As an electrical instructor, mentor, and leader, I repeatedly get asked the same question: How long does it take to become an electrician? My response always comes in the form of another question: How long does it take to become a chef, barber, or surgeon? Unfortunately, there is no "set" amount of time or shortcut path to becoming proficient in the electrical trade. No six-month or five-year training program can completely prepare you for everything you'll see and experience in the workforce, but the good news is… time, persistence, and exposure will. There is no elevator "up" to success; you must take the stairs, which will require significant patience and endurance. To help you along your journey, I've developed a short list of tips to provide a basic framework for moving up in the electrical profession. Based on my years of experience in the electrical industry, here are eight sure ways to increase your chances of success as an apprentice:
1. Be professional (verbally and non-verbally)
Ultimately, the success of your career in the electrical industry will be based on your ability to build rapport with other electrical professionals, who will serve as your advisors and resources. You must build trust and keep your word to move up the ladder. When communicating, always be mindful of your body language, facial expressions, and the tone of your responses. Always maintain eye contact when you're in engaged in conversations and discussions. Never make personal attacks, and be slow to take offense. Avoid using inappropriate language, and, most of all, avoid engaging in unprofessional behavior that will cause damage to your relationships and tarnish your reputation. Treat peers, customers, and their property with care. Remember — the boss needs someone they can trust; you are the company's representative and agent — an extension of the organization.
2. Build strong relationships
Your attitude determines your latitude. Foster trust and gain respect from everyone, even those you might consider annoying coworkers. Be diplomatic and empathetic from the supply house to the job box. Be insightful: Do your due diligence on all assignments given to you. Demonstrate to your team and the boss that you are goal oriented. Be proficient in everything that you do. Be respectful; never do anything that will undermine your credibility. Always keep your word; strong relationships are built on consistency. This will help you to become a trusted team player. Show customers that the well-being of their project is priority No. 1! Always hold yourself accountable, and do your absolute best with the resources you have at hand. Reminder: Your ability to gain trust will get you access to more resources.
3. Build excellent communication skills
Always communicate clearly, focus on being an active listener, and pay full attention to "all" the details the boss is delivering to you (e.g., customers, the boss, co-workers). Be patient, and ask for clarity to confirm you're on the same page. Wait for the speaker to finish his or her instructions without interruption before you speak. Show interest in the information being delivered to you; make sure you understand the needs and concerns of the person speaking or communicating. Use clear and concise language, avoid jargon/slang, and make your message easy to understand. Respond immediately if you can; don't let essential instructions or information languish in your email and text messages. Keep the timing of your response from causing issues down the road. Always use the most appropriate communication channels based on the situation; in other words, discuss sensitive issues face-to-face — sometimes, things get lost in translation in an email or text message.
4. Stay persistent
Malcolm Gladwell, a famous researcher and author, once stated that he believes it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to master complex skills and materials. To be successful in the electrical industry, you must be persistent, and never give up in the face of obstacles and challenges. Learn from your mistakes, and course correct. Despite the fact that Michael Jordan missed more shots than he made, he ultimately became one of the greatest basketball players in history; his secret was just kept shooting. Always learn from your failures and mistakes; failure is a part of success. Stay committed to mastering an area of the electrical industry, find your niche, and master it! Here are a few examples of potential areas to become an expert:
- Pipe bending
- Fire alarm systems
- Mastering the NEC
- Solar photovoltaic systems
- Residential wiring guidelines
- Building automation systems
5. Education is critical
The electrical trade is significantly affected by technological developments and legal legislation changes, which is why successful electricians are constantly learning and adapting to change. They read books/articles, attend seminars, and seek out resources that help them grow and perfect their craft. Professional electricians have a superior understanding of the NEC and have critical thinking skills. Poor or average electricians often need more resources to excel in this industry due to laziness, lack of training, or resistance to change. Having the correct information and training can give you access to resources that generate wealth. The best tool to have in your arsenal is your education. Never stop investing in yourself; it will pay you dividends indefinitely.
6. Find a mentor
During the early years of my business, I grew and took on more significant projects because I had a mentor guiding me through every aspect of the project. He helped me to establish my first lines of credit accounts at a supply house I'd been shopping at for years. He helped me to avoid failing inspections on any of my jobs. He held me accountable for all of my decisions. When he retired, he gave me all of his old customers — they represented a significant portion of my revenue. He pulled me out of countless emergencies (day and night). A good mentor will help you grow as an electrical professional; you must find someone you admire to emulate. Identify someone who is a professional electrician or businessperson. Navigating the construction industry is challenging; a mentor can serve as a barometer for you and give you the confidence to confront challenges/identify solutions. A good mentor can open doors for you and make invaluable introductions, connecting you with vital resources necessary to grow "vertically" in the electrical trade.
7. Become a leader
To become a leader, you must be self-motivated. Leaders believe in doing the hard work and are dedicated to mastering the electrical craft. They understand that becoming a leader is a continuous journey. Leaders set a high standard for themselves and their teams. They hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their actions or inaction. To be a leader, you must be able to seek and receive feedback from others. Leaders have clear goals for their daily work and personal goals; they build networks vertically and horizontally within the organization; they believe everyone is essential to the company's goal. Leaders can stay focused on the task at hand while simultaneously putting out fires; they are not one-dimensional; they have a unique ability to simultaneously achieve short-term and long-term goals. They do not waste company resources and supplies; they understand cause and effect.
8. Believe in yourself
The most essential ingredient to success in the electrical industry is believing in yourself, setting goals, and being prepared to overcome any obstacle. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your abilities. Seek out others who are looking to grow as you are. Remember: Iron sharpens iron, so avoid stagnant people. Positive people give you a sense of direction and purpose (personally and professionally). Be a lifelong learner — with research, practice, and patience, you will develop your skills over time to master this craft and move up the ranks. Be mindful of all your conversations throughout the day, and focus your energy on productive conversations, not idle chatter or gossip. You will become confident and successful if you surround yourself with smart upwardly mobile team members.
For more helpful tips on success in the electrical industry, follow my column for more practical how-to articles and tips for applying basic electrical concepts in the field and being the best you can be. Past columns include Everyday Instructions for Electricians, How to Become the Best Electrician You Can Be, No One Is Coming to Save You, The Apprentices Guide to Special Equipment, The Apprentice’s Intro Guide to Motors, The Apprentice’s Guide to Service Entrance Cable, The Apprentice’s Guide to NEC Art. 382, The Apprentice’s Guide to NEC Art. 550, and The Apprentice’s Guide to Article 625. For more information on why a structured approach is so important to navigating the NEC and how to put its requirements into practice in real-world settings, read “The NEC for Newbies.”