Most states in the U.S. require professional electricians to obtain an electrician certification. While state requirements vary, becoming certified usually requires taking classes from an electrical trade school, and sometimes completing an apprenticeship afterwards. The National Electrical Contractors Association lists each state's specific requirements. While this training does not take as long or cost as much as most post-secondary degrees, there are still some key considerations to think about when choosing an electrical trade school.
Does This School Match Your Goals?
Most electrical trade schools start with some elementary courses that will prepare students for basic electrical work. However, not all curricula will cover the same advanced topics. If you're considering a career in a more specialized field, such as research electrician, marine electrician, construction electrician, inside wireman, or outside wireman, make sure that there are advanced courses offered that will cover these topics. Most schools will have their course offerings and descriptions listed on their website, making it easy to check. In some cases, you may need to call the school to find out exactly what course topics are covered.
Who Is Teaching Classes at This School?
Like any trade, new electricians will do best when they are taught by the most knowledgeable and seasoned electricians available. It is important for teachers and professors at electrical trade schools to have real-world experience in the fields they're teaching. This will give students a better picture of what working in the field is actually like, as well as more insights and help in troubleshooting problems that may arise.
Look for a trade school with teachers and professors who have already spent several years working as electricians. Those who are teaching specialized fields should also have experience working in those areas. However, students should also remember that experience is not the only factor that makes a great teacher. Instructors should also be good communicators, happy to interact with students and answer questions, and available to help new learners along the way. If possible, sit in on a class at the electrical trade school you're considering and watch how the instructor interacts with students.
Does This School Give Students Hands-On Experience?
Because most state certification programs require a certain number of hours of experience, hands-on training is an important consideration. Even if an apprenticeship is not required in your particular area, graduates with some practice already on their resume are more likely to be hired.
Electrical trade school classes should have both a lecture component and lab component, where students can practice the theories and skills they are learning. Find courses that have a practicum element to achieve this. Putting new skills to use is especially important for adult learners to help retain new information and build confidence. For electrician certification, lab practice should address wiring installation and maintenance, reading blueprints, electrical inspection, and plenty of troubleshooting.
Does This School's Certification Process Accommodate Different Schedules?
Of course, it is important to know what time commitment is required to complete the electrician certification process at each trade school. Some programs can take as little as one year, while others may be spread out over 4–5 years with an accompanying apprenticeship. Again, the right trade school will be determined by your goals and current lifestyle.
Adults who are already working full-time or supporting a family may need to take part-time or evening classes in order to accomplish certification. Others may benefit from taking classes online (though lab practice is still an important aspect of training). Check with each school to be sure that their class schedules are flexible enough to fit around the other responsibilities you have.
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