Featured image for a blog post about how to get an electrical certification

How To Get an Electrical Certification

Table of Contents

As the construction industry grows each year, businesses and employers with more at stake are turning to skilled tradesmen with proven competency for their projects.

Proof of skills and experience is a critical factor in your ability to get a high-paying job or earn a lucrative contract. I have helped thousands of electricians around the state of California get their electrical certifications.

Everyone wants to earn more money and ultimately gain more freedom. In today’s market, simply having the skills is not enough. You must have documented proof to back up your wage demands.

The following article will break down everything you need to know about the electrical certification process in California. 

What is an Electrical Certification?

A certification is an official document that proves an individual’s experience or level of competency. In California, all electricians that are working under a C-10 electrical contractor or making connections of greater than 100 volts must hold an electrical certification.

Protecting the interests of the public is something that is taken very seriously in the state of California. So laws have been put into place to protect the interests of the consumer public.

There are 5 classifications available:

1. General Electrician

2. Residential Electrician

3. Fire/Life Safety Technician

4. Voice/Data/Video Technician

5. Non-Residential Lighting Technician

What is an Electrical Contractor

A contractor is someone who has proven a minimum of 4 years of journey-level experience and passed both the California contractor LAW and TRADE examination.

A contractor is legally allowed to bid on an electrical project where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500. Electrical companies doing large projects and individual electricians working in a residential or commercial setting, hold the C-10 license.

An electrical contractor will hold the license and place the bid, but they may have someone helping them and performing tasks. This person must hold an electrical certification. An individual holding the C-10 license does not need an electrical certification.


Logo of the contractors state license board. illustration features a paint brush, hand saw and cement truck with the letters CSLB above in white

The Contractors State License Board is the governing agency for contractors in the state of California. They ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services has a contractor license and active bond.

They have offices all over the state and conduct sting operations to combat unlicensed construction activity.

Division of Labor Standards Enforcement

The Division of labor standards enforcement is an agency that functions under the California Department of Industrial Relations.

This branch of government handles everything from safe working conditions and fair compensation to enacting labor standards for specialized tradesman. 

Everything about electrical certifications, tests, fees, and certification renewals is handled by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

What is the NEC?

Logo of the National Electrical Code. the electrical certification exam is based on NEC codes

The electrical certification exam is based on standards set by the National Electrical Code. Electrical codes similar to other construction codes are typically adopted regionally. They are standards put in place to ensure a level of quality associated with construction.

The goal of the NEC is to create a standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring or equipment ideally reducing the hazards associated with an unsafe electrical system set up.

As of 2018, twenty-six states have adopted the national electrical code as their standard. The NEC codebook is updated every three years.

The electrical certification must also be renewed to reflect updated wiring practices. Some of the key concepts that you must know are:

The Electrical Certification Exam

There are 100 questions on the exam, and you will have 4 hours to complete. The test is multiple choice, and it will be taken on a computer. You will receive a practice test before the final exam.

The test is open book, so you will be able to use your NEC codebook. A 70% score is required to pass. The exam is also available in Spanish.

If you fail the exam, you will have to wait 60 days before you can retake it, and it will cost $100 per retake. Here you will find the application to retake the exam.  

There are 22 testing locations around the state of California. 

What is on the Exam?

Below is a breakdown of what will be on the electrical certification exam:

Electrical system requirements   22%

  • Theory 
  • Symbols and Diagrams    
  • Feeder and Branch Circuit Sizing    
  • Motors 
  • Circuit Protection
  • Grounding and Bonding        

Maintenance and repair  6%

  • Testing Equipment   
  • Devices    
  • Branch Circuits 
  • Over-current Devices

Installation 66%

  • Wiring Methods
  • Special Equipment
  • Special Occupancies
  • Lighting
  • Motors
  • HVAC/Refrigeration
  • Low Voltage Systems
  • Devices
  • Lighting and Panel Boards
  • Grounding and Bonding
  • Communications
  • Fire Systems
  • Box Sizing
  • Conduit Sizing
  • Conductor Sizing
  • General Equipment
  • Service Sizing
  • Clearances
  • Terminations
  • Over current Devices

Sample Test Questions

1) Of the following output characteristics, which is NOT required to be compatible with the output of a generator or other electric power production source operating in parallel with an electrical supply system?

  1.     Voltage

  2.     Amperage

  3.     Wave Shape

  4.     Frequency

2) What is the MINIMUM bending radius for a power and control tray cable with a metallic shielding?

  1.     Six times the overall diameter of the cable

  2.     Eight times the overall diameter of the cable

  3.     Ten times the overall diameter of the cable

  4.     Twelve times the overall diameter of the cable

3) The working space in front of fire or electrical equipment may be used to store

  1.     nothing.

  2.     electrical panels.

  3.     fluorescent lamps.

  4.     janitorial equipment.

4) Surface nonmetallic raceways that have limited smoke-producing characteristics shall be

  1.     listed for the purposes.

  2.     approved for use.

  3.     permitted to be so identified.

  4.     suitable for installation.

5) What is the MAXIMUM number of branch circuit conductors permitted in a recognized wiring method between luminaries connected together on a single phase 120/240 volt system?

  1.     2 conductors

  2.     3 conductors

  3.     4 conductors

  4.     5 conductors

6) In what location are disconnecting means NOT required for individual luminaries with fluorescent double ended lamps and ballasts?

  1.     Dwelling unit

  2.     Hazardous

  3.     Industrial

  4.     Commercial

7) The top of a 12 inch deep wall cabinet, installed in a room with electric space heating cables embedded in the ceiling, shall be below the ceiling no less than

  1.     3 inches.

  2.     6 inches.

  3.     12 inches.

  4.     18 inches.

8) Non-heating leads from fixed outdoor electric deicing and snow melting embedded resistance heating panels shall be permitted to be protected by

  1.     electrical non-metallic tubing.

  2.     non-metallic rigid conduit.

  3.     grounding sheath.

  4.     cable armor.

General Electrician Answer Key

  1. 2
  2. 4
  3. 1
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 1
  7. 3
  8. 3
  9. 4
  10. 3

Verifying your hours of experience

To be accepted to take the electrical certification exam. You will need to prove a minimum of 8,000 hours on the job experience. The Department of industrial relations will request your social security number with your application to prove these work hours. 

The penalty for working without certification or presenting a false certification is that you will be barred from actually taking the exam and getting certified for 7 years.

In order to be certified, an applicant must have the required experience as set forth herein, and pass a certification examination under Section 291.3. An applicant must provide proof of experience which may be done by showing:

     (1) successful completion of an apprenticeship program approved by the California Apprenticeship Council, the federal Bureau of Apprenticeship Training, or a state apprenticeship council authorized by the federal Bureau of Apprenticeship Training to approve apprenticeship programs, in the classification for which certification is sought; or    

     (2) on-the-job experience, as follows:    

     General Electrician: 8000 hours of work for a C-10 electrical contractor installing, constructing or maintaining electrical systems covered by the National Electrical Code. The 8000 hours must consist of work in two or more of the following areas, and the maximum number of hours in a particular area that may be counted toward the 8000 hour total are as follows:    

     Stock room and Material handling – 300 hours    

     Residential Wiring – 3000 hours    

     Commercial Wiring – 6000 hours    

     Industrial Wiring – 6000 hours    

     Voice Data and Video installation – 1500 hours    

     Underground Conduit installation – 750 hours    

     Troubleshooting and Maintenance – 1500 hours    

     Finish Work and fixtures – 600 hours    

     Fire/Life Safety, Nurse call – 600 hours

Info for Electricians from out of state

Electricians looking to do business in California must either hold the C-10 license or Electrical Certification. There is no grace period for out of state electricians, all tradesman from out of state performing electrical work must be licensed or certified regardless of the length of the project. If you have a license or certification from out of state this wont transfer over to California but you will be eligible to sit for the exam.

Becoming an Electrical Trainee

If you do not have enough hours to qualify to take the exam you can register with the DIR as an electrical trainee. You must also show proof of enrollment with a state approved school. Here you can find the application.

How to Apply

a hand holding a pencil filling out an application

To apply for an exam date for your electrical certification you must first fill out an application, which you can find here.

Typically the application process takes 4-6 six weeks, but if you haven’t heard from them, I would suggest that you call the office number of the Department of industrial relations which is: (510) 286-3900. 

If for whatever reason you change your address during the application process you can submit a change of address form. Which you can find here. In addition to your application and fees, you will need to include a copy of your work history through the social security administration. You can request this form here.

Electrical Certification Exam Costs

With your application, you will need to submit a fee of $175. This payment can be made in a check or money order.

$100 exam fee

$75  administrative fee

Check, or money order must be made out to DIR-Electrician Certification Fund

Fees are non-refundable

Renewing your Electrical Certification

Two electricians fixing a telephone pole. The electrical certification must be renewed every three years

The electrical certification must be renewed every three years. To get your certification renewed, you will have proof at least 2,000 hours of work experience in the last 3 years.

Also, you must complete a 32-hour continuing education course related to your area of electrical expertise. For a list of approved continuing education courses click here. The DIR gives 1 year before the expiration date of your certification to renew as long as you have completed your continuing education course.

The cost of renewal is $100, check or money order payable to DIR – Electrician Certification Fund. If you are renewing your certification after the expiration date, you won't need to complete a continuing education course but you will have to include $200 with your application and will only have one chance to pass the exam, or you will be considered working illegally. You can find the renewal application here.

Get your Electrical Certification today!

Getting your electrical certification can be a straightforward process if you follow these instructions and take the time to prepare yourself for the examination.

It is no secret that skilled electricians are in ever increasing demand. I have known electricians that have held the electrical certification their entire careers and made substantial amounts of money being a key employee to a C-10 electrical contractor.

There are an unlimited amount of opportunities available for those that take the time to invest in themselves and their education. For more information on getting an electrical certification or becoming a C-10 electrical contractor, subscribe to our email list.