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Electrician Apprenticeship: 7 Things You Should Know Before Joining IBEW


Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

In 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of November 2020, the median pay for an experienced electrician was $56,180 per year or $27.01 per hour. With 739,200 jobs available, it is easy to see why this is an ideal career choice. This career becomes even more enticing with the fact that a GED or equivalent paired with training as an apprentice is all the education needed to pursue it.

If you are thinking about becoming an electrician, one of the first things you may consider is an electrician apprenticeship with IBEW.  Read on to learn why this is not the only choice for your career and that attending a California-approved trade school may be a better option for you.

What is IBEW?

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is a labor union that represents about 775,000 workers in the electrical industry. Apprenticing under the IBEW provides hands-on education with on-the-job training and in-class lessons.

The disadvantages of this seemingly easy route to a good-paying career could outweigh the benefits.

What Is an Electrician Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a long-term training program. These are generally run by professional organizations combining work and instruction. The apprenticeship requires a certain amount of in-class and hands-on experience; the time required depends on your specialty.

Apprenticeships generally take about 4-1/2 to 5 years to complete. You have two options when looking to complete an apprenticeship:

  • Apply to a professional group, and, if you receive acceptance
  • Attend an electrician school, receive professional classroom and hands-on training as an electrical assistant, and apply for an apprenticeship.

The Hybrid Electrical Training Program you receive at InterCoast College provides a combination of on-campus hands-on instruction, simulated projects, and online assignments you can complete from home. And you will participate in real-world practice in the labs at the school one day a week. This provides you with a well-rounded education. 

Active students receive an Electrical Training Card (ET). This allows you to work while attending school. You graduate in less than one year.

IBEW vs. InterCoast Trade School

When looking at whether you should join the IBEW or attend a trade school, weigh carefully the following:

1.  Getting an IBEW Apprenticeship can be Difficult

When applying for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), it’s important to consider the competitive nature of the process. As one of the most sought-after opportunities in the field, the IBEW attracts many applicants, while the number of available openings remains limited. The apprenticeship program is a rigorous commitment that lasts for 4-5 years and demands unwavering dedication and a significant investment of time. Compared to the comparatively shorter duration of joining a trade school, embarking on an IBEW apprenticeship entails a profound commitment to honing one’s skills and expertise. Rest assured, this immersive program ensures that only the most exceptional candidates are selected to join the ranks of skilled electrical professionals.

InterCoast Colleges offers a comprehensive Electrical Technician Training Program that covers the fundamentals of electricity, power distribution, trade mathematics, and electrical code requirements, preparing students for a fulfilling electrician career in just under a year. With a new Hybrid Electrical Training Program available, students can enjoy the convenience of both on-campus and online study, allowing them to gain hands-on experience while continuing to work.

2. Application Requirements

To participate in the IBEW apprenticeship program, you must be 18 by the time of selection and indenture. Other requirements may vary but usually include that you must:

  • Have a High School Diploma or GED
  • Have and maintain a driver’s license
  • Have a passing grade for one credit of high school algebra or one semester of college algebra.
  • Be in good health
  • Have a qualifying score on their aptitude test
  • Be drug-free

The first step to being an electrician is to complete your high school diploma or GED. InterCoast College provides an opportunity for you to receive your high school diploma at the same time you are attending their electrical program. So, you can start the InterCoast program without a high school diploma or GED. For more information on this great opportunity, call (877) 227-3377.

3. Select a Specialty When Applying

When applying to IBEW, you often are required to select the area in which you want to specialize:

  • Residential Wireman—Installing electrical systems into residential areas, a 3-year program
  • VDV Installer Technician—Installing circuits and equipment for low-voltage systems, a 3-year program
  • Outside Lineman—Installing distribution and transmission lines, a 3-1/2 year program
  • Inside Wireman—Working in commercial and industrial settings, a 5-year program

When making this selection at the time of application, you choose a specialization in one area.

When you attend InterCoast College, you learn about various areas of the field, putting you in a better position to select the specialty you want. You learn a wide range of work-related skills, also making you employable.

Safety is important to all training programs. At the end of OSHA’s 34-year study about fatal electric shock incidents, they found that, on average, 125 people died per year, adding to a total of 4,255. You will learn proper safety protocols during your studies at InterCoast College.

In addition to safety procedures, you will also be learning the National Electrical CodeThis is the knowledge you need when taking your journeyman exam.

3.  IBEW Entrance Test May be Required

You may be required to interview and take an entrance exam for admission to IBEW. Math and algebra are a requirement for any electrician, and the IBEW entrance exam focuses heavily on these subjects.

While the specifics of the test can vary slightly locally, it typically covers subjects such as algebra and reading comprehension.

Here’s what you might expect:

  1. Math Skills: This part of the test measures your knowledge of algebra, including basic operations with polynomials, factoring, linear equations, and systems of linear equations. You may also see questions on ratios and proportions. The IBEW aptitude test’s math section has 33 multiple-choice questions you must complete in 46 minutes. It covers whole numbers, fractions, decimals, integers, rational numbers, exponents, algebra essentials, equations, formulas, and inequalities.
  2. Reading Comprehension: The test’s reading section typically includes passages followed by questions about the passages. The questions test your ability to understand and interpret written material.
  3. Aptitude and Personality Assessment: Some test versions may include sections assessing your aptitude for electrical work and personality characteristics. This could include questions about your work habits, attitudes, and preferences.

It is recommended to prepare for the test by reviewing relevant math concepts and practicing reading comprehension. There are also study guides and practice tests available that can help you prepare for the IBEW entrance test.

Remember that the specifics of the test can vary locally and over time, so it’s best to check with your local IBEW for the most accurate information. Would you like me to search for more detailed information or practice material online?

The IBEW aptitude test has a passing score of 4/9. However, that means that you need to be in the top 45% of the people who have taken the test to be taken further in the apprenticeship scheme.

Even if you later desire to join the union, going to an electrician school could provide you with the instruction and credentials necessary to be accepted into their organization.

Going to a school for training and working as an electrical trainee, you will get your foot in the door for possible jobs. As an electrician trainee, you will meet other electricians who can help you obtain an apprenticeship.

Attending a trade school gives employers the opinion that you are also serious about your career. You also will have experience in the work field as a trainee if you work before entering an apprenticeship.

4. Fees and Dues

The amount of dues charged by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) varies depending on the local union and the gross wages of the member. As part of the membership fees, there is a monthly basic fee, a per capita fee allocated to IBEW, a fee designated for the IBEW Pension Benefit Fund, a fee for the Electrical Workers Death Benefit Society, and a fee for the Overage Fund. The basic monthly dues for 2021 were $42.00. The 2022 dues rate was $20.00 monthly. Starting January 1, 2023, the dues rate has increased to $22.00 monthly.

For example, LOCAL IBEW 18 in Los Angeles does not impose initiation fees, fostering inclusivity and encouraging broader membership. Members contribute 1% of their monthly salary as local union dues, ensuring fair and proportional support.

This can easily add up to several hundred dollars per year. The $200 initiation fee must be paid upfront by new union employees.

These dues are only for those who are a member of the IBEW; electricians who graduated from trade schools do not have these dues. If you’re concerned about the cost of education at InterCoast College, it’s important to know that financial aid is available to those who qualify. With the right resources and support, you can pursue a well-rounded education without sacrificing your financial stability.

5. Call Board Employment

When you work for the IBEW you typically do not select your work location. You may find yourself sitting at the union and waiting for your turn to work. When a contractor calls and needs workers, the people are sent out on a call board rotation.

You also usually do not select the employer. Your wages come from the union, which takes your dues out of those wages.

If you desire to work for yourself, being an electrician is a great career choice. Many electricians eventually become self-employed, working as independent contractors or owning electrical contracting companies.

As a self-employed electrician, you can choose what jobs you want in the locations you want, work the hours you want, and earn an income you set, depending on the jobs you take and the hours you work.

6. Obtaining Journeyman License

When you participate in the IBEW program, you are usually taking 4-5 years to complete your apprenticeship. This means you are locked into working for the IBEW during that time.

An electrician does not need a four-year college degree nor a 4-5 year apprenticeship commitment. Completing an electrical program in a college or trade school provides you with a good option for great career opportunities.

You can decide to participate in an apprenticeship program, but this is not necessary to take the journeyman exam. Students who complete the InterCoast Electrical Training Program are qualified to sit for the Journeyman examination. The Journeyman license does not allow you to work independently immediately; you must work a set amount of hours with a licensed electrician to watch over you.

The time to become an electrician varies depending on what your goals are. If you want to become an electrical contractor and own your own business, you need a C-10 license to become a contractor in California.

Most states have journeymen and master electrician licenses. California offers a variety of licenses depending on your work specialty. Each license type has different requirements for hours worked, on-the-job training, and separate exams.

 7. Lack of Flexibility

If you are not a union member, you can negotiate these aspects of your employment independently of any union.  If you only want to work certain hours or part-time, attending a trade school can greatly benefit you.

One of the benefits of attending a trade school is learning skills such as time management, budgeting, and communication. This will assist you in negotiating your own jobs if you work independently. Working in a trade school allows you to work part-time, giving you in-class and hands-on experience. Additionally, if you decide later to be self-employed, you can stay on friendly terms with the employer and work out your own wages and requirements.

The Pro Series

InterCoast College’s no-cost class is a great option for a head start on your electrical career.

Taking the form of a series of videos, this course provides an in-depth look at an electrician’s equipment, the current projections of the career, and an ebook.

It caters to beginners without prior knowledge of what an electrician does, meaning anyone can enjoy this class.

The course is completely self-led, meaning you can take as much or as little time as you’d like.

Start Your Path to Becoming an Electrician Today

If you are still in high school and want to begin your electrical training now, contact InterCoast College to help set something up. You can begin your steps to becoming an electrician by taking subjects in high school necessary for electricians. This includes additional math, shop, and mechanical drawing. 

To further your education in the field of electrical work after completing high school, consider enrolling in a college program. This will provide you with valuable knowledge and hands-on experience to help you advance in your career. As an active student, you’ll receive an ET card and have the opportunity to gain work experience while receiving your training.

For more information, subscribe to our YouTube videos and download our no-cost E-Book “What is a Trade School.”

Contact InterCoast College today; simply click the banner below or call us at (877) 227-3377 to get all your questions answered.

With thousands of enrolled students over 35 years, InterCoast College is the only way to go on starting your career.

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Keith Kaminski
Keith Kaminski
3 years ago

I am taking the aptitude test in Springfield, Il on April 2nd. IF I pass and get an interview, can I do my apprenticeship in another part of the state or another state if I move?

Paritosh Bouri
Paritosh Bouri
3 years ago

I am from India, is it possible for me ?
I mean who can apply? And how?
During the training they paid me?

Kate Miller
Kate Miller
3 years ago

If you take the aptitude test in CA and pass but have an upcoming surgery that conflicts with hiring will you be bypassed?

Dales Air Conditioning and Heating
Dales Air Conditioning and Heating
3 years ago

We’re looking to expand our services and your blog has really helped. Thanks for the info, looking forward to seeing how well the program goes.

Christine E Johnson
Christine E Johnson
2 years ago

I graduate from Lincoln tech in September..when should I start applying for apprenticeships

2 years ago

If I’m laid off, as an apprentice in the IBEW 212 in IN, am I able to get unemployment??

2 years ago

If I am already an apprentice for a company here in CO. Then do I have to still apply and go through the IBEW apprenticeship program if I plan to get apart of the union?

2 years ago

If I go through the ibew am I allowed to transfer to another ibew in a different state to finish the rest of my apprenticeship there?

2 years ago

If I go through inter coast college and graduate will my credentials be acceptable in other states?

Barb Moffitt
Barb Moffitt
1 year ago

We recently had work done through an electrical contracting company. One of the gentlemen that came out was licensed in California but was currently under an apprenticeship. My question is: Can the company charge the same rate as a licensed contractor even though he doesn’t hold an Oregon license?
Thank you, Barb

11 months ago

Can you help me I am fully qualified Electrician in Uk what exams do I have to pass in La to get the electrician jobs

Jo miller
Jo miller
6 months ago

With the new point system they have advised me Ive pointed out of my apprenticeship im in my second year how can i fix this

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