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How to become an electrician in California in 8 steps

With its blue skies and beach vibes for miles, the state of California has ridden a century-long wave of popularity that's drawn people from across the country to its balmy shores. Whether for a gold rush or a dream of stardom, these newcomers helped California grow to what it is now—the country’s largest economy and a bustling place to start a new business.

Prospects are growing for entrepreneurs looking to start their own in-demand electrical contractor businesses in the Golden State. The number of electricians working in California is expected to increase 9% by 2030, with newly certified electricians joining the over 70,000 already on the job. Want to follow in their footsteps?

There are many reasons why becoming an electrician is a great idea. If you own your own contracting business, benefits include setting your business hours, taking the types of jobs you like best, and being your own boss.

There are a few things you’ll need to know to get started.

Types of electrician certifications in California

First, realize there are several types of certifications you can pursue in California, and they’re all a little different. You’ll need a license to go into business for yourself and to bid on any job of more than $500.

C-10 Electrical Contractor: To start your own contracting business, you’ll need this C-10 Electric Contractor’s License from the Contractors State License Board. An electrician license lets you oversee the work of general electricians.

The licensing process is separate from the following electrician certifications you’ll need to do electrical work for an employer in California and has more requirements. For example, you’ll need to prove that you’ve protected your new contracting business with electrician insurance.

Here are the 5 California certifications to consider:

General Electrician: This certification requires 8,000 hours of job experience in 2 different fields, like industrial or residential wiring. The certification lets you work all kinds of jobs. It’s the highest certification available. You’ll apply with the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR).

Once you’ve achieved the hour requirement, you’ll be eligible to take the state’s 270-minute open-book exam to earn your certification.

Residential Electrician: If you’re not interested in commercial jobs, a residential certification gets you more specific job knowledge with just 4,800 work hours. Your hours make you eligible for a 3-hour open-book exam leading to certification.

Fire/Life/Safety Electrician: This certification process starts after 4,000 hours in at least 2 required fields, from nurse call systems to safety, control panels, and troubleshooting/maintenance. Earn your hours, then apply and take the 135-minute open-book exam.

Voice Data Video Technician: You’ll need 4,000 hours of work in 2 applicable categories, which are similar to the Fire/Line/Safety certification. In addition to stock room, installations, control panels, and troubleshooting/maintenance, you might also have hours in trade-specific training related to voice, data, and video systems. At the end of it, you’ll apply to take a 135-minute open-book exam.

Non-Residential Lighting Technician: This certification requires only 2,000 work hours in two related areas and a 135-minute open-book certification exam.

While all states have slightly different electrical license requirements, the typical path to electrician certification starts with on-the-job training and trade school until a trainee can qualify for and pass a state examination. Every state will want electrical training program graduates to have a grounding in the National Electrical Code (NEC), as well as work experience and classroom instruction on handling issues from electrical current protection, installation of wiring, and up-to-date safety codes.

How much money can electricians make in California?

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a licensed electrician in California is just over $54,000 annually. That’s $21 per hour. However, California cities appear twice on the list of the top 5 best-paying cities for electricians. And the top salaries in San Francisco are the best in the nation at over $106,000 per year.

Training to become an electrician in California: Take these 6 steps

It’s not hard to become an electrician in California if you follow the steps:

  1. Get your high school diploma or GED with a C average in high school algebra. This requirement is step 1 for students interested in the electrical trade. It ensures you’ll be able to keep up with trade school and the basic calculations you’ll use in your chosen vocation.
  2. Enroll in an electrical program: Choose an approved school that offers a Whole General Electrician Curriculum. Take 150 hours of trade school classes each year. Keep in mind that even if you pass your classes, the hours you spend in the class matter. Attend all 150 hours after enrolling. You’ll need 720 hours of instruction from one of this list of California’s licensed trade schools or an apprenticeship program.
  3. Become an electrician trainee (ET). Register with the state by sending in your application and a 25 fee to get your ET card. New electrical trainees will need to prove that they’re enrolled in a trade school to qualify. This makes it legal for you to work for a C-10 certified electrician on job sites during your studies.
  4. Renew your ET card every year until you’re ready to take any of the State Electrician Certification Examinations.
  5. Learn what kind of environment is right for you. There is no “best” way to become an electrician, but one huge advantage of a traineeship is that you can work for different electrical contractors while you're a student. It will expose you to other kinds of electrical systems, and you’ll get a feel for different professional environments.
  6. Apply for Certification. Once you amass 2,000-8,000 hours of on-the-job work, you can apply for the certification of your choice. To bid on jobs of more than $500, apply for a C-10 license and your certification. Once you’ve passed, inform your school. You’ll be able to unenroll and start your career. How much does it cost to become a certified electrician? In California, the general electrician exam involves a $75 application fee and a $100 exam fee. You’ll renew the certification for $100 every 3 years. For a contractor’s C-10 license, you’ll pay a $450 application fee, a $200 initial license fee, plus fees for 2 exams, additional classifications, re-examinations, fingerprint processing, and adding partners. You’ll also have to pay the fees to take both the C-10 exam and the Law and Business exam as part of licensing requirements.
  7. Look into alternatives. Interested in a different route? It is more competitive than a trainee program, but you could apply for an apprenticeship program. The DIR has a list of trade organizations you can search by county to help you find an apprenticeship. Completing an apprenticeship can take 4 to 5 years while working under a single electrician. Apprenticeships typically involve an entrance exam and interview for acceptance, but the benefit is that you’ll earn an income while you train, rather than paying for an electrician trade school.
  8. Be a professional! Don’t forget continuing education: California requires 32 hours after your certification program every 3 years to renew your electrical contractor license. You may also want to look into membership in professional organizations, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). This union, with upwards of 775,000 workers, represents electrical workers.

How long does it take to become an electrician?

The 8,000 hours required to take California’s General Electrician certification typically takes 4 years to complete. To earn the 4,800 hours required to take the residential electrician exam, you’ll work full-time for 2.5 years. It’s possible to work as a trainee part-time, but it will take longer before you’re earning a full-time salary.

Conclusion: Thinking of starting your own electrical business?

Getting your electrician’s certification is a marathon, and the first thing on your agenda should be celebrating the milestone. Congratulations! Hit a theme park, spread some avocado on toast, and reflect on the hard work you’ve already invested.

After earning an electrician’s certification, newly minted California electricians can apply for a contractor’s license and start their businesses anywhere from Arcata to San Diego. A license is just the beginning. Prospective business owners will need to think about how to run an electrical business, from the kind of services to offer to marketing to standing out from the competition.

A license, certification, and finally, small business insurance from Huckleberry, all come together for the next step of your journey. Huckleberry is here to protect your hard work while you get back to doing what you love: Growing your own small business as an electrical contractor.

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