Author Topic: Advice on a big career change -- any electricians out there?  (Read 3583 times)

knudsoka

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Hi Mustachians,

I'm interested in thoughts/advice regarding a career change my husband is considering -- from a community college adjunct to an electrician. Any thoughts from people who have been through the process of becoming an electrician would be very helpful, since we don't know a lot of people "in the trades"!

The skinny:

He's 33, and has been a community college adjunct for 5+ years now (English). He's burned out and sick of making $35,000 ish a year with no possibility of more unless he takes more than a full-time load each quarter, which equals severely diminished quality of life. Besides being burned out on teaching, he hates working more or less alone (he's extremely social), and would like to do something less brain-y and more physical. All his degrees are in the English field, though, which means prospects for jobs that would be more remunerative and still related to his education/experience are pretty minimal/don't sound particularly appealing.

Then, randomly, he happened upon an article in the Angie's List little magazine thing about the lack of apprentice electricians, and how that's causing a hiring problem for electricians. He thought, "I could do that!" (He's quite handy, and has been known to monkey with things of a mechanical nature with great success, but has never done anything like that as a job.)

So... he has done some investigating, and here's what we know:

You can apply to be an apprentice, take an Electrician's Aptitude Test (any detail about what this test entails would be helpful -- he found a few practice questions online but not too much info), have an interview, and then you're ranked and put on a list of potential apprentices for up to two years. As far as we can figure out, then someone can call you up and hire you, and you'll be working alongside an experienced electrician and also doing some course work through the union organization. It seems like the pay as an apprentice starts at $20/hr, and you need to do essentially two years of full-time apprentice work (2000 hours) before you can take the journeyman test. Is that about right?

He's almost done with the application (just waiting on a couple of transcripts), and is waiting to take the Aptitude test (which is administered once a month).

Questions we have:

It's a little unclear if one should be contacting electricians to be taken on as an apprentice with them, or if you just literally wait to be called. He would like to stop teaching at the end of this quarter, if possible, and starting working as an apprentice at the end of June, but has a summer section lined up that he can take if necessary. Any thoughts on the potential timeline of making this switch, or how to get set up in a good apprentice situation, would be so helpful!

It seems like this will be a big lifestyle change for us, one I'm a little nervous about. I'm a CC teacher as well (I was lucky enough to get a full time position, an almost tenured, and love it, so have no plans to change jobs), so we've been able to have school vacations when we're both off, both have fairly flexible daytime schedules, etc. That's worth a ton to me, as I'm someone who doesn't thrive under a strict routine, but he's someone who is much better at schedules. :) Do electricians typically work on a "construction" schedule of approx. 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.? What's the time off situation like? etc. We've been able to do some fun things like go to Peru for three weeks on our current work schedule, and it would be a major bummer if time off were going to be very hard to come by in this field (though a few years of minimal vacation while he's getting established is totally expected).

We live in Seattle, where the economy is recovering nicely (so far). There's tons of commercial building going on, but also a lot of residential construction. He thinks he's most interested in becoming a residential electrician, mostly because he's interested in houses and how they're built, but doesn't know if he should be considering other kinds of electrician-ry as well, like "inside lineman" or "outside lineman" (these require twice the number of hours of apprenticing). Thoughts?

It seems like there are certificates one could get by going through a program through a community college or vocational school, before becoming an apprentice. It's unclear if that's a better route to go, or if just starting and doing coursework while apprenticing is fine, also. Anyone with experience in this? As a teacher now, he could take classes essentially for free, so if this is a good way to go, it would be helpful to know that before he stops teaching entirely.

Are potential employers going to look askance at a work history that's mostly teaching? He's also done some service jobs (Starbucks) and financed his undergrad degree while working at UPS, so there are some other kinds of work experience on his resume, but I can imagine that some people may be skeptical about an English teacher suddenly wanting to become an electrician's apprentice. Any thoughts on mitigating that, or explaining it in the application?

Thanks so much for reading -- any thoughts would be so helpful!

Zap

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Re: Advice on a big career change -- any electricians out there?
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2015, 03:12:57 PM »
Hello,

I am a Union Electrician in Oklahoma. I completed the apprenticeship several years ago and will attempt to answer your questions.  Remember, my information is based on my own experience in my Local. The Local that he may work in may be totally different.

He does not need to be contacting anyone regarding working as an apprentice for them. When a union contractor calls for an apprentice, the Union will send an out of work apprentice to them. If there are no out of work apprentices, they will call the first apprentice on the waiting list and that apprentice will report to work. All work is provided thru the Union.

He will be working construction hours, and will be expected to be at work every day, especially as an apprentice.  That's not to say that a few days off will not be allowed. Days off are usually unpaid, but some Locals may have vacation days in their contract.

There is no need to get additional certificates.  The apprenticeship will provide all training necessary, and at minimal or no cost. Potential employers will not pay any attention to previous training or experience and probably won't even ask unless a specific job requires a certain certification. When a union contractor needs a Journeyman or apprentice, they call the Union and they get who they get. As far as explaining work experience to the Union on their apprenticeship application, there really isn't a need there either.  They will ask about it during interviews but they are looking for reliable, teachable folks to fill the ranks. The fact that he has a degree shows that he can make a commitment and stick to it. Their main concern would be the possibility of a "culture shock" coming from white collar work to blue collar.

In my opinion, commercial/industrial work is the way to go.  The pay is generally higher than residental, and the jobs are much longer term.

I am an Inside Wireman. I completed a 5 year apprenticeship and in Oklahoma tested for my Unlimited Journeyman license after 8000 hours of work experience. Our local does commercial and industrial work. We do have a small residential division, but work is almost non existent because we cannot compete with the cut throat rates in the non union residential sector.

For anyone wanting to enter the trades, I believe that a union apprenticeship is the best training available. The pay, retirement, and insurance can rarely be beat by the non union sector. With my union card, I can walk into any IBEW hall in the country, and if work is available, likely be on the job that day. The freedom to come and go from employment is tremendous.

Now, the few negatives:
When work slows, layoffs are inevitable. As a union member, all work is provided by the Union. He will likely not be able to solicit his own employment. He will have to wait on the waiting list until his number is called to return to work.  In my 8 years of employment I have been layed off twice, totalling 17 months.

Vacations are unpaid and with construction the mentality is "make hay when the sun shines."  If you save and live within your means, the layoffs will be stress free and a "vacation."

Sorry if this is rambling. I hope I answered some of your questions.  Feel free to ask for clarification if needed.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2015, 03:15:43 PM by Zap »

Zap

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Re: Advice on a big career change -- any electricians out there?
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2015, 03:31:48 PM »
Adding one more negative, and probably the biggest. As an apprentice, he will likely not be able to turn down work. This means that he will have to be willing to work anywhere inside the local's jurisdiction which may mean extensive travel.  That travel may or may not be paid, depending on the contract in place. Once he is a Journeyman, he of course will be able to refuse work if he doesn't want to travel, but it probably would mean a layoff if something closer wasn't available with that particular contractor.

knudsoka

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Re: Advice on a big career change -- any electricians out there?
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2015, 09:52:41 AM »
Zap,

That was extraordinarily helpful, thank you so much! A lot of food for thought there, and it's so good to hear from someone who has been through this.

Any other electrician experiences out there?