Some jobs lend themselves to a slow entry, where practice makes perfect and trial and error is okay. Working with electricity is not one of those jobs, and making an error can be dangerous when you’re a rookie.
But no one comes into the field as a master electrician, so how can you, as an amateur, build your skills safely?
We all start somewhere, depending on our childhood experiences that led us to the electric field. No matter where you’re at compared to others like you, you want to do this part of your new career well, skipping the usual “rookie” mistakes.
You’re willing to learn from other people’s mistakes instead of making your own, and that’s a great way to enter the field. Use these three crucial tips as you build your new skills, and you’ll quickly find yourself on the path to mastering the electrician profession.
1. Focus on the Foundational Skills
If you’re on the typical path to obtaining your electrician license, you’ll have two years and 4,000 hours of trade work and experience as an apprentice before you can become a journeyman. Then, after four years at that level, you can apply to become a certified master electrician.
During that time, you’ll learn vital skills you don’t even know exist. It can get overwhelming if you try to tackle them all at once. And if you jump into something you don’t understand, you could create unsafe problems that don’t show up immediately.
Focus on the foundations upon which everything else is built, like electrical grounding and bonding. Grounding is essential to protecting the people using the finished product, but it’s also easy to overlook and take for granted. Bonding connects working parts, and when one piece of the system isn’t perfected, it can impact the whole structure.
In addition to perfecting your foundational skills, take this time to learn the equipment available for the different jobs you’ll be doing. Use the tools the experts around you prefer, then decide which ones you’re most comfortable with. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
2. Learn Social Skills
The electrician role is often perceived as a solitary job, but that’s more the exception than the rule. Throughout your career, you will work with clients and alongside other trade workers.
You’ll definitely be an apprentice. You may be an independent contractor, an owner, or an employee. And in all of those roles, you’ll need to master social skills almost as important as your professional skills.
A successful career as an electrician relies on your ability to network and the reputation you build. When you build trust and relationships with those who have been in the field longer, you’ll gain the benefit of their wisdom. Chances are, if they can’t do a job, they will refer it to you, but that’s only if they trust that their recommendation won’t backfire on them.
Be respectful of others, whether they’re “above” or “below” you on the social and career ladder. Don’t get caught gossiping or being rude to anyone, and don’t skimp on the work you do to pad your pocket. Those reputations will follow you into your future and determine your career’s success.
3. Be Open to Learning New Things
Although the field of electricity is centuries old, you can’t be old-school in your approach. There is already a substantial amount of knowledge to learn, but as technology evolves, so does the information you must absorb.
The most important part of your job is understanding and keeping up with the National Electrical Code. This body of knowledge, referred to as the NEC, is inherent in everything you do. As long as you are always working toward those codes, you should be doing the task correctly and safely.
Keeping Up With the NEC
But since the NEC is always adapting to keep up with the innovations in electricity, you must actively seek ways to learn the changes. Long after you have your initial license, you should still find ways to stay on the cutting edge of the field.
There are plenty of ways to keep your knowledge current. Consider taking classes in skills you don’t have, which opens your career options up to more jobs and better pay. Move your education forward with more in-depth degrees, such as electrical engineering. Join local trade associations and participate in discussions with seasoned workers, but don’t discount those who are just starting out, as they’re learning the newest codes.
Your learning avenues can be self-taught, too. Download podcasts designed for the electrical industry or sign up for MOOCs (massive online open courses) and take them at your own pace. The amount of knowledge available to you for free is more than enough to keep you learning new things for the rest of your career.
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