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What Does It Take to Become an Electrician in California?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Today’s focus will be on California’s requirements, although much of the information will be more broadly applicable, too. Without further delay, join us as we explain everything you need to get started down this exciting career path!

What Does It Take to Become an Electrician in California?

The obvious first step to becoming an electrician is research. You’re going to want to look up the exact requirements for being one wherever you intend to live.

The California state government has a reasonably detailed page on their site, which has all the details you’ll need. However, the information can admittedly be a bit overwhelming when you are first looking into the requirements. We’ll try and put it more succinctly here.

For obvious safety reasons, the state has specific requirements you must meet before they allow you to become an electrician. If you intend to engage in the “connection of electrical devices for electrical contractors,” you must meet these requirements. 

There are certain edge cases, such as with licensed electrical contractors, but this won’t focus today. Most people wishing to do electrical work are going to need proper training.

Our focus will be on becoming a general electrician, but more focused electricians’ requirements tend to be similar. The most significant difference between most electrician specialties is they often require fewer hours before you can become licensed (discussed in more detail later). There are other ways in which you can become a licensed electrician in California.  If you have never received training in the electrical field, going to a vocational or trade school is a good option for you to enter the field in less than one year.

The Path to Licensing

The path to getting your license can begin with a college or trade school. There, you’re going to need to take 750+ hours of classes on electrical theory and practical methodology.

Be sure to choose a well-designed program that meets all state requirements. Most importantly, the program must be approved by the State of California, Division of Industrial Relations. Some of the basics you’ll learn to include:

  • National electrical code requirements
  • Wiring basics
  • Mathematics essential to the trade
  • Safety, including OSHA and CPR
  • Conduit Bending
  • And much more

This training is only a portion of what you need to become an electrician. The other part of your training, which often can be done concurrently with your electrician program, is the requirement that you accumulate at least 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience. 

The exact hour requirement changes for specific electrician career paths, but the basic principle remains the same. If you want to be an electrician, you’ll be spending at least a few thousand hours as a trainee.  You can earn while you work, as long as you work under a licensed electrician.

This, coincidentally, is why many people are training to become electricians who take courses at night. It is much easier to get on-the-job hours during the day and take classes at night than the reverse.  Some students are even taking Hybrid programs that allow them to learn both online for theory and simulated labs and then on-campus for actual hands-on training. 

Becoming an Electrician Trainee

The above-mentioned 8,000 hours of required job experience may sound intimidating. The reality is it usually isn’t quite as hard as it initially seems. Most electrical training programs offered by colleges and trade schools help make this trainee process easier

This trainee requirement aims to make sure electricians have both the required education and practical experience in their jobs. After all, training courses can only provide students with so much training.  It is always helpful to have hands-on training with on-the-job experience.  With an electrical trainee status, you can work under a licensed electrician and accumulate hours for licensure. 

It’d be a good idea to read up about this trainee process. While it isn’t generally grueling, it still works. If it is paid, you’ll often only make minimum wage or slightly above.

Your goal during this trainee period should be to learn. Pay close attention to the electrician you’re working under. Ask questions often and internalize the answers you’re given.

A certified electrician can have only a single trainee under them at a time. Be respectful of the individual who ostensibly has decided to become a critical teacher in your career path. You will want to cultivate a positive relationship with them.

Remember that this trainee process is just as necessary as the schooling process. You’ll be getting hands-on experience with the day-to-day tasks of your future career. Take it seriously!

This is also the time to internalize whether this work is what you thought it would be. While you can’t do everything as a trainee, the work will be similar to an electrician’s. If you hate doing it, that might signal a problem.

Exam Time

Once you’ve taken your courses, you can apply to take an exam to become a qualified electrician.  You can also wait until you have accumulated your hours before you take the exam.  

In any case, the initial steps of this process are easy. You need to apply to take your exam. Eventually, the state will send you relevant information about the exam.

The test itself will cover a lot of what you learned in your school.  Your test will include questions from the national electrical code.  You will know how to navigate the national electrical codes, which is important for taking the exam. It is not incredibly difficult, but it requires you to get a 70% grade or higher. The test can be retaken if you do not pass the first time.

Keep in mind; you will be provided with a national electrical code manual at the test site. You should be familiar with navigating it but don’t need to memorize it. 

Do yourself a favor before the test and go over the basics of electrician work. Go online and try some practice questions similar to those on the test. In other words, prepare!

Once you manage to pass the test, you’ve done it! You’ll become licensed and be able to work as an electrical contractor in the state.

All that’s left to do is land an electrician position, and you are ready to work. Work safely and work hard, and you’ll rarely be wanting for work! Everyone needs electricians at least some of the time.


Once you have your license, remember you will need to renew it. 

It may be a good idea to set reminders for yourself when you need to renew your license. That way, you never miss any deadlines. Working while not licensed, even accidentally, could carry steep consequences you need to avoid.

Get Started on Your Career Path Today

So what does it take to become an electrician? 

Your first step is to get into school and get your electrical trainee card (ET Card). With enough dedication to pursue the requirements to get there, you can finish your classes in less than 10 months! 

If you’re curious about becoming an electrician, we’d love for you to consider InterCoast Colleges. If you’d like to see what we can do for you, request more information from us! You can also call to schedule a campus virtual tour to see what we’re able to offer for yourself.

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