5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known as a Rookie Electrician
We spoke to a veteran electrician to find out the five things he wishes he had known before his first day on the job.
In the fall of 1977, John Williamson woke up, ate a light breakfast, and then headed out for his first day in the field as an electrician. That was more than forty years ago. Since then, John has worked in and around the industry as a licensed master electrician and electrical inspector. We sat down with John to talk about everything he has learned over his career as an electrician and what he wishes he had known all the way back on his first day in the trade.
1. Nail down the basics
Every job is going to come with a set of essential skills that newbies can develop and eventually perfect as time goes on. John’s advice to rookie electricians is to devote a lot of time to learning everything there is to know in particular about electrical grounding and bonding.
“The apprentice electrician really needs to devote their own time to studying and mastering electrical grounding and bonding. Proper grounding and bonding is what protects people and property from serious harm. Electrical grounding and bonding is like the silent sentry, always on guard duty. It never gets any real respect, it’s a non-glamourous part of the job that usually goes unnoticed, and yet it usually plays a critical role when bad things happen.”
2. Develop camaraderie
There’s a prevailing stereotype that people in the trades are prickly and can be rude and rough around the edges. While that may be true in some specific cases, it should not stop you from trying to develop good relationships with the people working around you.
“Work hard at building relationships, earning the trust of everyone, treating people the way you want to be treated, and respecting and appreciating the knowledge and experience of seasoned electricians (and all of the other tradespersons you work with),” said John.
3. Never stop learning
The National Electrical Code (or ‘NEC’) has hundreds and hundreds of pages covering every possible aspect of electrical work. Saying that it is a lot to know would be an understatement. The best way to understand all of the ins-and-outs of the NEC and the electrical trade is to “always be a student of the code”.
“After 42 years in the trade, I still learn new things almost every day!” John said.
He also recommended a few specific forms of continued education that can be really beneficial as electricians look to advance their careers, including:
- Going to night school to learn special skills, like high voltage cable splicing or welding
- Obtaining an electrical engineering degree
- Teaching others at trade schools and technical colleges
- Participating in the code development process
- Joining local electrical trade associations
4. Keep a work journal
Being an electrician is a job with a lot of moving pieces, which can be overwhelming for someone just starting out. To help keep track of everything thrown at you, John recommends taking five minutes at the end of every work day and jotting things down in a work journal. Record anything and everything of note that happened over the course of the day, from project locations and the day’s highlights to new knowledge and lessons learned.
“An up-to-date daily journal is worth its weight in gold in good times and bad,” said John. “It can be used to capture your experience and training for some day down the road when you might pursue a less physically demanding career in the electrical industry, such as inspecting or teaching.”
5. Plan for the future
Typically, people starting out in the trades are on the younger side, meaning their bodies can stand up to more rigor and abuse. But that does not mean that you will be able to hold up to the daily grind and physical labor that comes with the trades forever. As you begin your career as an electrician, keep an eye on the road ahead. Pay attention to the aspects of the job that you particularly like and are passionate about- they could become your long-term job.
“The electrical industry is very diverse,” said John. “An experienced electrician with 15-20 years of experience under their belt is a great candidate for an electrical inspector position, or a teacher, project manager, estimator, quality control engineer, consultant, sales, and numerous other job opportunities in the wider electrical industry.”
About the expert
John Williamson has been in the electrical industry for 40 years and is a licensed master electrician and certified building official. John has worked for the state of Minnesota for over 23 years and is currently the state’s chief electrical inspector. John has also provided electrical code consultation to various book and magazine publishers for the past 25 years.