While it would be preferable to graduate from electrician school and jump right into working for yourself or someone else as a full-fledged electrician, the industry unfortunately may not essentially work that way. Rising to the status of independent Master Electrician is a gradual process, and once your education has been completed you must participate in an apprenticeship program.
What is an apprenticeship? In its most basic form, an apprenticeship can be thought of as an extension of the practical learning that took place in the classroom at electrician school. Instead of heading into the classroom every day, you may instead be put into real life work situations and be given a limited set of responsibilities which are designed to both test your skills and introduce you to new situations. You will be reporting to whoever is in charge of the job site that you are working on, either a Journeyman Electrician or a Master Electrician. A significant part of your apprenticeship may also be watching these two higher levels of electrician as they go about their own tasks. They may also mentor you and show you the tricks of the trade as well as the safest and most reliable ways to do a job.
It is not always easy to apply to and be accepted into the apprenticeship program of your choice. Depending upon the area of the country that you live in, apprenticeship programs could be subject to a long waiting list. Sometimes it can take years to get into the program you are interested in. You may also have to pass a test of the skills that you learned during your classes. Some programs may limit their participation by only offering restricted periods wherein new graduates have an opening to apply. In some cases, there may only be a few weeks out of the year when a program accepts general applications. Another factor which may limits the availability of apprenticeship positions is that in order for an apprentice to be placed in the field a Master Electrician has to request one.
Apprenticeships for electricians are quite long – usually they may last at least three years, and four-to-five-year apprenticeships are not unusual. The good news is that you might be paid during the entire period that you are acting as an apprentice, so in a sense it is like being compensated for on-the-job learning. The not-so-good news is that the rate of pay at the beginning may usually be a little bit less than half what the average electrician earns. As time goes on you may be entitled to receive incremental raises thanks to the increased level of experience that you would have accumulated and the responsibility that goes with that. An apprentice may earn about 80% of the hourly wage paid to a Journeyman Electrician. Keep in mind that there may also be expenses that go along with your apprenticeship, including union dues as some contractors and shops may require you to join a union before you can start to work.
An apprenticeship might be a learning experience, but it is also real work, and the people you interact with on the job site will expect you to produce results. Not all electricians actually complete their apprenticeship. For those that do choose to stick it out, however, the rewards may be high. Working as an electrician may allow you access to some of the promising wages available in construction trades, and it may also give you a window into more industrial and specialist electrical work.