Many graduates emerge from U.S. colleges and universities with a degree in one hand — and a big wad of debt in the other. That’s all fine and dandy if they go on to a rewarding career in their particular field of study, making those student loans a lot less painful to pay off.

Unfortunately, it seems that far too many students end up working in an industry unrelated to their major field of study. This leads to a whole host of other worries related not only to life and career satisfaction but to the stress involved with working unsatisfying jobs that fail to provide adequate benefits, such as health insurance, pensions, and retirement plans.

Now imagine for a moment that these dissatisfied and indebted students had instead chosen to forgo college for another career path: becoming an electrician.

There’s a near-constant demand for electricians, especially in growing regions like Portland (greater Northwest Oregon) and Vancouver (greater Southwest Washington). Electrical jobs pay well, and they offer some of those increasingly elusive benefits that do so much to provide for and sustain a happy and productive workforce.

Best of all: No experience is necessary — and your electrical schooling will most likely be paid for.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not.

Consider this your Ultimate Guide To Becoming An Electrician!

Why Become An Electrician?

The Miami Herald recently reported that demand for electricians and other workers within the construction and building maintenance trades continues to rise in South Florida.

“South Florida is building like crazy,” reports The Herald’s Dylan Jackson, “and Miami has added over 6,300 construction jobs since May of (2017), more than any other business sector. There simply aren’t enough highly trained electricians, plumbers, heating, mechanical workers and tile setters to meet the demand.”

Much the same can be said for the cities of the Pacific Northwest, which consistently rank among the fastest-growing places in the United States. In Oregon, Bend, Portland, Hillsboro, Medford, Salem, and other cities are experiencing rapid growth — as are Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Vancouver in Washington state.

Increasing populations means an ever-increasing need for infrastructure: housing, schools, shopping centers, transportation hubs, business parks, and more. Those construction projects will need electricians — maybe even you! — as well as employees in other trades. In fact, all the trades are booming throughout the region, but employers are having a difficult time finding takers for these benefited, well-paying jobs.

Becoming an electrician means starting out as an apprentice with a local electric company, such as Vancouver’s Prairie Electric. It’s hard work being an apprentice because you’re basically a full-time student and a full-time employee. But it works out since on-the-job training is the best kind of education to get, and these apprenticeships are paid — as is the schooling required to get licensed as an electrician.

Prairie Electric

At Prairie Electric, people who are interested in becoming an electrician can quite literally knock on the front door and ask about an opportunity. (And many people have, including people in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s! You’re never too old to start a new career.)

If you can put together IKEA furniture, chances are you have what it takes to become an apprentice electrician. After all, many of the most basic electrical tasks involve following written instructions and diagrams and then figuring out how best to implement them via manual labor — i.e., with your hands.

The training program lasts four years, and it includes troubleshooting and diagnosing problems, both of which improve with experience. And the experience is unrivaled. For example, apprentice electricians might get to watch a structure being built from the ground up. In fact, they’re likely to witness it being built from below the ground up since that’s where the foundations of any building are laid.

Prairie Electric is currently engaged in a massive project at Grant High School in Northeast Portland. And while this current project is adequately staffed, Prairie wants to work on more projects of this size and type, which means they’re on the lookout for electricians. They already have 250 electricians on staff, which gives you an idea of demand.

As an apprentice, you’ll work under the guidance and tutelage of a journeyman electrician. (A journeyman is an electrician who has completed all his exams, training and licensing and can work on his own.) Then you’re ready to earn your electrician’s license.

Becoming an Electrician’s Apprentice

Prairie Electric is a training agent with Portland’s local Northwest Institute of Electrical Technology JATC Area 1 (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees) to administer their apprenticeship program. JATC, which seeks to develop electrical professionals, provides a quick read on what you’ll receive as part of their electrical training program, including:

  • 8,000 hours of on-the-job training
  • 576 hours of classroom training
  • Semi-annual wage increase based upon progression in the program
  • A Certificate of Completion
  • A referral to both Washington and Oregon’s State General Journeyman Electrician exam upon completion of the program

JATC, by the way, is a nonprofit created in 1978 as a premier open shop program, but it’s also the only program to train and administer our own apprenticeship program from our own training center.

Pay scales for apprentice electricians vary, but in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon, you can expect to earn about $15.36 per hour in your first year. That rises each year, reaching about $30.71 per hour in year No. 4.

Of course, once your apprenticeship is done and you’re licensed, you’ll start earning much higher wages (easily into the mid-$30-an-hour range) plus benefits. This depends, of course, on the specific type of electrical work you end up doing.

But it all starts with you — knocking on the door of Prairie Electric, if necessary.

Electrician’s Training

If you’re at least 18 years old with a high school diploma (or GED), you can get started right away. It helps to have some background in science and/or mathematics, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Contact Prairie Electric to see what advice they have for you as you consider undertaking the tough but ultimately super satisfying challenge of becoming an electrician.

The current training center is located in Portland, Oregon, at 6915 N.E. 42nd Ave. We have a new location (Training Center) opening in early 2019 in Vancouver, Washington.

To date, JATC has just over 600 students enrolled in our program, which serves Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington.

It’s also worth noting that this is a college-credited program — meaning you will receive your college credits through Clackamas Community College upon completion of the program.

Northwest Institute of Electrical Technology (JATC Area 1) is designed for the states of Washington and Oregon. As it says on their website, “The Area 1 Inside Electrical JATC through the Northwest Institute of Electrical Technology maintains a high quality of instructors whose mission is to monitor all apprentice progress closely and move them along at a pace that suits them and ensures the learner has the best possibility to achieve his or her academic goals. Keeping a high quality of instruction and learning ensures high success rates for our apprentices.”

Your Career As An Electrician

There are various reasons why you should become an apprentice electrician. To begin with, human beings cannot live without electricity because it is a fundamental part of everyday life. This means that as an electrician apprentice you will be making a valuable contribution to society.

Also, if you work in one of the many apprentice electrician jobs, you’ll have a very positive career, given the high and consistent demand that exists for electrical jobs in the market. Indeed, with constant technological advancements, there is no doubt that this demand will increase — and thus your chances of getting a good-paying job. As a matter of fact, the pay for an apprentice electrician is a family-sustainable wage.

Another important aspect of apprentice electrician jobs lies in the wide range of tasks that you will be required to perform, which may include various service calls, installing products, as well as connecting and maintaining electrical systems. This is likely to expose you to a wide range of skills, thus increasing the areas you can work in.

However, it is also important to note that — just like any other job — apprentice electrician jobs have risks, including the risk of electric shocks, falls, and cuts. For your own safety and that of others, you must know how to prevent these from happening in addition to effectively dealing with accidents if and when they occur.

To be able to learn all the skills required of an electrician and to obtain all the knowledge that you’ll require regarding health and safety, it’s important for an electrician apprentice to receive formal training through a Registered Training Program, such as the outstanding programs at the Northwest Institute of Electrical Technology. This is your opportunity to apprentice with the best.