Taking the Next Step: How to Become a Journeyman Electrician

The future is bright for journeyman electricians, but individuals might not know the path to get there. Here’s a complete breakdown of steps to take.
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How to Become a Journeyman Electrician
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Becoming a journeyman electrician is more than a rite of passage. “Journeyman” is a medieval term used to describe a craftsperson who has successfully completed an apprenticeship and has earned the right to charge for a day’s work. While labor laws have changed over the past few centuries, becoming a journeyman means electricians will get paid more, work without supervision, and even supervise apprentices of their own.

When looking into how to become a journeyman electrician, individuals will want to fully understand the training, electrician education, and certification process. Those who are thinking about starting a lucrative career in the trades can then use this information to get started on their future.

Before You Begin…

How to Become a Journeyman Electrician
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“Journeyman electrician” is the technical term for someone who has completed their apprenticeship program and received an electrician’s license, but has not yet reached the level of mastery. According to Independent Electrical Contractors Rocky Mountain, each state’s rules and regulations about what it takes to become a journeyman vary—for example, Colorado requires 8,000 hours of electrical experience, while Wyoming requires 8,000 hours of experience and 576 hours of schooling. It’s important for an electrician to get to know their local licensing board’s requirements before starting down this path.

Becoming a journeyman electrician truly is a journey. These experts start out as trainee electricians (known as apprentices), work for other journeyman electricians, attend classes, and eventually earn the right to take their licensing test. According to Construction Ready, this takes around 4 years or 8,000 supervised hours, so aspiring electricians will want to plan on putting in the time to become a journeyman electrician.

Tips for Becoming a Journeyman Electrician

  • Get a high school diploma or GED. Most local licensing boards require electricians to carry a high school diploma or GED, so aspiring electricians will need to finish high school or acquire a GED if they haven’t already.
  • Make time for learning. Before taking the licensing exam, electricians will need to devote time to studying for exams. There are practical and academic tests that they’ll have to pass along the way to becoming a journeyman electrician.
  • Research licensing requirements. Trainee electricians will need to understand their state’s requirements for journeyman electrician license applicants. Doing so helps them save time in the long run.
  • Research state requirements for starting a business. Journeyman electricians will want to check with their local licensing authority to determine whether they can start their own business or if they will need a master electrician license to do so.

Requirements to Become a Journeyman Electrician

The journey to becoming a journeyman electrician may differ from state to state. However, there are certain common requirements an individual must meet in order to become a licensed electrician.

  • Complete an electrical apprenticeship.
  • Study for and pass the journeyman electrician licensing exam.
  • Meet state-mandated requirements, such as passing a background check, getting contractor insurance, and getting a business license.

STEP 1: Complete an apprenticeship

“The first level [for an electrician] would be an apprentice; this is someone training to become a licensed electrician,” explains Stephan Cole, corporate field trainer with Rosendin, a nationwide electrical contractor with headquarters in San Jose, California.

The first step to take when becoming a journeyman electrician is to complete an apprenticeship. But this is a massive oversimplification of the process, as it takes years to get there. This is different from attending one of the best online electrician schools or local trade schools, but attending classes can also be helpful in streamlining the process of training to become a journeyman electrician.

According to ElectricalSchool.org, there are two ways for an individual to get their apprentice electrician license. The first is to look for private contractors that are looking for apprentices. These companies will hire entry-level employees for some of the less-desirable jobs, including running back and forth to the vehicle, digging trenches, and cleaning up. The other approach is to find a local union and apply for an apprenticeship. Unions run strictly regimented apprenticeship programs, and the pay is typically better, but apprentices working for a union can be bounced from jobsite to jobsite at a moment’s notice.

Once an individual is hired as an apprentice, they’ll have to complete the apprenticeship program prescribed by the state’s licensing board. Generally speaking, this is 4 years of on-the-job training under the supervision of a journeyman or master electrician. Also, these programs usually have educational requirements, such as a set amount of classwork and tests.

During this time, apprentices are taught how to install electrical systems and devices, use the best electrician tools, plan and design simple projects, and work on their own. As the apprenticeship continues, the journeyman will give the apprentice more opportunities to solve problems on their own, preparing them for journey-level work. However, an apprentice doesn’t automatically graduate to becoming a journeyman at the completion of their apprenticeship; there is more to the process than that.

How to Become a Journeyman Electrician
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STEP 2: Check the journeyman electrician licensing requirements in your jurisdiction.

Every state has a licensing body that handles contractor licensing. Some have boards specific to electrical contractors. These boards determine what the requirements are to become a journeyman electrician within the state, from the on-site work requirements to the education standards that apprentices must meet before they can apply to take their journeyman exam.

Most of these electrician requirements will be listed on the licensing body’s website. Requirements may include items such as a successfully completed apprenticeship, a background check free of felony convictions, a legal address within the state, and other relatively basic qualifications. Fingerprinting might also be a requirement, but many electricians handle this during the apprenticeship phase of their careers. “[A] journeyman has completed an apprenticeship and passed the licensing exam,” explains Cole.

It’s also worth noting that some local jurisdictions, such as major cities or counties, will have their own licensing requirements for electrical contractors. These are usually different from the licensing requirements for journeyman electricians, so individuals will want to check to ensure they’re following the requirements for journeyman electricians, not electrical contractors. If there are any questions, they can call the local licensing authority for clarification.

Knowing and understanding what the electrician license requirements are ensures that an aspiring journeyman electrician is not wasting time, which will mean they’re eligible to take their licensing exam as soon as possible.

STEP 3: Study and familiarize yourself with the National Electrical Code (NEC).

The National Electrical Code, or NEC, is essentially the guidebook for all electricians in the United States. It’s produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and contains all the guidelines and standards that electricians need to understand about the installation, maintenance, and inspection of electrical systems.

Understanding the NEC is essential to passing the journeyman electrician’s exam. Electricians will have to know specific codes, how to use the NEC, and how to carry out work that complies with its guidelines. However, the NEC is updated every 3 years, which means that electricians need to stay up to date on the latest edition.

The NEC isn’t important only for exam purposes, though. Journeyman electricians often refer to their copies of the NEC while they’re working on a project. Similarly, master electricians need an even more in-depth knowledge of the NEC to pass their exam and perform work to the standard that their license requires. When the time comes for a journeyman electrician to pursue a master’s license, this guidebook is essential.

The NEC is almost universally adopted across the U.S., but there are a few standout states that have yet to adopt it as the state standard. For example, only local jurisdictions within the states of Arizona, Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri recognize the NEC as the standard for electrical work.

STEP 4: Schedule a date for your licensing exam and review practice tests.

The next step to becoming a certified electrician is for the individual to schedule their exam. After checking all the requirements for becoming a journeyman electrician and becoming intimately familiar with the NEC, aspiring electricians will want to check their state’s licensing board for upcoming journeyman electricians’ exams. One requirement that is entirely universal is that there will be a fee to take the exam.

While many states will require individuals to apply first, get approved, and then schedule their exam, not all do. An applicant can give themselves time to complete the required paperwork, submit their application, complete a background check, and meet whatever other requirements their state has set forth.

After the applicant has chosen their test date, they’ll need to start studying. Students can purchase journeyman electricians’ test handbooks online or in bookstores. These guidebooks often contain practice tests to help the student get a better understanding of the type of questions the exam will ask. These practice tests are designed after real tests, so students will want to treat them as timed tests to make the conditions as realistic as possible.

How to Become a Journeyman Electrician
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STEP 5: Pass the licensing exam and start working as a licensed journeyman electrician.

An applicant will want to make sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam, and eat brain-healthy foods such as those rich in omega-3s, antioxidants, and healthy proteins. Also, they’ll want to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to perform their best.

Applicants will know if they have passed or failed the test when the test results are mailed to their home within a few weeks. If the applicant passed, they will be able to file for a journeyman electrician’s license. This typically comes with another fee, but it’s the next step in an electrician’s evolution from an apprentice to a journeyman.

Once an individual is a licensed electrician, they’re eligible to start working as a journeyman electrician. This usually means very little supervision (though they may still have to work under a master electrician’s license). It also means significantly more money per hour and the ability to supervise apprentices and offload some of the less-desirable work to entry-level electricians. Many journeyman electricians relish the opportunity to give back and hand down their knowledge and experience while also benefiting from younger, eager apprentices doing the majority of the dirty work.

STEP 6: If desired, you can start your own business as a journeyman electrician.

Many states allow journeyman electricians to work on their own. For those who desire entrepreneurship, being their own boss, and setting their own fees, this can be the runway to launching a successful contracting business and a bright future. However, there are some things to consider.

When an electrician is working for an employer, the employer will typically handle the employee’s health and general liability insurance. If an electrician is working for themselves, they’ll be responsible for securing these policies. Also, they will want to understand how to get a business license in their state and meet any requirements the licensing board might have regarding electrical contractors and other types of business licenses. An electrician working for themselves will also have to plan for taxes as well as vehicles, tools, and other business expenses such as administrative software, marketing, and employees. Working with one of the best LLC services, such as LegalZoom or Northwest Registered Agent, can help a business owner ensure they are meeting the requirements of their state or local jurisdiction.

A self-employed electrician will also need to research how much an electrician costs to hire on average in their region. They can then use this information to set competitive fees while ensuring that they are making a profit. It’s also wise for an electrician to list their prices clearly on their website so when a potential customer searches online for “hire an electrician near me,” they have an idea of what they will pay.

Many local jurisdictions require electrical contractors to hold a license with the jurisdiction as well. Even if a journeyman has a journeyman’s license and a contractor’s license with the state, they’ll have to pay for a license within these jurisdictions before they’re able to pull permits and complete work.

There are also cases where journeyman electricians are not allowed to work completely on their own. In some states, there may be a requirement that the journeyman works under the license of a master electrician. When this is the case, many contractors simply hire an employee with master electrician certifications and run the entire business under that person’s license. This makes master electricians extremely valuable, providing more reasons for electricians to keep obtaining higher electrician levels and climbing the certification ladder.

Finally, a journeyman electrician who wishes to run their own electrical business will want to get adequate coverage from one of the best small-business insurance companies, such as NEXT or Thimble. Coverage requirements may vary from state to state, but most businesses will want to have general liability coverage at the very least and may also need workers’ compensation insurance, professional liability insurance, and business equipment insurance.