How to Retrain as an Electrician

Becoming an electrician is an enticing prospect. The occupation can be extremely rewarding from both a financial perspective, and in terms of job satisfaction. According to the office of national statistics, electricians currently rank as the number one earner amongst the ‘traditional’ trades. A position they’ve enjoyed for the last eight consecutive years.

Furthermore, given that the electrical sector is increasingly diversifying into energy efficiency endeavours, being an electrician offers individuals an opportunity to do their bit for the environment. The role also needs a hybrid mix of both practical skills and academic intelligence. It is therefore an attractive career path for many different audiences.

Acquiring this occupation is no mean feat. Given the complexity of the role, and the associated financial advantages, it’s unsurprising that a significant level of training is involved. It takes hard work, dedication, and commitment to become an electrician, not to mention a high degree of competency.

The scale of the opportunity

If you’re looking to retrain and enter a new industry, the electrical trade would be a wise choice. The benefits outlined above offer plenty of ammunition for backing up this notion. Yet, there is an even more pressing reason to currently join the electrotechnical sector. Put simply, this is due to supply and demand.

It’s believed that in the UK today, over half of the country’s regions and counties are fifty electricians short of their required quota. This means that every week, there are hundreds of untapped opportunities for electrical work. Having specific skills in a technical industry is a massive asset nowadays, and could help deliver you secure, long-term employment.

This article intends to highlight the most common routes available for those looking to retrain as an electrician. It’s perhaps important to note at this early stage that the navigation of these pathways should be largely contingent on an individual’s personal circumstances. Therefore, the below text will offer advice, but how you act on this guidance, is ultimately up to you. As referenced, becoming an electrician takes substantial time and effort. So, before you even start reviewing your options, make sure you’re in a position to throw your full commitment behind your training journey.

Understanding why

The first task you have, is to understand exactly why you want to retrain as an electrician. This may seem like a simple notion, but asking yourself this question will hugely help you in those initial steps. By working out your motivations, you can start to sculpt your learning path, and map out what your future career may look like.

You’re training approach will also be shaped by the type of employment you decide to pursue. In the electrotechnical sector, there are three key employment pathways. There are as follows:

  1. Self-employed business owner: This would mean running your own electrical firm, and therefore registering as a sole trader or limited company.
  2. Contractor work: This would also be on a self-employment basis, but involves leasing your services to an electrical contractor. This work would be on a short to medium-term contract basis, before moving onto the next available opportunity.
  3. Salaried employment: This would involve being permanently tied to an electrical company, and receiving a regular salary as compensation.

 Advantages and disadvantages

There are merits and drawbacks to each route, and each must be analysed in context of your personal circumstances and ambitions.

Self-employed business owner

A self-employed business owner will most likely have the greatest earnings potential out of these options. This is because you’ll ultimately be in charge of your own destiny. This role enables you to control how often you’ll work (providing you can secure a regular flow of jobs), and how much you’ll charge customers. You can therefore project what your potential earnings will look like, which will fluctuate in accordance with the performance of your business.

Business owners will bill their clients by taking labour, equipment, and other operational costs into account. This provides a lucrative opportunity to make substantial sums, as you decide how much your craftmanship’s worth.

However, there are also some tangible risks. The costs involved in setting up a business are substantial, and this therefore means a considerable initial financial outlay is required. This may mean that you’ll need to secure additional funding through a business loan, or angel investor.

Furthermore, you’re fully accountable for every operational element within the business, and therefore carry the responsibility if anything goes wrong. Tax returns, financial integrity, customer payment issues, and employment compliance must all be addressed in accordance to the relevant legislation. Any contraventions that do occur, may be met with significant punishment, which could put your business under significant stress and scrutiny.

There is also a high chance that you’ll have to work a significant number of hours, particularly in the early months of launching. This will clearly detract from social time, and perhaps limit your scope to pursue other interests.

Therefore, whilst running your own business often presents more scope for earnings, it also attracts substantially more risk.

Contractor work

Working on behalf of a contractor is ideal for those who want a little more in terms of earnings opportunity, but still crave the relative security of aligning themselves to a corporate entity. These individuals will be able to charge for their labour in similar fashion to those running businesses. However, they will be restricted by the expectations and budget limitations of the contractors they work for.

The duration of their relationship with a specific contracting firm will be solely based on the size of the job they’re working on. Therefore, employment terms might be on a short, medium, or long-term basis. This means that whilst these individuals have more stability and less risk than someone running their own business, they are also entirely dependent on the availability of work. Indeed, when a specific works has been completed, there is no security that the next ‘job’ will immediately materialise.

Working hours will be largely dependent on both the individual, and the volume of work secured. In this sense, there is decent opportunity for flexibility. However, remember, the next batch of work is never guaranteed. This often compels these individuals to accept whatever tasks are on offer, regardless of contract length or working hours. Therefore, this level of apparent flexibility is undermined by the continuing requirement to source new workstreams.

Salaried employment

Those tethered to large electrical companies on a permanent contract will feel more financially assured than those registering as self-employed. The likelihood is that these individuals will enjoy a steady stream of work, and will also not feel pressure in those instances where the volume of ‘jobs’ dries up. This is because, regardless of company performance, they will receive a fixed salary on a regular basis. Therefore, this role is perfect for electricians who target employment security, and are keen on understanding their exact earnings within any given month.

It’s also advantageous to those who prefer a set amount of working hours per week. In this line of work, individuals will sign a working pattern contract, confirming their regular shift times, on specific days of the week. Although there will be some level of flexibility expected from their employer, their only formal obligation is to work the hours outlined in their contract. There is also usually an opportunity for overtime work, which is often paid at a premium rate. Self-employed workers, particularly those who run businesses, will most likely not be liable to receive any additional rate payments, regardless of hours worked.

Furthermore, these individuals may also profit from a variety of potential workplace benefits. These include additional training courses and learning opportunities, more robust insurance coverage, and working alongside a like-minded peer group. All three elements are equally important, but the loss of each one impacts specific individuals in different ways.

Training, insurance, and peer group considerations

Some in self-employed ventures may decide to invest in their own personal development, but chances are this will come at considerable cost. This clearly differs from what salaried employers will come to experience in relation to their onwards learning & development.

Insurance packages are regularly taken out given the hazardous nature of the electrician’s role. However, particularly for those in the early stages of business set-up, a leaner, less all-encompassing insurance plan may be acquired in order to save expenditure. Those undertaking contract work on a self-employed basis will also need to be more wary when addressing insurance concerns. Given their regular movement between different companies, workers will need to constantly re-check their terms based on their current employer’s coverage allowances.

Peer group camaraderie is also something that can be sorely missed in self-employed roles. For those operating as a business owner and in an individual capacity, work can sometimes be a little lonely. Self-employed contractors may also feel unable to develop strong relationships with co-workers. This is because the length of time spent in partnering a specific individual/group will be determined by the duration of works. However, embracing this style of work will at least mean that colleague bonds can be formed to some extent, even if collaborations only last a couple of weeks. There’s also a good chance that you’ll become familiar with the individuals operating within this ‘circuit’ of work. Therefore, the self-employed contractor approach will most likely involve more social interaction than that experienced by those running their own businesses.

Which route suits you?

Due to these differing outputs, it’s critical that individuals take time to review which pathway suits them best. Ultimately, the role you select will impact on the earnings and benefits you receive, the workplace environment you operate in, and perhaps most importantly, your work/life balance. Therefore, thoroughly research each route, and liaise with as many relevant people as you can to support the decision-making process.

The difference between Domestic Installer, and fully-qualified electrician

A key decision to make when approaching the electrical industry, is to determine what level of competency you’re looking to operate at. In a nutshell, there are two avenues to potentially exploit here. Both concern themselves with the core principles of electrical installation, but are entirely different in terms of scope of activity, and also capability level.

Domestic Installer

Domestic Installers receive a relatively basic level of training on electrotechnical principal and application. There able to conduct work within a residential premises, but have had limited upskilling on complex electrical issues. In order to become a domestic installer, individuals must complete an intensive course, which will coach them through the fundamental elements of electrical installation. There are a range of accredited learning providers who offer this programme. Regardless of facilitator, course duration will usually be approximately four weeks. Unless on a government employment skills support scheme, this enterprise will need to be self-funded.

However, Domestic Installers will still have a decent scope of practical knowledge, and understand all key aspects of electrotechnical theory. Within this course, they will study a range of disciplines.

Topics covered

  • How to use basic hand tools and electrical equipment.
  • How to install and terminate a twin and earth cable.
  • Understanding standard circuits for Lighting, Power & Cookers, and how to accordingly install them.
  • Understanding how consumer units/fuse boxes work, and how to accordingly install them.
  • How to correctly select equipment for a specific electrical installation task.
  • A basic understanding of how to fit electrical installations in Special Locations. This will include a review of works conducted in areas such as bathrooms, marinas, hospitals etc.
  • How to accurately calculate maximum demand, and how to account for diversity in this endeavour.
  • How to accurately select cable sizes.
  • Understanding the Building Regulations, and how to comply with them.
  • Understanding earthing systems
  • Understanding circuit protection
  • How to safely isolate single-phase circuits
  • Understanding the fundamental principles of inspection and testing.
  • How to use and apply the latest version of the IET Wiring Regulations (bs7671: 18th edition)

This training therefore allows domestic installers to conduct a considerable variety of electrical works.

This is ideal for individuals keen to gain quick access into the industry. As soon their respective domestic installation course has been successfully completed, workers are free to offer their services to local customers. Furthermore, as the training isn’t extensive, it’s a great way to limit spending on learning costs. A typical domestic installer programme will cost around £2,500 to fund. This is substantially cheaper than the price of the NVQ course required to become an electrical professional.

It also suits those who may want to pick up electrical work as a part-time endeavour, or as an income supplement to their full-time job. This is because the investment of time and money can largely be adjusted to align with an individual’s personal preference.

Considerations to take into account

However, this nature of electrical work does also clearly have some drawbacks. Given the scope of training involved, individuals operating in this capacity are not deemed as fully-qualified electricians. This means that working opportunities are appropriately condensed to the skill-sets developed, and work maybe lost to more qualified industry workers. The amount that a domestic installer can charge will also be lower than their more thoroughly trained counterpart. However, this ironically does make them a more appealing choice for those customers looking to substantially reduce billing costs.

Domestic Installers will almost exclusively work independently, although some do hire small teams to support.

Before deciding whether this route suits your personal circumstances best, it’s worth considering the long-term career impacts. If, in the future, you decided to ‘top-up’ your certification level to fully-qualified status, this would incur a substantial duplication of training and costs. This is because domestic installers, regardless of previous courses undertaken and work experience, would need to complete each relevant learning module attached to the electrical instalment NVQ. This would waste significant time and money, as certain elements are already covered in the original domestic installers course. Therefore, if pursuing this line of work, domestic installers should have the intention of conducting this role for the rest of their industry career.

Fully-qualified electrician

Becoming a professional electrical worker is a difficult journey, but, as we’ve seen, appropriately rewarding when it’s achieved. If pursuing this route, you’ll be able to conduct complex electrical instalments, and have an extremely strong grasp of electrotechnical principles.

Training is conducted across a range of learning modules, and is reasonably complex in nature. As per the domestic installer scenario, a range of learning providers are empowered to deliver these courses. The information below charts a typical training plan which would serve to support individuals to become a fully-qualified electrician. For the sake of ease and consistency, we’ve deployed the City and Guilds sponsored courses to map out this route. The City and Guilds are an established institute for providing skills training across a range of industries in the UK. Within the electrical sector, their courses are often favoured as the preferred learning and qualification vehicle.

Training plan

Steps to becoming a fully qualified electrician:

1.

1. Undertake the C&G 2365 Level 2 Diploma. This course allows candidates to study a wide-range of electrical theory, as well as their appropriate practical applications. Significant attention is also given to onsite health, safety, and environmental considerations. Although not a common occurrence, candidates could terminate their learning journey at this stage. This is because completing this qualification allows individuals to occupy the position of electrician’s ‘mate’. Chiefly, this will involve supporting the work of those who are qualified to conduct electrical installations. However, some specific electrical work can be conducted in this instance, providing they’re under the supervision of a full-fledged electrician. This is therefore suitable for those who have relatively modest aspirations.

Level 2 electrical training can be categorised under three key headings. These are:

  • The principles of electrical science
  • Wiring systems and enclosure installation
  • Health and safety in building services engineering.

Dependent on provider, learning speed, and personal preference, this course lasts approximately ten weeks.

2.

Undertake the C&G 2365 Level 3 Diploma. This course builds on some of the elements studied in its Level 2 counterpart. However, some new, more complex theories are also introduced. These include subjects such as three-phase circuits, understanding renewable technologies in the electrical industry, and gaining an appreciation of mini-trunking conduit.

The areas already touched upon in Level 2, which will receive additional attention in Level 3, are as follows:

  • The inspection, testing and commissioning of electrical installations
  • Fault diagnosis and rectification in electrical installations
  • The design of electrical systems.
  • Focus will also be given to career awareness, and job market conditions within the electrotechnical sector.

Dependent on provider, learning speed, and personal preference, this course lasts anywhere between three to six months.

N.B. Many course facilitators offer the Level 2 and 3 Diplomas in a combined course package. This is usually the wisest option, as content is slicker, the programme will be more efficient, and costs are significantly reduced. Given its platform for faster learning, this unified Level 2 and 3 Diploma programme takes approximately four months to complete. This is therefore roughly two to three months quicker than the overall total of the individual courses.

3.

Undertake the C&G 2357 Level 3 NVQ/AM2. This is a reflective, assessment-driven course which focuses on the learnings acquired in Levels 2&3. In this module, you’ll be expected to compile a solid portfolio of evidence, based on work conducted whilst in training and industry employment. There will be four variant assessment styles, which invites more challenging scrutiny of an individual’s capability level. These are:

Witness testimony: A written record by your employer to confirm the execution of a specific skill-set or knowledge item.

Reflective account: An article, written by you, which reviews certain, personal aspects of your training. This could be techniques learned, communication styles developed, an increased health and safety awareness etc.

Photographic evidence: Imagery compiled by yourself, which demonstrates the successful execution of a given electrotechnical task.

Direct observation: This will involve an assessor either visiting your workplace, or linking in with you virtually, to observe your competency in delivering a specific task.

Once the candidate has successfully navigated this examination process, the final test will lay in wait. This is the Electrotechnical Assessment of Occupation Competence, or, as more commonly known in the industry, the AM2 Assessment. On passing this, individuals will be suitably qualified as a fully-fledged electrician.

Dependent on provider, learning speed, and personal preference, this course lasts anywhere between six and twelve months.

Time and commitment considerations

As you can see, the training journey is extensive in scope. By the time electricians complete all qualifications, they will have a robust understanding of all key elements of electrotechnical theory. They will also be well-schooled, and appropriately already experienced, in the practical application of electrical instalments. Furthermore, they will have in-depth knowledge of how to conduct electrical work in a safe, compliant manner, aligned to relevant workplace legislation and codes of practice.

This also means that individuals will need considerable focus and commitment to complete all modules. Dependent on your current working context, time could also be an elusive factor. As we’ve seen, course durations are contingent on a number of factors. If currently in full-time employment, and keen to maintain this source of income throughout, learning plans could become particularly protracted.

It’s difficult to find an accurate training average, due to how dependent this is on personal circumstance. However, a prospective electrician, with reasonable time available, should expect to complete the required courses in approximately twelve to eighteen months. This is clearly a significant amount of time.

Cost considerations

A more pressing consideration however, may be the cost investment needed to complete all qualifications. Based on the combined course price, the Levels 2&3 Diploma qualifications will set candidates back anywhere between £6000 and £8500 dependent on course provider. For the C&G 2357 Level 3 NVQ, costs will be around £1300 to £1800. Therefore, at best, trainee electricians should be braced to pay around £7500 to gain fully-qualified status. This is before adding costs for the AM2 Assessment, which is often not incorporated into the overall 2357 course price.

As gently alluded to, in order to complete your NVQ, you will need to gain employment with a contractor in the electrotechnical sector. Although this provides an additional obstacle in your learning journey, it will also obviously present an earnings opportunity. Candidates should therefore factor this in when assessing how financially sustainable their training schedule is.

Furthermore, its worth candidates reviewing this in context of future monetary potential. Remember, this is very much a returnable investment of capital, and training costs will eventually pale into insignificance versus career earnings. Again, it is ultimately down to your personal situation, and whether you can afford this level of immediate investment.

Also, don’t forget, the scale of your compensation package is significantly enhanced by the current level of opportunity. As discussed, both a shortage of professional electricians, and the proliferation of the renewable industry, provides huge future financial scope.

Apprenticeship scheme?

To mitigate costs, you could complete this journey as part of an apprenticeship scheme. This is usually favoured by those of school leaver age, but has become increasingly popular with older audiences. However, this would require a successful employment application to a local electrical contractor, and would involve being tied to full-time to training. Furthermore, due to the nature of work, salaries often dip below minimum wage. Nevertheless, due to relatively new governmental employer incentivisation programmes, training will be most likely fully expensed. Financial considerations should therefore factor in savings, as well as earnings. Ultimately, its another case of reviewing your current financial landscape, and understanding whether this would be a viable option to pursue.

Intention to work abroad

It’s also worth considering whether, in the future, you intend to offer your services abroad. This is particularly important if planning to undertake the domestic installers course. In some countries, this will not be accepted as a valid license to conduct any form of electrical work. Therefore, as your qualification is ultimately obsolete, your training could become a tremendous waste of time and money.

For those certified as fully competent, it’s still worth understanding what your qualification level entitles you to do in a specific country. It may be that something you’re currently permitted to carry out here, is not similarly allowed abroad.

The UK NARIC is an organization which supports individuals to understand their equivalent certification level in foreign lands. This is equally the case for conducting this approach in reverse order (external individuals moving here).

This also applies if potentially considering a location move to either Scotland or Northern Ireland. The information in this article corresponds to available routes in England and Wales. The other home nations have their own respective learning structures in place, so individuals should again review to what extent their own qualifications can dovetail across.

Summary

As we’ve seen, becoming an electrician, in any capacity, requires hard work, dedication, and usually a substantial amount of financial investment. However, there are few professions which are as equally rewarding, regardless of which benefit stream you compare.

The critical aspect to remember is to review your route selection in context of your own personal circumstances. Don’t advance down a path that will later become too expensive or challenging to continue down. Conduct your own research into the costs and times attached to the respective training modules, as these do differentiate quite wildly between learning providers.

Individuals who want to earn a little extra money from a rewarding and currently in-demand discipline should perhaps exploit the Domestic Installer option. For those keen to pursue a full-time, permanent career in the electrotechnical industry, then you’re encouraged to go for the NVQ/AM2 qualification.

Remember, once qualified, there is another important choice to address, with regards to the type of your prospective employment. Again, the central dynamic here is your personal situation, and how each of these options will subsequently affect your career aspirations, earnings potential, and, most importantly, your work/life balance.

This is a huge decision to make, which will most likely also directly impact on friends and family. Therefore, as previously stated, its crucial to consult with them beforehand. If possible, it’s also worth consulting an industry professional. They’ll be able to provide you with insight into their own training and workplace experiences, which may serve to influence your final decision.

We really hope this article has offered some useful guidance and support on how to approach the process of re-training as an electrician. And, lastly, in whichever onward career direction you choose to take, we wish you the very best of luck!