Certified Electrician vs. Licensed Electrician

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 25, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Electricians are professionals who work with electrical systems and panels. All working electricians are licensed in their respective states, but getting specialty certifications is optional. Certifications allow electricians to work with specialized electrical processes or machinery for a more focused career path. In this article, we explore the opportunities that licensed electricians have as well as the benefits of obtaining certifications.

What is a licensed electrician?

A licensed electrician works with electrical equipment, including electrical panels, wires and industrial systems. Licensed electricians complete state-approved licensing programs and exams to work in their respective state. Licensed electricians can fulfill specialty roles like:

  • Industrial electrician: Industrial electricians work with industrial equipment. They also create, maintain and repair electrical components on industrial machines, lays wires, and work with a production manager to make the production process more energy efficient and safe.

  • Commercial electrician: Commercial electricians work in commercial settings for small businesses, retail stores and other commercial locations. They lay wires, repair electrical components and panels and advise commercial customers on safe electrical upkeep practices.

  • Residential electrician: Residential electricians work with homes laying wires, repairing electrical systems and updating electrical panels. They may make home visits as part of regular maintenance or electrical emergencies.

  • Electric panel builders: Electrical panel builders work almost exclusively with electrical panels, producing efficient and safe panels for commercial, residential and industrial applications.

Read more: Common Duties on the Job of an Electrician

What is a certified electrician?

A certified electrician is a state-licensed electrician who seeks additional certifications to work in specific industries or businesses. Electricians can obtain certifications in areas like:

  • Intrumentation

  • Electrical safety compliance

  • Standardized task evaluation

  • Cable splicing

  • Green energy

  • Craft

  • Solar PV

Read more: Types of Electricians

Benefits of being a certified electrician

Becoming a certified electrician comes with many benefits, including:

  • Wider range of jobs: Certifications allow electricians to specialize in high-demand skills, which can create new job opportunities in various industries.

  • Higher pay: Certified electricians may earn a higher salary based on their experience and specialized knowledge.

  • Flexibility: Certified electricians can work as sub-contractors, contractors or for private companies depending on their industry and specialty, allowing you a greater ability to customize your work schedule.

  • More experience: With certifications, electricians may gain more experience in various disciplines than their peers.

Related: What Is an Electrician's Journeyman?

How to become a licensed electrician

Although specific training and education may vary by state, the basic steps to become a licensed electrician are:

1. Complete a licensed post-secondary program

Electricians can complete their education through state-sponsored or certified post-secondary programs. These programs typically take between 18-24 months to complete and help prepare potential electricians for the state exam and apprenticeship. A post-secondary electrician program teaches students the basics of electrical grids, wiring and management. Students will learn to install and troubleshoot basic electrical components and the hazards associated with live electrical lines.

2. Pass the state licensing exam

Obtaining a license typically requires completion of an electrician post-secondary program and passing the state license exam. The exam reviews the student's knowledge of basic electrical systems, safety, hazards and complex systems such as electrical grids.

Successful completion of the state exam awards the prospective electrician with a state license, which allows the electrician to seek out an apprenticeship or begin work as an electrical contractor.

Related: Becoming an Electrician: Challenges and Solutions

3. Apprentice under a master

A licensed electrician can complete an apprenticeship under a master electrician to gain on-the-job training and learn the details of the job. This can take anywhere from two to five years to complete, and apprenticeships usually carry a fee. The master electrician instructs and mentors the apprentice in the details of the job, safety requirements and any other information that furthers the apprentice's career as a licensed electrician.

An apprentice progresses from apprentice to journeyman electrician once they've accumulated a specific number of hours of training, as per state guidelines. Apprentice electricians obtain anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 hours of experience. From there, they can seek the title of master electrician by obtaining additional hours of experience, typically between 8,000-12,000 hours total.

Read more: How To Become an Electrician

How to become a certified electrician

Though optional, many licensed electricians pursue additional certifications to increase their salary and job opportunities. Here are some steps to take to gain certifications:

1. Identify the sector in which you want to work

Certain industries require specialized knowledge in cable splicing, running wires and other skills. Becoming a certified electrician starts with deciding the industry or sector in which you want to work, as this can guide your choice of certifications. For example, you could work on building solar or electrical panels or become a panel repairman. These options require different certifications even though the careers are in the same industry. Consider carefully where you want to apply your skills by researching job duties and salary data associated with that niche or specialization.

2. Choose your certification path

There are several organizations that offer electrician certifications, like the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, which offers certifications such as:

  • Certified Electrical Safety Compliance Professional

  • Certified Electrical Safety Technician

  • Certified Electrical Safety Worker

  • Certified Emergency Power Systems Specialist for Health Care Facility Managers

  • Certified Emergency Power Systems Specialist for Facility Managers

For those seeking to become inspectors or specialize in niches like green energy, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) offers certifications in these areas. In addition to exploring the variety of certifications through professional associations, you can also gain certifications from traditional universities that offer stand-alone certificate programs, which don't require you to be otherwise enrolled as a student.

3. Gain relevant experience

After receiving a certification, you can work in the field with your new skills. If you're already working as a licensed electrician, you can see if your current employer offers positions or assignments that use your newly acquired skills. Gaining experience can also make it easier to apply for a new position, as you'll have work history that verifies your ability to apply your certification knowledge.

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