How to Become a Journeyman Electrician (US)

Are you interested in becoming an electrician? It will take years to learn how, but like most good things, it's worth the effort. There are different requirements in different locations, but the generic procedure is below.


  1. Image titled Become a Journeyman Electrician (US) Step 1
    Get formal training. Ideally, this is done at a technical school or as a part of an IBEW apprentice training program. The technical school training can be obtained after high school, or as part of the high school curriculum in a vocational / technical high school. The IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)[1] offers paid training for a limited number of interested candidates. Selection is competitive and based on a number of different factors that vary by location and economy. IBEW training is typically 4 years in duration, but may also vary by local area. Contact the local IBEW union office for more information about this training. Finally, most branches (if not all) of the U.S. armed forces provide paid training and generous benefits to those that choose this career path at the time of enlistment.
  2. Image titled Become a Journeyman Electrician (US) Step 2
    Get working. Those already with a year or more of training are usually called helpers (terminology may vary by location). Helpers can expect to be assigned to work with one (or more) journeyman electricians on job sites. It is expected that helpers have a basic working knowledge of electrical safety, hand tools and electrical construction methods. If starting out as an apprentice however, these will have to be learned on the job (and in the case of IBEW apprenticeship training - a classroom) while working under the close supervision of a journeyman electrician. It is not uncommon for larger companies to start apprentices delivering materials, tools, etc. to job sites. While not the best exposure to the trade, it will help those new to this field learn to identify the large assortment of tools and materials in the electrical trade. Eventually, progression will move apprentices out of delivery trucks and on to the job site.
  3. Image titled Become a Journeyman Electrician (US) Step 3
    Determine requirements for licensing. License requirements vary by location. Working in an area that has a formal licensing procedure will usually require obtaining a license to progress into the higher wage tiers as an electrician. While there are locations that have no licensing, many others require at least one or more: state, county or city license(s). Contact the local code enforcement office for specifics or contact information for the licensing authority in the jurisdiction that work is desired. Many licensing authorities required that a minimum amount of documented time has been spent working in the trade to be eligible for license examination. It is not uncommon for 6,000 to 8,000 hour minimum time requirements. Additionally, many licensing authorities will credit only up to 2,000 per year (no credit for overtime hours) and further limit the amount of hours sought for credit earned attending school or working on military installations. Examples of documentation include tax information (W-4) or pay stubs, school transcripts (if claiming time spent attending a technical school), etc. for time spent working as an apprentice or helper under the direct supervision of a journeyman electrician. Keep these documents safe for proof of time spent working in the trade.
  4. Image titled Become a Journeyman Electrician (US) Step 4
    Study the Electrical Code. Most licensing authorities and electrical wiring inspectors use the National Electrical Code (NEC) or a derivative of it, for electrical code enforcement. Determine if the version used for enforcement is the NEC, or other state, county or city code, and become familiar with the codes for that area.
  5. Image titled Become a Journeyman Electrician (US) Step 5
    Prepare for testing. Determine the format of the exam. Some tests involve one or more: multiple choice, essay, computation, practical (hands on) and verbal examination. Use of the Code Book may or may not be permitted during the exam. Obtaining aides (tabs for the code book, etc.) for the particular type exam offered can be a wise investment. Many licensing authorities make use of a two part examination; a written test described above and a practical examination. The practical is designed to identify individuals that have never really performed the work in the field - but only have a very good understanding of the Code.


  • Some larger employers offer classroom training at night or on weekends. Working in the trade is only a part of the craft. Understanding the why and how are very large parts of what an electrician does. Learning this will be up to the apprentice to obtain on his / her own time, and likely, expense. As mentioned above, it is likely that some formal classroom training will be required as a prerequisite to take a journeyman exam.
  • The progression in many trades is apprentice, helper (some places use both terms to mean the same thing), journeyman and finally master. The differences between journeyman and master is largely business knowledge. A journeyman electrician is licensed "for hire" (many laws aren't very clear on a "for hire" definition), so many journeyman lend themselves "to hire" by homeowners, etc., Some believe that the law was originally intended to mean "for hire" by a master licensee, only. Some licensing authorities in those locations insist that a journeyman only work for a master - hence the "business license" of the master licensee. Further, in those states, electrical laws prohibit journeymen from advertising (as this would be something a business does - yet motor vehicle laws often require commercially registered vehicles to have the business name and telephone number painted on the sides), The master licensee generally does not have to demonstrate additional electrical knowledge in the master license exam than the journeyman license exam.
  • The term "journeyman" is often a level of license (followed by the next level "master") but in locations lacking a formal licensing process or examination, may be bestowed on anyone that has worked in a trade a minimum number of years. It is expected that after a person has worked a predetermined amount of time, s/he should have achieved a certain level of expertise. Many states, counties and / or cities prefer to test for this level of knowledge, rather than automatically assuming it has been attained. Licensing assures employers and the public of a minimum level of competency.
  • Being an electrician does not confine him / her to wiring houses. Most electricians start doing this work, it becomes old very quickly. Get exposed to commercial and industrial wiring. Learn electronics and motor control concepts - but don't stop there - try data, alarm and telecom systems, too. The field is wide open, and is limited only by what interests you. Working as an electrician in a factory can also be very rewarding - even if a license isn't required (many employers prefer licensed electricians as opposed to those non-licensed) as the work is often varied and exposes the electrician to all types of equipment seldom seen elsewhere.
  • Since it will take 3, 4 or more years to become a journeyman electrician, it is best to start young. Vocational / technical high school education is ideal for many trade occupations, due to the amount of time needed to become proficient and knowledgeable electrician. With that, solid wages and benefits follow. Starting pay for a first year apprentice is usually not too much more than minimum wage. Wage increases come with progression to 2nd, 3rd and 4th year helpers. In some places, senior helpers can earn 75% of journeymen electrician's pay. Licensed journeyman and master electricians can earn very comfortable wages, plus benefits depending on geographical location, type of work, etc.[2]


  • Time spent performing electrical maintenance work in factories and other locations will most likely not count towards the hours needed for licensing. Licensed electricians are required to install wires, cables, conduits, equipment, etc. as a result, maintenance electrical work (such as changing ballasts, replacing light bulbs, etc.) usually does not require a license; so the time spent performing that type of work will not qualify for credit towards license examination.

Things You'll Need

  • Electrician's tool pouch & belt
  • Assorted width & length Philips and straight blade screwdrivers
  • Electrician's hammer (has a straighter nail pulling claw)
  • Slip-joint pipe pliers (also called "pump pliers" or "channel locks")
  • Lineman's pliers (9 inch or 10 inch - longer types cut much easier)
  • Diagonal cutting pliers (dikes)
  • Tape measure
  • Knife
  • Hard hat (only needed if the job site requires use)
  • Safety glasses
  • Leather work boots (preferably non-conductive ceramic toe safety type & 3/4" heel)
  • NEC or other local Electrical Code Book

Sources and Citations

  2. Data from the 2007 (most recent as of this writing) U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics for electrician's wages can be found here.

Article Info

Categories: Tradesman Occupations