A group of electrical apprentices

8 Electrical Apprenticeship Tips for Success Highlighted During National Apprenticeship Week

Throughout my career, hindsight has always proven to be 20/20. It is easy to look back and see what could have been done differently that likely would have resulted in a better outcome. But I have also learned that failure is important. Getting knocked down allows you to prove to yourself that you can get back up, even when it seems impossible. Failure provides you an opportunity to learn from your mistakes that leads to your ultimate success. Sir Winston Churchill said it best when he summarized “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

National Apprentice WeekThe thirty years since I started my electrical apprenticeship have absolutely flown by, but it feels like it was yesterday that I just started. It has been extremely fulfilling and led me to places that I never thought I would have an opportunity to go. With National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) being right around the corner, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the course of my career. Knowing what I know now, what suggestions would I give to an electrical apprentice who is just starting out in the industry? Here’s what I see as most important to help lead a new apprentice to success:

  1. Never ask if the power is off – test it yourself to find out. One of your first purchases should be a reliable set of electrical testers. Buy them, maintain them, and USE THEM! You will find yourself asking others if the power is off on a circuit that you need to work on – DON’T! Testing for power yourself is the only way of knowing 100% that it is off and safe to work on. Also ensure that you lock out and tag out the circuit properly to ensure power does not get turned back on until you are ready to have it turned back on. Doing so could literally be the determining factor of whether you live to see tomorrow.
  2. Learn the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) AND NFPA 70E® Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. Most of my apprenticeship training focused on the NEC and I didn’t really start to delve into NFPA 70E until later in my career. In full transparency, I have worked more in 70E in my time here at NFPA than I ever did in my time working in the field. That just should not have been the case. While the NEC teaches us how to perform a safe installation, NFPA 70E teaches us how to be safe while doing so. You can’t have one without the other. Frankly, if you don’t learn and incorporate 70E into your daily work practices, you may not be here tomorrow to perform a safe installation.
  3. Work hard and be a sponge. Hard work is a requirement for success in any career, so I don’t need to elaborate there. By being a sponge, I mean soak up any knowledge that people are willing to offer. Many industry professionals have been doing this a long time and have much information to offer, if you’re willing to listen. Give them your full attention and ask “why” a lot. As you are entering the industry, many with this valuable experience are on their way out. It is critical to your own personal success, and that of the industry as a whole, that you capture as much of their knowledge as possible before they retire.
  4. Share your knowledge. It’s inevitable that the student one day becomes the teacher, especially in the electrical industry. When your time as the teacher comes, I implore you to embrace it and share your knowledge with the next generation. Remember yourself as the person who asked “why” a lot and was overly eager to learn, and find patience as you transfer your valuable knowledge to the next ones in line. Keep in mind that these individuals will likely work with you for many years to come, so the better you train them, it will also benefit you.
  5. Chase appreciation and respect, not the dollar. It is human nature to want to receive the most money for the job you are doing. But also understand that there is value in things outside of simple currency. How an employer shows appreciation and respect for employees matters. Are they requiring you to do things that pose a risk to your personal safety? Do they continue to assist with your personal development and growth? Do they care that you have a proper work and life balance? It is likely that someone will always be willing to pay you a bit more money, but be sure you analyze the value in everything, not just that which is tangible, before heading for perceived greener pastures.
  6. Don’t burn bridges. If you choose to leave an employer, regardless of personal feelings, choose wisely as to how you handle your departure in both what you say and what you do. You never know when things may come back around full circle and you will need something from that employer. The same goes for coworkers; choose your words and actions wisely. The same person you treat unkindly today may be the same person that makes the difference of you getting your dream job sometime down the road.
  7. Find a Mentor. While it can be someone in the electrical industry, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I’ve had mentors within the industry and outside of it. You can learn from them what you should do, but also pay attention to what not to do. By watching one of my mentors, whom I still respect more than most people on this Earth, I learned about how important keeping a stable work/life balance is. Everyone must decide on a personal level what is best for them. Choose mentors who are candid and will openly share their mistakes with you so you can learn from them, not those that are interested in touting their accomplishments.
  8. Network, network – and when you’re done – network some more. As the old adage goes…it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. In my opinion, both are equally important and are often intertwined. My success in this industry has been a result of people that I have come to know who appreciate my knowledge and ability. Networking gives you an opportunity to meet people, learn from them, and promote your knowledge and ability. A conversation with a complete stranger could lead to a job opportunity down the road. Find ways to network within your industry. Treat everyone with respect and show them the best version of you. It will be well worth your time and effort.

One of my favorite songs is Brad Paisley’s “Letter to Me.” The songwriter is looking back on life and writing a letter to his seventeen-year-old self as to all the things he should pay attention to that will impact his life, both good and bad. I guess you could say that the previous items I have mentioned are my personal Letter to Me. But I want to share it with all of you as you start out on your own path in the electrical trade. Not because I want you to not fail, for failure leads to growth and, ultimately, success. I am sharing these things with you to add tools to your arsenal that I didn’t have starting out. Package these with your personal drive and determination, and the sky is the limit! While the sun is closer to setting on my own career, I find much joy in watching the sun rise for others. You have picked an amazing career and industry; I wish you much success on all your horizons.

The NFPA Student and Apprentice Membership is a FREE resource that provides students and electrical apprentices an opportunity to network with industry professionals, interact with peers, and receive discounts on NFPA products. Find out more by visiting the NFPA Student and Apprentice Membership website.

For National Apprenticeship Week, use #NAW2021 on social media.

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Corey Hannahs
Senior Electrical Content Specialist