Becoming an electrician gives you the opportunity to have a solid career. There will always be a need for people who can wire and rewire the systems that keep our homes, office buildings, and stores running. But what’s the best way to get your training? Should you join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), or should you go for non-union work? Let's look at the benefits and disadvantages of both.
Union Electrical Apprenticeships
If you know for a fact that there's plenty of union work to go around in your area (and you don't see that changing soon), then you should probably choose IBEW. You'll get good training, earn good money, and receive a great retirement plan. The problem here is that many places don't have this kind of work to go around for the volume of people who are in the union—and many employers hire non-union workers.
You also won't have as much of a chance to shine in a union job, since most workers aren't categorized by their skills. You'll still need to prove yourself before you’ll be able to join the union, but once you're in there are no ranking distinctions. You'll also be required to pay dues every year, which can get expensive, and there are no shortage of rules—some of which might make you feel stifled in your creativity and overall work environment.
Non-Union Electrical Apprenticeships
Non-union apprenticeships and gigs can be easier to find, if you choose not to go with an IBEW apprenticeship. In terms of your training, you'll still generally receive very good instruction and mentor-ship in non-union programs. They can also give you a greater sense of independence, as you're not relying on the union for your bread and butter.
You can only work in union jobs if you choose to join IBEW—you can never change your mind and go non-union. Should you not be able to find a union job in your location, you'll need to collect unemployment. This is incredibly frustrating for someone who is skilled and wants to be able to work.
Making The Choice
The IBEW has got a lot of weight behind it, and its collective power appeals to a lot of people. If you appreciate having people in your corner to fight for you, then this might be a good fit for you.
If you prefer walking your own path, then the uncertainty of pay and retirement programs in non-union work may outweigh the disadvantages of being in the union.
You should always talk to a few people who know the field in the area you want to work and ask about the trends that he or she has seen since starting. If there's very little turnover in the union jobs, then that can help you make your decision. Staying informed about regional specific information will be your smartest move.