featured image for a blog post about the difference between a journeyman and apprentice

Apprentice vs. Journeyman: What is the Difference?

Table of Contents

A contractor with a gold tool belt holding a red hard hat. Journeyman level tradesman can earn substantial income

Getting into construction and becoming a journeyman is the single greatest opportunity of our generation for millennials.

Forbes has reported that as of 2018 there are approximately 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

If you are reading this, you were probably sold the College degree pipe dream, or maybe you are getting ready to graduate high school and trying to figure out your next step. 

The traditional college route may work for some, but make no mistake about it. The world is changing fast. Gone are the days where companies were willing to hire and invest money into someone solely for their college degree.

What were once high-paying stable careers are being replaced at the drop of a hat either by technology or cheaper overseas labor. In today’s marketplace, you have to bring tangible skills to the table.

You must deliver value and become a critical piece of someone’s business.

A lucrative career with little investment

knowing the difference between an apprentice vs journeyman is the first step in beginning a potentially lucrative career in the construction trades

I spent years working with tradesmen across the country helping them get licensed, set up businesses, obtain certifications, and further their careers.

 I met 25-year-old landscapers making as much as doctors, plumbers earning six figures, and electricians supporting their families very comfortably. 

Staffing firms around the country consistently report skilled trades (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, welding, bricklayers, masons, and more) as the hardest positions to fill.

With the construction industry set to reach $1 Trillion in 2019, investing in yourself and choosing a career in the construction trades is one of the smartest investments you can make in yourself.

A fundamental step in becoming a top earner within the construction is by becoming a journeyman. This article will break down everything you need to know about finding an apprenticeship program and becoming a journeyman in your trade.

What the term “Apprenticeship” means

Apprenticeships are training programs for someone learning a trade or vocational area of expertise. Apprenticeships exist in many different fields.

Within the construction industry, they can be official schools but also could also be an unofficial association between a master tradesman and a beginner.

Some apprenticeships are paid on the job training, while others may take place in a school setting with certifications or job placement gained at the end. 

What apprenticeship should I do?

A landscaper holding a pair of garden shears. When choosing an apprenticeship, individuals should choose an area of construction that interests them enough to where they would realistically stick with it long enough to reach the level of journeyman

The answer to this question depends on what you see yourself doing as a career.

Maybe you have always had an interest in taking things apart and rebuilding them, and the technical aspect of electrical work makes sense for you.

Perhaps you have a family member who is a plumber or landscaper and have some knowledge already.

There are apprenticeships in a variety of trades including:

  • HVAC 
  • Electrical 
  • Welding 
  • Carpentry 
  • Roofing 
  • Painting
  • Landscaping
  • and many more

All trades provide a high income once you reach a certain level, so choosing an apprenticeship should primarily be based on your interests and current skill set.

Official apprenticeships are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.

How long is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship programs vary in length depending on the trade. Every construction trade is different and requires a different level of competency to begin working professionally.

Generally, they can be about 2 years, but some may last up to 6 years or need a certain amount of registered hours or testing to be completed.

Age requirements and costs of apprenticeships

Most apprenticeships require you to be at least 18 years old.

However, many will accept you at 16 with permission from your parents. 

  • Applicants for formal apprenticeships must hold a high school diploma or GED.
  • Often there are basic math skills and physical ability standards that must be met, however, this may vary depending on the area of expertise.

In California alone, 1,400 programs are serving 73,000 apprentices, so the opportunities are there.

  • The cost of a construction apprenticeship program again depends on what kind of program you are looking for. 
  • One thing I can guarantee is that it is way cheaper than paying the University of fill in the blank $40,000 per year for a degree in sociology.

What is a journeyman?

A person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker, not a trainee, and is fully qualified and able to perform a specific trade without supervision” – CSLB.GOV

Similar to an apprentice, the term journeyman is used across a variety of different professions. In the context of construction, a journeyman is pretty much someone that knows enough about their job to work on a job site without being supervised and take over operations if necessary.

Journeyman experience

A residential home in the processing of construction, outside on a blue day. Journeyman level contractors have the ability to earn very comfortable income levels

Construction trades vary regarding the amount of information one may need to know to achieve journeyman level, so again this term can be relative.

For example, A journeyman landscaper may have taken a shorter time to achieve journeyman status than an electrician.

Furthermore, certain areas within the construction industry require testing to achieve journeyman level. 

In the state of California, getting a contractor license requires that you prove 4 years of journey-level experience. This experience must be confirmed by a contractor, fellow journeyman, fellow employee, or supervisor.

Journeyman exam

Two open books laying on a desk inside a library. Some trades require you to pass a journeyman exam before you are able to hold a certification

A journeyman exam refers to an exam that may be required of a tradesman to achieve a particular pay grade or level of licensing.

Journey exams typically are required of trades where the direct safety of the public is associated with that area of expertise.

In California, Electricians have strict standards of examinations and certification before they can be considered journeyman or contractors. 

Trades related to the foundational or structural integrity of buildings often must take journeyman exams.

Whether or not a journeyman has to complete exams often depends on the state and the level of regulation that may or may not exist there.

In some states an individual journeyman level status before issuing permits, creating plans, or becoming an instructor.

Joining the Construction Union

To join a construction union, you must be a journeyman-level tradesman. There are a variety of benefits of joining a construction union including higher wages, benefits, working conditions, and increased bargaining power.

Many journeyman-level tradesmen join unions to achieve a level of stability and continue mastering their trade in hopes of one day having their own business.​

For a deeper look at construction unions. Check out this article.

Career options for journeyman level tradesman

There are several different career paths within the construction industry.

Once a tradesman has established a certain level of expertise, the area in which they choose to work professionally depends on their personality and income goals.

Some individuals are naturally business-minded and decide to become contractors. Some tradesmen prefer the idea of earning a steady paycheck and performing their trade on a daily basis.

For a more in-depth look at the different career options and job titles for a journeyman, tradesman… check out this article.

How to get a Contractor License​

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

A Contractor is someone who has demonstrated a certain level of knowledge and expertise not only in their trade but also LAW and the management of money.

In California, a contractor must prove 4 years of journeyman-level experience and pass a two-part exam.

Getting a contractor license differs from state to state. In California, you must meet the following requirements before you are even allowed to take the exam

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not currently be on probation or parole
  • Pass the Contractor License Exam

Contractors are tested not only on their TRADE but also LAW, accounting, cash management, taxes, insurance, fair hiring practices, safety, and more.

Learn more about Contractor License LAW!

Opportunities in Construction

A large glass building facing the sky on a clear blue day. There are several lucrative career paths within the construction industry. Everything you are looking for begins with becoming a journeyman level tradesman

As I stated earlier. The world is changing fast and the only people that are going to survive economically in the next 50 years are people who possess skills that people are willing to pay for.

Construction has been going on since the dawn of time. We will always need skilled tradesmen.

Civilization depends on people who can work with wood, build roofs, fabricate electrical systems, weld iron, and pave roads.

If you are graduating high school, do yourself a favor and take a serious look at joining an apprenticeship program and learning a trade.

Getting into the construction field is an excellent option for ex-felons and even people who are looking to transition careers.

The Construction sector will continue to grow, and the demand for skilled tradesmen will continue to increase. Invest in yourself and take advantage of this lucrative opportunity.