California Electrical License: How to Become an Electrician in California
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Being an electrician isn’t just a job, it’s a solid career path. Electrical contractors enjoy a wide range of employment opportunities and earn a respectable income. There’s also job security—customers will always need skilled trade professionals to install and service electrical systems in their homes and businesses.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 711,200 electricians nationwide and 65,870 work in California. The national number is predicted to grow 7% from 2021 to 2031 adding more than 50,000 to the ranks of this skilled workforce. That growth rate is expected to be almost double that in California — projected at 13%, according to CareerOneStop, the U.S. Department of Labor’s job search website.
Many contractors nationwide are trying to find skilled tradesmen. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 2022 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey, 93% of firms in the U.S. and 85% of firms in California had unfilled hourly craft positions like plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians. So, if you get the training you need you will have a lot of jobs to choose from when you’re ready.
The process of becoming an electrician takes time, but you get paid while you learn and gain experience.
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Licensing Requirements for Electricians in California
Is a license required to be an electrician in California? Yes.
To perform electrical work in the state of California, you must first register as an electrical trainee with the State of California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and pay a $25 application fee. Electrical trainees must renew their registration each year they work as trainees.
You must also enroll in a state-approved electrician training program. From there, you need to gain the necessary experience to earn your general or residential electrician license from the State of California Department of Industrial Relations. After that, you will be eligible to obtain an electrical contractor license from the California Contractors State License Board. California electrician certifications do not use the typical terms “journeyman,” "journeyman license," or “master electrician.”
Steps to Get an Electrician License in California
Register as an electrical trainee.
Enroll in a state-approved union or non-union electrical training program or apprenticeship program.
Gain the required work experience through an apprenticeship program to become a residential electrician.
Take the exam required to obtain residential electrician certification.
Earn a general electrician certificate.
Consider becoming a licensed independent electrical contractor.
Provide proof of insurance.
How to Become an Electrician in California
REGISTER AS AN ELECTRICAL TRAINEE: Register as an electrical trainee with the State of California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and pay a $25 application fee.
GAIN NECESSARY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: Enroll in a state-approved union or non-union electrical training program. The state of California requires 4,500 hours of work to be eligible to take the residential electrician exam, and 8,000 hours of work for the general electrician exam. Both require 150 hours of classroom and lab-based technical training for every year you participate in an electrical training program or apprenticeship. The State of California Department of Industrial Relations maintains a database of available apprenticeship programs.
APPLY TO TAKE THE RESIDENTIAL ELECTRICIAN CERTIFICATION EXAM: Once you have met the necessary requirements, fill out an application to take the California residential electrician certification exam. There is a $75 application fee, plus a $100 exam fee. A Social Security Administration Employment History Report must be included with your application. Once the application and work history are submitted, you will be contacted by the exam provider, PSI Services, with testing details.
TAKE THE RESIDENTIAL ELECTRICIAN LICENSING EXAM: The exam contains 80 questions that must be answered within 3.5 hours. More information about the test can be found on the California Bulletin of Residential Electrician Licensing Exams. The exam is open book, and applicants can use the National Electrical Code (NEC) for reference. There are also study guides and exam prep materials you can purchase for test prep.
OBTAIN YOUR RESIDENTIAL ELECTRICIAN CERTIFICATION: Once you pass the residential electrician exam and obtain your certification, you must renew the certification every three years. Renewal costs $100. To be eligible for annual renewal, you must have worked at least 2,000 hours as an electrician and completed 32 hours of continuing education requirements from one of California’s 85 approved electrical training schools.
EARN A GENERAL ELECTRICIAN CERTIFICATE: General electricians usually have more experience than journeyman electricians and are authorized to get permits to work on residential properties. To be eligible for a general electrician certificate, you must work at least 8,000 hours under the supervision of a certified electrician and get a passing score on the California electrical exam.
Once those requirements are met, submit an application to take the general electrician exam.
There are study guides available to help. There is a $75 application fee, plus a $100 exam fee. A Social Security Administration Employment History Report must be included with your application. Once the application and work history are submitted, you will be contacted by the exam provider, PSI Services, with testing details.
The general electrician certification exam contains 100 questions that must be answered in 4.5 hours. The exam is open book.
Once you pass the general electrician exam and obtain your certification, you must renew the certification every three years. Renewal costs $100. To be eligible for yearly renewal, you must have worked at least 2,000 hours as an electrician and completed 32 hours of continuing education requirements from one of California’s 85 approved electrical training schools.
CONSIDER BECOMING A LICENSED INDEPENDENT ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: Register with the California Contractors State Licensing Board for an electrical contractor license. This will enable you to run a business as a contractor and hire general electricians.
Electrical contractors are specialty contractors classified as a type C-10 contractor. To obtain a C-10 contractor license, you must be at least 18 years old, fill out the necessary application, along with the $330 application fee, have four years of full-time electrical experience, or hire someone with this experience, have more than $2,500 of operating capital, and be regularly employed by your company for at least 32 hours per week.
You must also pass two exams to become a licensed independent electrical contractor: the C-10 exam and the Law and Business exam. After you pass the exams, you must pay $150 to obtain your license, which must be renewed every two years by the last day of the month in which you originally received your license.
PROVIDE PROOF OF INSURANCE: After you pay the $200 independent electrical contractor licensing fee to become a licensed contractor, you must provide the California Contractors State Licensing Board with the following insurance documents:
A filed $12,500 bond
An additional $7,500 bond, if you are hiring other qualified employees
Proof of workers' compensation insurance if you are hiring employees
Types of Electrical Licensure in California
What are the different types of California electrical certification?
Apprentice electrician: An electrical trainee working under the supervision of a certified electrician to gain necessary experience hours.
Residential electrician: Complete 4,800 hours of training under the supervision of a licensed electrical contractor. Residential electricians have certificates of completion from a valid electrical apprenticeship program. Residential electricians in California, which are similar to journeymen in other states, can install, construct, and maintain electrical systems in residential properties, whether they are single-family units or multi-family units.
General electrician: Complete at least 8,000 hours under the supervision of a certified electrician and have a passing score on the California electrical exam. General electricians in California can work on residential, commercial, and industrial properties.
Fire/life safety electrical technicians: Complete 4,000 hours of required training and pass the necessary exam. These electricians work on safety systems typically found in business settings.
Voice data video technicians: Complete 4,000 hours of required training and pass the necessary exam. These electricians focus on security systems, communication devices, and various electrical networking systems.
Non-residential lighting technicians: Complete 2,000 hours of required training and pass the necessary exam. These electricians work on light systems in businesses and other commercial properties.
Independent electrical contractors: Must have a C-10 license issued by the California Contractors State Licensing Board. Licensed independent electrical contractors typically operate their own businesses, and work on the design, maintenance, and installation of electrical systems in residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
Benefits of Becoming a Licensed Electrician in California
There are many benefits to pursuing California electrician licensing:
Most important, it is required by law in California to be licensed through the state to legally perform electrical work.
A trade license is proof of your experience and skill.
Only licensed electricians or licensed contractors can: operate a business and advertise services, obtain commercial insurance, pull building permits, and pass inspections, bid on public and government projects.
A license protects your company and customers.
Licensing gives you a competitive advantage in the job market.
It also increases your earning potential.
What Is the Mean Wage for an Electrician in California?
The annual mean wage for electricians in California is $75,870 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. That salary, as you might expect, increases as you acquire more experience, according to Indeed.com.
Electrician Apprentice: The average salary for an electrician apprentice is $22.44 per hour in California and $6,000 overtime per year.
Electrician: The average salary for an electrician apprentice is $31.21 per hour in California and $10,500 overtime per year.
Master Electrician: The average salary for an electrician apprentice is $29.28 per hour in California.
Salary ranges can vary widely, depending on the city and many other important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years you have spent in your profession.
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How Much Does It Cost for Electrician Licensing in California?
There are several costs associated with obtaining an electrician’s license in California.
Pay the $25 application fee to register as an electrical trainee. This must be renewed and paid each year you are an electrical trainee.
Pay the $75 application fee for the residential electrician certification exam.
Pay the $100 residential electrician certification exam fee. Residential electrician certifications must be renewed each year, which costs $100.
Pay the $75 application fee for the general electrician certification exam.
Pay the $100 general electrician certification exam fee. General electrician certifications must be renewed each year, which costs $100.
Pay the $330 independent electrical contractor's application fee.
Pay the $200 fee to obtain your independent electrical contractor’s license.
Certification from a technical or vocational school can cost between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on the school and the program desired.
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How Long Does It Take to Get an Electrician License in California?
Unless you are an independent electrical contractor, California issues electrician certifications, not licenses. On average, it takes 4,800 hours (2.5 years) to obtain a residential electrician certificate. General electrician certification requires 8,000 hours, or four years.
California Electrician Training Programs and Schools
The California Department of Industrial Relations acknowledges 85 approved schools that offer electrical training, including vocational schools and Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees (JATCs). Most electrical apprenticeships in California are part of the Electrical Training Alliance between IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association).
Certification from a technical or vocational school can cost between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on the school and the program desired.
Several schools made the 2023 List of “Best Colleges With Electrical Degrees in California,” including Cuesta College, Orange Coast College, Santiago Canyon College, and Foothill College.
Program Prerequisites: Program prerequisites vary. Most programs, however, require you to be 18 years old, have a high-school diploma or GED, hold a valid driver’s license, and show a passing algebra grade.
On-the-Job Experience: While on the job, you will gain an understanding of electrical standards, as well as math and scientific principles. Electricians need keen eyesight and good hand-eye coordination, as well as proper time management skills. They also must demonstrate good customer service skills, be able to work independently, show good physical endurance, and use logical problem-solving techniques. Electricians also learn how to read blueprints, circuit diagrams, and other technical documents.
California Electrician Licensing Exam Details
The California residential electrician certification exam contains 80 questions that must be answered within 3.5 hours. The exam is open book and covers the following topics:
Determination of Electrical System Requirements
Maintenance and Repair
The California general electrician certification exam contains 100 questions that must be answered in 4.5 hours. The exam is an open-book test and covers the same topics as the residential electrician exam, listed above.
In the state of California, there are two exams you must pass to obtain an independent electrical contractor license: the C-10 exam and the Law and Business exam. The C-10 exam is closed book and covers the following topics:
Planning and Estimating
Finish Wiring and Trim
Startup, Troubleshooting, and Maintenance
The Law and Business exam is also closed book and covers the following topics:
Bonds, Insurance, and Liens
Contract Requirements and Execution
Who Issues Electrician Licenses in California?
The California Contractors' State Licensing Board and the Department of Industrial Relations issues electrical licenses in California.
Does My California Electrical License Work in Any Other State?
No. California doesn’t permit contractors to practice without a California-issued license; however, they do have limited reciprocity with Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, and Utah.
National Electrician Certifications
While optional, national certifications can help you demonstrate your proficiency in certain aspects of the electrical trade to potential employers and clients, which often translates into more job opportunities and higher pay.
These include the Independent Electrical Contractors Certified Professional Electrician (CPE) distinction, certification through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), among dozens of additional electrician certifications available.
You can stay up to date on all electrician industry news several ways: