long is Electrician School?

At San Joaquin Valley College, you can select from two programs to fulfill your electrician certificate or degree requirements. You can complete your Associate Degree in Electrical Technology in as little as 14 months. The quickest way to complete the program is by earning an Electrical Technology Certificate of Completion in as few as 10 months.

Can I Get an Electrician Degree Online?

To learn the skills that electricians need and get experience using the tools and equipment of the trade, you should select an electrician trade school that offers hands-on classroom training. The best way to learn electrical skills is by doing, which means you’ll take most of your classes in person rather than online to meet your electrician education requirements.

What Will I Learn in SJVC’s Electrical Technology Courses?

In SJVC’s Electrical Technology program, you’ll learn how to become a certified electrician and what you need to know to prepare for the Journeyman’s exam. You’ll learn both the “how” of electrical work and the theory or “why” of electrical technology in your courses.

You can train to be an electrician by learning electrical terminology, the kind of math you’ll use daily on the job, technical understanding, and troubleshooting. You’ll know how to install, operate, and maintain residential, commercial, and industrial wiring and electrical equipment.

Electrician Classes

Some of the classes you’ll take in SJVC’s Electrical Technology program include:

  • Electrical Conduit Bending. This course is a study of how to properly calculate, layout, and bend Electrical Metallic Tubing (EMT) and Rigid Metal Conduit (RMC) per industry and National Electrical Code standards. This course utilizes both hand bending tools and the use of mechanical and machine-type bending equipment.
  • Residential Wiring. This course introduces the student to the elements of residential-type construction with an emphasis on wiring principles and basic residential design. This course also allows the student to perform a “hands-on” component of wiring a basic residential structure. Both components of this course are completed in strict accordance with the requirements of the National Electrical Code.
  • Programmable Logic Controllers/Industrial Electronics. This course presents basic concepts and applications of PLCs such as the PLC language, performing installation and diagnostic functions, using program tools, basic communications and logic operations. The practical instruction of this course is performed with Allen Bradley equipment and RSLogix software, both of which are predominantly used within the manufacturing industry.
  • Blueprint Reading for Electricians. This course is designed to introduce students to architectural plans utilized in the construction industry for residential and commercial construction with a focus on the electrical trade. Students will develop the skills needed to interpret information conveyed on blueprints and apply these skills in subsequent coursework. Students will be trained in CPR and First Aid. A
  • OSHA Standards for the Construction Industry. This course covers OSHA policies, procedures, and standards, as well as construction safety and health principles. Topics include scope and application of the OSHA construction standards. Special emphasis is placed on those areas that are the most hazardous, using OSHA standards as a guide. Upon successful course completion, the student will receive an OSHA 10 Hour Construction Outreach Training Completion Card.
  • Commercial Wiring. This course covers the theory and application of electrical wiring systems utilized in commercial buildings inclusive of general wiring and raceway systems, lighting systems, low voltage systems, overcurrent and grounding protection, electrical distribution systems, and load calculations, all in adherence to the requirements of the National Electrical Code.

Kickstart Your Career as a Electrician

Small class sizes, individual attention, and hands-on training in the skills you need. Learn more about how to become an Electrician with SJVC.

Prepare for a Career in Electrical Technology with San Joaquin Valley College

Studying Electrical Technology at SJVC prepares you for a fast-growing career that allows you to use your head and your hands. As a licensed electrician, you’ll have skills you can use for a lifetime in an industry that needs new workers and pays salaries that are above average.

In a little more than a year, you can be ready to take the California Journeyman’s exam and to work for an electrical contractor.

If you’re interested in a career as an electrician, contact San Joaquin Valley College today to get more information about how you can enter our Electrical Technology program.

Electrician FAQ

How long does it take to become an electrician? 

At SJVC, you can earn a Certificate of Completion in Electric Technology in as few as 10 months or an Associate Degree in Electric Technology in as few as 14 months. 

Do I need to be certified as an electrician? 

Yes, in California, you must have a trainee’s license to be an apprentice. You must pass the California General Electrician’s Certification Exam and complete 8000 hours of work for a C-10 electrical contractor in order to be certified as a General Electrician in the State of California..

How much do electricians make in California? 

The mean annual wage for electricians in California was $70,460 in May 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The mean hourly wage in California in May 2019 was $33.87.4

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