ECN Forum

I am starting a first year electrical apprenticeship in a few weeks. This is a career shift for me as I have had a cushy office job for over a decade.

I will be on site at a concrete low-rise townhouse project. Working on a construction site will be a new experience for me and I am looking for a few tips or pointers on my first day/week.

I am supposed to show up with a hard-hat, steel toes, 14.4v Dewalt drill, and a side pouch. Any advice on these items in particular would help (recomendations).

Any input would be appreciated.


Yeah ditch the Dewalt and get a Milwaukee.
I read this post a few extra times.

Sounds like BS to me.

But, I will give some advice Kbrown.

Im an EC and I would never hire an 10 year "cushy office guy"

Unless your an exceptional athlete of some kind with a desire for misery and pain:


Construction is no place for you to start with your "cushy" background. Your in for a world of hurt.

Job site politics will make you fail. You will be made the joke of every day. You will be told to do and learn things that are designed to make an idiot out of you. Sometimes these things are not safe.

You will not do "ELECTRICIAN" work. You will be a "grunt".

Try digging ditches and unloading semi trailers of gear and fixtures for hours on end.

If your lucky after a year or so you might and start to "bend conduit" and no one will help you or spend any time teaching you how to do it. You wont no any CODE. So the sh!t you run will be ridiculed and you wont no why.

Then on one bright and happy day you will graduated to a wire pulling detail. Heavy wire. You will be pulling with all your guts, sometimes on a ladder and it will not be "cushy".
I just scratched the surface here Kbrown.

I would advise you to reconsider what you "think" your getting into.

Then muliple classes for code training will follow, right during your kids school activities. You wont be there.

Sorry, "first day" I dont give you a chance in hell.


Will you explain why you edit my "union" comment.

I will need to consider for any/if or other post.

I hate stopping free speech.

If your "union" just say so now.
Gmack, if I may explain the policies here at ECN ...

Any topic that, in the slightest way, suggests a "union vs. non-union' issue is simply not allowed here.

The topic is a tender one for many. The original reason for the discussion is quickly forgot, as rants, raves, and bad manners come to the fore.

You want to learn the trade? More power to you. But ... it will be quite some time before you know enough to do more than manual labor. For a beginner, the 'tools of choice' are shovels and pipe benders.

Show up for work as instructed. Do your best. Just don't expect to be doing anything even remotely resembling 'electric work' for some time.
I suppose one thing that is different in a right to work state is, if you can do the job, they will let you. Commercial is a little tougher to jump into because of the complexity and coordination necessary for the job to flow but in 1&2 family I have seen some exceptional guys who were running a crew in a month.
Granted they were just yanking Romex around cookie cutter houses but they did get a chance to work up to their ability (and unfortunately beyond sometimes their ability).
IMHO a manager is a moron if they don't develop their people as fast as they can ... but that may just be a "management" opinion.
Thanks for the replies. I was hoping to have a few illusions dispelled. I realize working conditions are going to be difficult.

I should clarify. I have some experience with low voltage video systems, but the construction environment is a huge departure.

What I lack in practical experience is hopefully offset by a degree of maturity and motivation to stick it out (family to provide for).

I have the opportunity due to an influential character reference.

Some of the replies have given me pause for thought. Any further would still help.


kbrown it all depends upon your employer and the current projects he might have. Townhouses/condos will not strain you too much. Especially "low rise townhouses" as you stated you will be starting with, no real difference from residential there....if it is three stories or less.

Just show up on time and do what the foreman tells you to do...yes the new guys end up doing all the dirty jobs...but they also end up doing all the mindless rote jobs that involve no real effort just mind numbing repetition.

Also I have to disagree with some of the comments made above, as a leadman it is my job to train you to do the job I need you to do. I will show you how to bend conduit and teach you the basic "rules of thumb" for doing it. I will teach you phaseing and explain the conductor color codeing we use. If you ask me any kind of semi-intelligent question I will take a few minutes to try to answer/explain it to you.

Yeah you don't know jack about the trade, but then again neither did I in 1981...doesn't mean I have to lord it over you or have fun at your expense now. I came up in the trade in that atmosphere and if it wasn't for a couple of guys who actually tried to help I wouldn't be here now. Don't let the previous answers discourage you, we aren't all like that. But make no mistake that it is hard (very hard sometimes) work and that you need a fairly good I.Q. to excell at it.

And by the way the best asset you have IS your maturity and a good willing to do anything and don't whine. You'll go far that way.... laugh
Reno, thanx for the tip on ECN. I think it is a mistake to limit free speech. My comment was not out of line for the OP. Kbrown should know what he is getting into. I too was a bonified brother of the IBEW back in the day.

Does that statement now have to be deleted also?

Example of a 1 year apprentice "hot shot" who told me he was going to make it on the "fast track".

After a month of putting up with his constant doing things his "fast track" ways AND having to un-train what others had "not taught him", I told him to grab his "Wiggy" and test all the emergency duplexes.

He stared at me in total ignorance. I then and there had to "train" him how to use a voltage tester. He was lost.

The premonition that these new guys will get training is just not reality.

And it is not safe either.

In my zip we have had more than one death due to new guys being in the wrong place at the wrong time working for the wrong foreman.

Kbrown, beware. electrical. We had one 21 year old apprentice with a wife and kid who fried on some 480. I knew the dumb ass foreman from previous jobs. They took him out of the field and gave him a cushy desk job to satisfy the insurance company, who had to pay big time to the widow.

Then we had anthor poor soul who worked for the GC. One day they dropped a "pre cast" on him. He was a "new guy". A dead new guy".

Construction is and always will remain a dangerous enviroment/job.

Kbrown, take care.


I'm not a union member, but my brother is.
We get along just fine that way smile

I immediately sent you a private message when I edited that post. Look up at the "My Stuff" at the top of the page, and you'll see it flashing.
Although I appreciate Gmacks stance on the "toughness" issue, I myself came into the field from being a musician - can anybody think of a more "cushy" job than that?

My advise is to keep a good attitude and don't lose your sense of humor. You work with all kinds of personalities on any construction site, and being able to deal with people well is just as important as performing your function well.

Be considerate and THINK. And, no matter how tough things get, DON'T WHINE. Everybody hates a whiner!

Good Luck!
I started out in the trade at a small company, doing mostly light commercial and residential. Being that it was a small company, they took me under their collective wings and brought me along at an appropriate learning speed.

My best advice to you would be to find an environment where they will "take you in" and you will be allowed to ask many questions. The way I learned was not by just being told what to do, but by also thinking on my own, and asking questions pertaining to what I was doing. (when appropriate...don't annoy the guy by asking too much) Focus on each task to become proficiant at it. Also, pay attention to how the experienced guys are doing things...they usually know what they're doing.

one more thing..take in the jobsites as a whole, much can be learned from other tradesmen as well.
Yeah, going from being a desk jockey to an electrician or "grunt" is a tough transition

So is highschool student to electrician

Kbrown, make sure you get a really, really comfortable pair of boots, Redwings are great, but pricey, I'd suggest walking a few miles in the bots to break them in before heading out to the jobsite, all cotton clothing is often recommended, it's comfortable, afordable, and fire-resistant. Many members on this forum will tell you of joints and backs that ache constantly from years of labor, if you're on your knees a lot, get kneepads, try to minimise stooping, and never lift with the back, always the knees. you'll be sore the first few days, get lots of rest and take some Advil, you'll adjust. Stretching before and after the job is often looked upon strangely, but it helps.

One thing I've told a couple of my friends that are going into the field is: don't let them turn you into a drone, if a drone you become, a drone you will forever be, ask quick questions of the more experienced sparkies on the site, try and learn as much as you can, many foremen appreciate curiosity, some will tell you you're "wasting their time" and tell you to shut up, that means they're a bad boss, but it doesn't sound like you're in a position to change jobs right now, so try and learn as much as you can on your own, use this site as a resource, read the old posts, and don't be afraid to ask questions, most of the people on this site are ready and willing to answer almost any quesiton, and the members have centuries of collective knowledge.

If anyone ever tells you you must work something hot, politely refuse, if they fire you you will have means of recourse, it's better to be unemployed than dead, also be careful with heights and around sharp objects, falls will kill you just as dead as electrocution, and cuts are a huge hazard, we have to work around tons of sharp edges and tools.

Many people in the trades look down upon those with "cushy" desk jobs, and you may well experience some additional prejudice, in addition to the normal ribbing the FNG gets. Just remember, your career experience doesn't mean jack, and if anyone tells you and diferent, calls you a pansy, smile, and prove them wrong, it's attitude and motivation that count, and you sound like you know that darn well.

Stay healthy, stay motivated, and you'll make it, keep in touch, and drop by the chat rooms.

Good Luck

The work is going to be more physical than you're used to. Even easy work is on your feet all day. Most work is production type work, so you're expected to do a certain amount of work every day. That means you're expected to work at a pretty quick pace all the time. Get in shape & keep safe (Safety First).

First, welcome to ECN.
That said, I teach (PT Even at County Vo-Tech) to 'entry level' guys entering the field. They range from 17 to 55 years old, and from all walks of life. Some are working in this field, some are making job/career adjustments. Office guys, truck drivers, maintenance guys, electronics guys, one (1) was/is a real live lic. Architect, and a few females over the years.

I talk to them nite one, about this field, and construction trades, weather, safety, physical and mental conditions, and anything else that pertains. YES, I 'loose' a few! Next I show a safety video, with arc flash accidents (staged testing), and perhaps I 'loose' another.

BTW, guys are IBEW and non-IBEW, not that that matters.

As to this site, ECN is a great place to hang out. You can 'learn'; you can ask questions, etc. DO NOT let the opinion of one guy 'sway' you to bail out. The decision has to be yours.

Good luck! Stay safe!

Happy Holidays; Merry Christmas!!

It's kind of funny hearing all the posts about how physically demanding our trade is.Having worked in masonry,roofing,drywall and some others.When I began my career 20 some years ago in electrical work I found it very easy physically.I also noticed there were more old guys in electrical work than most other trades.That being said I learn something new almost daily.When you think you know it all in this trade.You better put your tools down quick.Because it will not be pretty.Then again coming from a desk job you may not make it a month.Showing respect and doing as told will always serve you well.

Good luck!
".I also noticed there were more old guys in electrical work than most other trades"

Don't know if thats a compliment.....or an insult!

Surfin, I guess the physical ranges depends on what you do!
Originally Posted by Surfinsparky
...I also noticed there were more old guys in electrical work than most other trades.

Yeah, but check their knees... shocked
I suppose the physical part depends on what kind of electrician you are. Punching down CAT 5 cables and trimming out Romex is not that big a deal but if you are horsing 750MCM copper into a pipe or standing 50 feet in the air on pole gaffs driving "hard heads" into SYP poles that is about as physical as it gets.

I still wouldn't trade any of these jobs with the guy who is hot mopping a roof and throwing around 30 pound roof tile all day ... 30 feet off the ground.
I'm not going to judge you. Just because you came from behind a desk do not mean spit, your character does. I welcome you to the dark side. More then likely you will start off doing grunt work, digging, hauling light fixtures. My first day on the job was leaning on a shovel.

Constructions sites are inheritenly dangerous. Watch you step and balance, look up before go up, look down before going down, look before reaching grabbing, or stepping. Think before you do. Where good quality wook boots. They may cost you a few extra dollars but you can only go as far as your dogs will carry you. When required to were PPE (that is Personal Protection Equipment), wear it.

Be on time, listen, ask questions if you do not understand. Yours and other people lives may depend on it. There is no room for complacency in the electrical trade. Cardinal rule #1 working with electricity is always assume that it is hot. If you are going to work on something that was or could be hot, test it yourself. Takig someones word for it can be the last their you will ever hear besides your own screaming. Always put safety first, then quality then quanitity.
Be on time, listen, ask questions if you do not understand. Yours and other people lives may depend on it. There is no room for complacency in the electrical trade. Cardinal rule #1 working with electricity is always assume that it is hot. If you are going to work on something that was or could be hot, test it yourself. Takig someones word for it can be the last their you will ever hear besides your own screaming. Always put safety first, then quality then quanitity.

I agree with sparkyinak. You should definately add a voltage tester to your list of things to get, and always checking for voltage before working on a circuit is a great habit to get right from the start.
"I'm not going to judge you."
I am, And so wont half the crew.

"More then likely you will start off doing grunt work, digging, hauling light fixtures."
One must start some where. Don't be discouraged!

"My first day on the job was leaning on a shovel."
Mine, Useing it. (HEE,HEE,I know what you said (wink)).

--" Constructions sites are inheritenly dangerous. Watch you step and balance, look up before go up, look down before going down, look before reaching grabbing, or stepping. Think before you do. Where good quality wook boots. They may cost you a few extra dollars but you can only go as far as your dogs will carry you. When required to were PPE (that is Personal Protection Equipment), wear it. "--

The only thing to add here,(PPE) When required, OR!!!!! You FEEL it is needed!!! You first. Better to have and not need than to need and not have! Alot of unpredictable sh*t happens on a job, Be alert.

--"Be on time, listen, ask questions if you do not understand. Yours and other people lives may depend on it. There is no room for complacency in the electrical trade."==

The first two are very important. The third, remember, the only dumb question is the one "never asked".

Think for yourself, work it out, then confirm.
But now we're getting ahead of a 1st week apprentice.

Sincerly I will say.. WELCOME, to the trade. It is forever evolveing and an endless supply of chalenge, if you make it one.

SparkyinAK & aksparky,
Just a spoof on your posts. You both have awesome advice.

Kbrown: for the record, I stumbled into this feild at 22Yrs old (former truck driver). Best thing I have ever fell into.
Stick with it and be patiant. You won't(may not) regret it.

Hello, and welcome kbrown.

I just thought I would add my $0.02.

One thing I don't recall seeing anybody mention yet is to be prepared for the weather. I did residential work for a few years and let me tell doesn't stop just because winter rolls into town. If the townhouses you'll be working in haven't got heat in 'em yet it will be cold inside, and you need to be dressed for it. And even if they do have heaters inside, you may be required to assist with outside work which could possibly last all day (or week) long.

If you do need to dress for the cold, the key idea is to have several layers of good insulating clothes. If I'm working outside here's what I put on: lower thermal underwear, upper tee-shirt,(if it's really cold I put on full body thermals at this point), pants, light full-sleeved shirt, sweater (fleece is a good choice), overalls, fleece vest, heavy cotton hoody. And I keep my insulated overalls and heavy duty cotton duck winter coat (with hood) nearby. If you are in the cold you need to keep your head covered.

It may sound like overkill, but I can work outside in -25 to -30 weather all day...and you may be required to at some point also.

Some other points:

-If you have something explained to you and you don't understand, for pete's sake, say so. Don't ever say that you understand something if you really don't...ever.

-Don't put every tool that you could possibly need into your pouch and wear it all day every day, it will wreck your back and hips.

-If you need help, ask for help.

-Don't assume anything...assumption is the mother of all @&#*-ups.

-When buying tools, buy the best you can afford. It's cheaper in the long run, and it makes for easier work.

-If you finish a task and don't have anything to do then you should be tidying up, i.e. organize the materials and tools, sweep, clean the truck, put garbage in the bin, etc.

A few points I've seen that I agree with:
-Get a good pair of knee pads, your knees will thank you later
-Watch out for sharp objects, especially a knife with replaceable snap-type blades. These knives can be extremely dangerous, especially when equipped with a fresh blade. You do NOT want to slip with one of these bad boys.
-Construction sites are inherently dangerous places. You need to remain aware of your surroundings at all times, and this includes the other people working around you.

I think the best thing you can do to ensure success in this (or any other) field of work is quite simply to keep at it. If somebody tells you that you won't make it, just smile and keep at it. When you're digging a trench and you feel like you can't do it any more, just grin and bear it and dig another shovel full. If you do get all the dirty, hard "grunt" work, just do it and move on. In five years it will all be behind you and you'll be glad you stuck it out. Trust me, I know. I got into the trade six years ago when I was 28.

Good Luck!

I started to put down the weather but I for forgot how to work in good, dry weather. Typically here the weather is crap with a 100% of chance of crap tommorow with the extended outlook being crappy. If it is not snowing, it is raining then it freezes I have to change out two solar arrays and move a ton of batteries.
Great! Thanks for the replies and advice (even the harsher sounding stuff). This is all EXTREMELY helpful.

I'm pretty nervous about the whole thing, but I have a good boss by all accounts.

I'll look into the Red Wings. There used to be a dealer not far from me. All my other tools will be provided by the company and taken out of my pay.

Other than that I'll try not to kill myself the first day, be 'Johnny-on-the-spot' and take it from there.

I'll definitely be reading the forums from time to time. I'm excited as hell to be getting this opportunity and feel pretty lucky.


With any job you start at there will be hazing and there are dues to pay.

I started out 15 years ago in the Air Force. Today I'm a licensed Master with a contractors license and own my company. Since it's just me and my wife working the company there are times I'm a master electrician and there are times I'm digging a ditch.

This is a SKILLED trade. Mistakes can lead to anything from nuisance problems to death.

Spend the money on good knee pads. Mine cost $30 at Lowes but I can kneel on ceiling joists all day and am not sore at the end of the day, this advice after having 4 knee surgeries. Get a good padded tool belt, not just a leather strap with a pouch on it, it makes a world of difference when you have to wear it for 8-12 hrs a day.
I dont think I saw in anyones post, SAFETY glasses. Get a comfortable pair that you will wear from the time you step out of the truck till you get back in!! Get use to wearing them, and pay people no mind who give you crap for it!

You should NEVER be allowed in a panel either as entry level! You should NEVER work hot! A good way to judge whom you work for is to observe his work habits. Being new this wont be easy for you. Does he use hot gloves, and safety equip when working in panel?

So many of us get complacent. And as someone stated in this post you cannot be in this field. But you will see, people are. The attitude, "I know what I am doing so I work hot is BS!" I dont care who the electrician is!

This trade can KILL you and or HARM/BURN you fast!

I am not trying to scare you either. If someone makes you work hot, especially at your level. QUIT and go somewhere else.

It is actually illegal to work hot unless shutting down the equipment is a Life Safety issue. Also two people minimum are required to be right there in case of accident.

You should get yourself a NFPA 70E book and read it. More than once!!! And keep it with you. Employer should provide code book.

Observe your employer and lead men. Do they ever look in a code book? If your employer seems to use half ass practice, go somewhere else to work. Learning bad habits are hard to get rid of. And above all,USE COMMON SENSE!
Keep your head on a swivel and always be aware of where you are.
Never walk on the plywood until you know that you can. It may just be a piece of 1/2" covering a floor penetration.
Help out where and when you can; and stay out of the way when you need to.
Remember that the right of way should go to whoever has the hardest time maneuvering. If you've got a box of 1900 box covers and the plumber has a 10' length of 2" cast iron...let him go first.
Play nice with the other kids and you'll get along well and get respect from everyone else on the site.

Stay safe...
Welcome to the trade, kbrown. Everyone here has some great advice for you. Listen to the "old-timers" on the job - they've been there/done that and will give you great tips if you listen. It's up to you to determine what kind of tradesman you will be. You will eventually pick the best styles and qualities of the different people you work with over the years to create your own "identity" in the trade.

Don't let the knowledge you gain go to your head - too many apprentices think they know it all. When you become a journeyman, that's when all the things you learned during your apprenticeship come together, and THEN the learning begins. The great thing about this trade is that you will always be learning, and will continue to do so until you retire.

Good luck!
Welcome to the trade Kbrown. Forget all that, "you can't make it" baloney. I'll be 61 in a couple weeks and I am still doing it. I worked for a guy like Gmack a long time ago. I threatened to toss him out a fourth floor window on the job and we got along much better after that. Eventually I was forced to tell him where to stick his job.

For you, just listen, do what your told, have thick skin, be safe, and keep your eye on the prize - a Journeyman card. The work can be hard, like the guy who mentioned wrestling with 350 MCM wire. It can also be pretty darned easy, like bending conduit and pulling #12's. The job varies. That is what I love about it. You might too. Watch the jm's and the masters. That is what you can look forward to.

Good luck to you and hang in there. I started my first year in 1968. And I'm still here.
© ECN Electrical Forums