Hi! I am a librarian and I answer hundreds of occupation questions each month. The best place to look for job requirements, salaries, and working conditions is the US Department of Labor "Occupational Outlook Handbook."
Here is what the 2006-2007 handbook says about becoming an elctrician in the United States:
"Most electricians learn their trade through apprenticeship programs. These programs combine on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Apprenticeship programs may be sponsored by joint training committees made up of local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association; company management committees of individual electrical contracting companies; or local chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Independent Electrical Contractors Association. Because of the comprehensive training received, those who complete apprenticeship programs qualify to do both maintenance and construction work.
Applicants for apprenticeships usually must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. They should have good math and English skills, since most instruction manuals are in English. They also may have to pass a test and meet other requirements. Apprenticeship programs usually last 4 years and each year include at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. In the classroom, apprentices learn electrical theory and installing and maintaining electrical systems. There also take classes in blueprint reading, mathematics, electrical code requirements, and safety and first aid practices also may receive specialized training in soldering, communications, fire alarm systems, and cranes and elevators. On the job, apprentices work under the supervision of experienced electricians. At first, they drill holes, set anchors, and attach conduit. Later, they measure, fabricate, and install conduit, as well as install, connect, and test wiring, outlets, and switches. They also learn to set up and draw diagrams for entire electrical systems. To complete the apprenticeship and become electricians, apprentices must demonstrate mastery of the electrician’s work
Some persons seeking to become electricians choose to obtain their classroom training before seeking a job. Training to become an electrician is offered by a number of public and private vocational-technical schools and training academies in affiliation with local unions and contractor organizations. Employers often hire students who complete these programs and usually start them at a more advanced level than those without the training. A few persons become electricians by first working as helpers, assisting electricians setting up job sites, gathering materials, and doing other nonelectrical work, before entering an apprenticeship program.
Skills needed to become an electrician include manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, physical fitness, and a good sense of balance. The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly and accurately also is required. Good color vision is needed because workers frequently must identify electrical wires by color. In addition, a good work history or military service is viewed favorably by apprenticeship committees and employers.
Most localities require electricians to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary from area to area, electricians usually must pass an examination that tests their knowledge of electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, and local electric and building codes. Experienced electricians periodically take courses offered by their employer or union to keep abreast of changes in the National Electrical Code and new materials or methods of installation. For example, classes on installing low voltage voice, data, and video systems have recently become common as these systems have become more prevalent.
Experienced electricians can advance to jobs as supervisors. In construction they also may become project managers or construction superintendents. Those with sufficient capital and management skills may start their own contracting business, although this may require an electrical contractor’s license. Many electricians also become electrical inspectors. Supervisors and contractors should be able to identify and estimate the correct type and quantity of materials needed to complete a job, and accurately estimate how long a job will take to complete and at what cost. For those who seek to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited understanding of English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of the construction workforce in many areas. Spanish-speaking workers who want to advance in this occupation need very good English skills to understand instruction presented in classes and installation instructions, which are usually written in English and are highly technical."