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Electrician Apprenticeship: 7 Things You Should Know Before Joining IBEW


Estimated reading time: 9 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 is 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 gives you a hands-on education with a mix of 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 depending 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 to the IBEW there are usually a lot of applicants and only a few openings. The apprenticeship program turns away many good candidates. With apprenticeship programs usually lasting 4-5 years, it is a much bigger investment in time and commitment than joining a tradeschool.

The InterCoast program is only 1 year. InterCoast offers job placement assistance and you will have the opportunity to select your employer.

2. Application Requirements

To participate in the IBEW apprenticeship program, you must be 18 years old 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 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 you are making this selection at the time of application, you are choosing 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.

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.

By 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

When you are a member of the IBEW you must pay union dues. Union dues financially support the goals of the union.

Here is an example of the dues for the IBEW Local 1200:

  • Initiation Fee—$200 per initiation
  • Basic LU 1200 Dues—$20 per month
  • Basic Per Capita Dues—2% of base wages or $25 per month minimum

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. You do pay for your education, but the well-rounded education is worth the investment.

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

As a self-employed electrician, you are able to 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 on your own right away, you will need to 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 type of license has different requirements for hours worked, on-the-job training, and separate exams.

 7. Lack of Flexibility

If you are not a member of a union you have the freedom to negotiate these aspects of your employment, independent of any union.  If you only want to work certain hours or part-time, attending a trade school can be a great benefit to 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 are able to stay on friendly terms with the employer and work out your own wages and requirements.

The Pro Series

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

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

The caters to beginners with no prior knowledge of what an electrician does, meaning anyone can enjoy this class.

The course is completely self-led, meaning you are able to take as much or as little time as you’d like with it.

Start Your Path to Becoming an Electrician Today

If you are still in high school and would like 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. 

After high school, continue your electrician apprenticeship goal by enrolling in a college program. There you will gain knowledge and hands-on experience to pursue your career. You will receive your ET card as an active student and begin getting work experience while receiving your training.

For more information, you can 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
2 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
1 year 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
1 year 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
1 year 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
1 year ago

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

1 year ago

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

1 year 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?

1 year 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?

1 year ago

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

Barb Moffitt
Barb Moffitt
6 months 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

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