There are two basic routes an aspiring electrician can take when deciding upon their education and training: vocational schools or completing an apprentice program for electricians. Both have their pros and cons. It’s important to know the benefits and disadvantages of each path, so you can make your decision based on how much time and money you are willing to put into your education.
Vocational schools have the advantage of time. If you are in a hurry to get into the field as soon as possible, this may be the route for you. Vocational school electrician programs can take anywhere from six months to two years- a year being the average length of time to complete most programs. This is a very short amount of time to spend in education before inserting yourself into such a lucrative career. In a vocational school program you would take courses like principles of electro technology, blueprint reading, electrical design, electrical codes, and installation workshops. When you complete your education at a vocational school, you have the advantage of completing all of your coursework in an extremely efficient time period. However once you get the diploma, you still won’t have much hands-on experience.
Apprenticeships are all about hands-on experience, roughly 2,000 hours of it or more, sometimes much more. Apprenticeships take about four years to complete, so if you take this route you have to be willing to put in the time. This can be a disadvantage money-wise as well, since you have to pay an extra couple of years of tuition. However, when the aspiring electrician gains their hands-on training through an apprenticeship, they get paid for those hours. So, even though you are spending more money in tuition, you will be making money in your field before you have even completed your education.
The coursework in apprenticeship programs is pretty much the same as the coursework you will find in vocational school programs (apprenticeship programs logging in at about 144 hours of classroom education). The amount of training is really what sets the two apart. Specialization training is available through apprenticeship programs in areas like soldering or fire alarm systems. However, unlike a vocational school where anyone 18 years old with a GED or the equivalent can apply, you must be sponsored to engage in an apprenticeship program. The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Independent Electrical Contractors Association are all organizations that sponsor apprenticeships.
Both vocational schools and apprenticeship programs have their pros and cons. Before deciding which one is right for you, you might want to investigate your state’s electrician license requirements, as some states make apprenticeships a prerequisite for licensure. If this is true in your state, note that it’s not uncommon for someone to complete both an electrician vocational school program and an apprenticeship. The electrician with the most education and experience under their belt is likely to be the electrician who gets hired and promoted.