Electrician Apprenticeship

For many looking to commence a career as an electrical professional, an industry electrician apprenticeship is an attractive choice. Traditionally, this route has been favoured by those at school leaver age but is continually opening up to a wider audience. The advantages of becoming an apprentice are obvious. It provides a structured pathway towards becoming a fully-qualified electrician, allows individuals to gain elusive industry experience, and offers substantial financial advantages. This article will explore these key benefits further. It also intends to provide some insight into the content, structure, and type of electrical apprenticeships available in the sector.

Apprenticeships have considerably increased in popularity of late. A development not only prevalent in the electrotechnical sector, but also across a wide range of professions and industries. Extortionate University courses, newly-emergent sectors, and the desire of employers to recruit those with direct workplace experience are just a few of the contributing factors. Furthermore, the introduction of government-funded schemes has allowed employers to invest more heavily into electrician apprentice training. This allows businesses to grow their trainee headcount and encourages more students (and adults) to consider undertaking apprenticeship programmes.

Planned, itemised and well-thought-out training allows individuals to set learning objectives, feel secure and visualise the end goal. This format of learning is characteristic of what apprentices tend to receive and is something more traditional academic routes have recently failed to deliver.

The structure

The electrician apprenticeship affords candidates a range of training modules, designed to encompass each necessary step towards final qualification. This is usually achieved via the Diploma/NVQ method. In this approach, apprentices will undertake relevant skills courses, practice them in real-world conditions, and acquire certification along the way. This concludes in a final assessment, where, on passing, individuals will earn their status as a qualified electrician.

Whilst it isn’t entirely necessary to have a strong level of electrical experience, applicants should ideally have a basic knowledge of electrical theory. This will allow you to propel quicker through your training modules. Furthermore, in order to secure an electrician apprenticeship, employers will most likely expect a reasonable GCSE or equivalent grading in Maths and English. This is an important aspect to remember; apprenticeships are not necessarily an inevitable next stage in your educational journey. Apprenticeship schemes applications need to be given an appropriate level of focus and respect; they are not something easily acquired. To boost your chances of attaining an electrician apprenticeship, make sure you apply to multiple local electrical contracting companies. This really is a numbers game; the more you apply, the higher your chances of securing a scheme.

Variant paths within

The electrotechnical sector facilitates apprenticeship programmes across a range of disciplines. There is a myriad of occupations within the trade, and therefore candidates are encouraged to research into which ones are most conducive to their personal preference and skillset. By doing so, prospective delegates will be able to select which electrician apprenticeship best fits their ambitions. However, after committing, don’t feel you need to stay aligned to this path forever. Most electrical disciplines are easily transferable, and bolt-on learning courses will serve to supplement any unwanted knowledge gaps.

Some of the variant apprenticeship programmes you may consider are courses pertaining to the following occupations:

  • Maintenance Electrician
  • Installation Electrician
  • Electrical Systems Specialist
  • Machine Repair & Maintenance Electrician

Each requires a subtly different skill-set, and earnings potential fluctuates between them all. This usually depends on your location and employer but is also ascribed to the slight differences in required capability levels. If you’re unsure on the job specification of these roles, it may be worth touching base with an industry professional to gain more information. Make sure you’re well-informed in your decision, as a favourable selection may save some significant time further down the line.

Qualifications

As referenced, apprentices will embrace various learning modules throughout their programme. These are designed to prepare them for the tasks they’ll regularly address once qualified. Most apprentices will engage on a Level 3 Diploma/NVQ pathway, which culminates in the ‘Electrotechnical Assessment of Occupational Competence.’ In the industry, this is commonly referred to as the AM2 Assessment.

Level 2 and 3 Diploma

This learning approach commences with the Level 2 Diploma, which individuals will complete in the first months of their programme. Most subjects covered are designed to offer a grounding in electrotechnical theory and practice. However, some more complex topics are also touched upon. On completion, delegates progress onto their Level 3 Diploma. This will develop on some of the concepts learned at Level 2 stage, and upskill individuals on the remaining, more challenging areas of electrotechnical focus.

Although various learning providers are available, the most common tool used is the City & Guilds suite of training programmes. The City & Guilds is one of the country’s leading skills providers. They have a solid reputation for producing engaging and accessible courses across a range of industries.

At this stage, employers will use the C&G 2356 course series. This equips candidates to move through the required elements, and best position them to advance onto the next stage of learning.

Learning environments

Candidates will embrace a mixture of classroom, practical, and ‘on the job’ activity. These conspire to add their own specific value. Classroom-based conditions allow for the teaching of theory and principle and provide an opportunity for peer debate. Practical tasks occur in a controlled environment, and therefore protects candidates from some of the pressures linked to trying new skills on-site. Tasks conducted whilst in the workplace enables individuals to have a taste of what it’s like to perform in ‘live’ scenarios. This undoubtedly serves to heighten awareness of elements such as Health & Safety risk, task duration, and client expectation. Such is the emphasis and importance placed on workplace activity, those attempting to become an electrician through non-apprenticeship methods cannot venture further than the Level 3 Diploma stage, without entering relevant electrotechnical employment.

Level 3 NVQ/AM2

The NVQ stage is the final piece in the training jigsaw. This reflects upon the skills learned and knowledge acquired in Levels 2&3. The C&G 2357 course provides the framework to achieve this.

Within this programme, candidates will be expected to compile a portfolio of work. This is incorporated into the course so that candidates can easily demonstrate their capabilities in a number of electrotechnical practices. This evidence will be scrutinised by an independent assessor.

On top of this, the testing structure will include some additional, more challenging formats. Direct observation will be used to physically examine a candidate’s proficiency on a task whilst in the workplace. Apprentices will also be expected to pull together reflective accounts, articulating the various stages of their learning. Lastly, employers will be requested to sense check some of the activities undertaken whilst under their provision. This will subsequently materialise in employer report, analysing your technique and success level.

Don’t panic! These assessments may sound gruelling, but there’s every chance you’ll have refined these skills over time. You should therefore feel confident in executing them, regardless of the environment or whose watching.

The final hurdle is the AM2 Assessment. This is segmented into five separate areas, and will again focus on the skills you’ve developed to date. If this is summarily passed, then candidates are awarded fully-qualified electrician status.

Non-apprenticeship routes, and how they compare

As gently alluded to previously, there are alternative ways to becoming an electrician. These may be favoured by a select group of individuals. This could include those who have been unsuccessful in applying for an electrician apprenticeship scheme, older learners who perhaps have more money to invest into learning courses or experienced workers in the trade who are yet unqualified.

These individuals will often undertake the same City & Guilds modules but will be conducted privately through a learning provider. There are various course facilitators throughout the industry, and many offer comprehensive, well-facilitated programmes that have strong success rates. The training programme conducted will be identical to that included in an electrician apprenticeship scheme. However, the tangible difference will be the environment this takes place in.

As referenced, by the time individuals progress to NVQ/AM2 stage, they will need to have engaged in some form of relevant employment. Therefore, this final, 6–12-month period will share similarities in this context.

However, the main bulk of the learning journey, which consists of the Level 2 & 3 Diploma portions, will be conducted in alternative conditions. And, ultimately, this captures the essence of why apprenticeships are so highly sought after. By completing learning activities on-site, with seasoned professionals, apprentices acquire a far more robust appreciation of what it’s like to be in the field. This is opposed to exclusively learning in classrooms and controlled practice centres, as utilised by external providers.

The main advantage of other routes

However, one should note that an ‘external’ pathway does expediate the training process. Courses facilitated by learning providers will take approximately 24 months, apprenticeship schemes will last upwards of 3-4 years. By ‘front-loading’ training, non-apprenticeship candidates can race through skills content quicker. Furthermore, they’ll be able to construct the length of their learning journey based on personal preference and circumstance. Although the average timeframe for completion is 2 years, many fast-track their programmes, and enter fully paid employment quicker than apprentices do.

Experienced Worker Level 3 NVQ

There is a third option, via the ‘Experienced Worker’ route. This is exploited by those who have over five years industry experience, but haven’t as of yet attained the necessary qualifications to become a fully-fledged electrician. These attendees will skip the initial Level 2 & 3 stage given their experience and subsequent competency level. Instead, they will undertake the C&G 2346 NVQ, the mature equivalent to the C&G 2357 NVQ course. On completion, candidates will also need to successful navigate the AM2 Assessment. The entirety of this process will usually not take longer than 12 months.

Ultimately, all routes lead to the same qualification and will enable all candidates to enter the industry on an even footing. Furthermore, as well as acquiring their Electrical NVQ Level 3, they will all have reached the required level to register as an engineering technician, as endorsed by the Engineering Council.

What Skills Will I Learn?

So, we’ve discussed the structure of your learning path, and the potential courses you’ll undertake. However, what kind of content will be covered? This section provides an overview of the skills and behaviours expected of electricians and therefore underlines the elements you’ll cover in your training plan.

Given the complexity of the role, qualified electricians will have acquired an involved understanding of electrotechnical theory during their training plan. This information helps them to practically execute challenging electrical installation tasks in a safe and competent manner. Indeed, the variety of electrotechnical disciplines which electricians need to have mastered is extensive. In their training, each and every part of the installation procedure is reviewed, including planning and evaluation stages. Thus, an electrician apprenticeship scheme will cover designing, developing, constructing, installing, commissioning, and maintaining electrical systems and equipment. Of course, content will lean towards the specific electrical apprenticeship scheme selected. However, candidates should expect to come across all of these disciplines during their NVQ/AM2 qualification. But how are these key competencies learned?

Ultimately, they manifest within the course through the incorporation of specific training focus areas.

Focus Areas

  • How to competently and safely address the termination and connection of conductors, cables and cords in electrical circuits.
  • Understanding the methodology involved in the preparation and installation of wiring systems and electrical equipment.
  • How to appropriately deliver the inspection, testing, commissioning, and certification of electrical circuits and equipment.
  • How to capably identify and subsequently diagnose faults in electrical systems, and implement corrective action to address.
  • Understanding the electrical theory and principles behind the design, installation and maintenance of electrical circuits and equipment.
  • How to effectively plan and select the most relevant equipment to support any given type of electrical installation.
  • How to plan and prepare accurately to support the maintenance of electrical systems and equipment.
  • Understanding key associated health and safety risks and performing tasks in accordance to best practice in order to mitigate against these hazards. Gaining an in-depth knowledge of health and safety legislation and learning how to apply in the workplace accordingly.
  • Absorbing, digesting, and effectively utilizing the content included in key electrotechnical theory documentation. This includes articles such as guidance notes, codes of practice, and the latest edition of the IET wiring regulations.

Behaviours required

Demonstrating specific behaviours and approaches enable electricians to conduct their work productively and safely on a daily basis. Apprentices will therefore look to emulate the following competencies whilst undertaking their training:

  • Has the ability to work independently, without supervision and consistent guidance.
  • Understands the hazardous nature of electrical tasks, and takes accountability for the protection of self and others whilst conducting works.
  • Is able to confidently allocate and supervise activities in order to boost efficiency and assurance levels.
  • Can communicate effectively using a range of techniques. Therefore, has the capability to use oral, written and electronic methods to communicate both simple instructions and complex electrotechnical theory.
  • Establishes desirable working relationships with all stakeholders within the industry. This includes peers, contractor leadership teams, individuals collaborating who belong to differing trades, the public, suppliers, and clients. This requires a subtle skill set, as the expectations of each party will most likely need to be managed differently.
  • Considers the environmental impact of work conducted, and always strives to reduce its harmful effects. Embraces new ways of working which promote sustainable development, and offers fresh, innovative ideas to support this notion.
  • Commits to personal learning & development.

Notes to consider on this area

It’s crucial that electricians keep their knowledge and skill-sets finely tuned and relevant. In reality, therefore, your training should never really end. Don’t be afraid to consider venturing into new electrotechnical disciplines, and ensure you complete the relevant learning modules to accommodate your career ambitions. Be receptive to coaching and supporting colleagues, particularly newcomers and those lacking experience. Chances are you were in their shoes at one point!

Onwards development

Of course, some of the listed behaviours and competencies will need to be developed and refined over time. Workplace experience conducted throughout the electrician apprenticeship will undoubtedly help, but some elements, such as client interaction and supplier communication, may be difficult to really grasp until actually in role. However, if candidates can acquire the basic knowledge, skill sets, and approaches documented above, they have a good chance of progressing successfully through their apprenticeship and onto having a strong career in the industry.

Salaries

Lastly, in preparing to undertake your electrician apprenticeship (that is, in any sector), it’s worth projecting potential future earnings. If you’ve already selected the electrician path, then you’ve probably picked wisely! For the eighth consecutive year, electricians ranked as the highest earners amongst all of the ‘traditional’ trades. The latest statistics reveal that, on average, electrical professionals earn a salary of £32,540 per annum. Therefore, as well as being the top discipline amongst the trades, this also means that electrician salaries are ahead of the overall national average.

Apprenticeship programmes, given their style of employment, can at times dip a little under minimum wage. However, it’s important to keep the final goal in mind. The key thing to remember here is the proportionality of time spent training versus your working career in later life. Apprentices typically complete their schemes in 3-4 years, but will work in formal employment for approximately 50 years! In this way, the apprenticeship wage becomes almost obsolete when analysing the full landscape.

Furthermore, having a solid, structured launchpad for a future career can be a rare commodity and not something to be taken lightly. Its also worth remembering that, first and foremost, an electrician apprenticeship scheme is a training programme. Candidates are therefore earning whilst they’re learning, something which cannot be said for those conducting their NVQs independently. Also, in recent years, the government has offered incentives to prospective apprentice employers. In turn, this means that the companies employing you have more resources to invest in your training, which clearly helps supplement further long-term career opportunities. This may also result in a better pay packet, or enhanced workplace benefits.

Summary

Whether you’re currently undertaking an electrician apprenticeship, or just considering your first move in selecting a viable trade or career path, hopefully, this article has provided a decent framework for you to analyse your journey to date, and support you in your next steps.

Pick the right path!

When honing in on your career ambitions, it’s important to review your personal circumstances, experience, and skill set. The electrical apprenticeship demands hard work, commitment, and a substantial degree of capability. Therefore, candidates should ensure they feel ready to embrace a lengthy training course, which will most likely offer frequent physical and emotional challenges along the way. As we’ve seen, electricians are financially compensated well, but this is earned through years of rigorous learning and assessment. Ultimately, you really need to make sure that you’re willing to put in maximum effort towards achieving this end. Otherwise, you could fall at the first huddle.

It may be that one of the ‘front-loaded’ training routes is more appropriate to your current personal situation, or perhaps the Experienced Worker programme is something you’d like to explore further. There is no right or wrong way to becoming an electrician, just make sure you opt for the right path that suits you.

If you’re in need of some further advice, please liaise with either your course tutor or an appropriate industry professional, as there’s every chance they’ve been through the same process in the past.

Regardless of whether you decide to apply for an electrician apprenticeship scheme or not, we wish you the best of luck for your onward career journey!