An open letter to journeymen

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The other day I posted the question in my facebook group “If you could tell your journeyman (past, present or future) one thing they could do better, what would that be?”  I had a few comments to the posting. 

What blew me away were the amount of personal messages I got.  You see, there seems to be a fear that their journeymen would read the post, see their comments and then tear them a new one.  They felt safer sharing with me in private than risk the wrath of their journeyman.

To me this shows that there is a problem in the culture of trades.  It is almost like the abused child who wont talk about what is happening at home but given a safe place they let it all spill out.  I actually had more than one ask me to write a post of advice to journeymen.

While I think a post titled “Advice for all the journeymen out there” would be a good idea.  I also know one thing.  Journeymen do not like being told they are wrong or what they are doing is wrong.  For every post I put up I get a lot of great feedback.  I also get a lot of really nasty things said.  I’ve been called a bag licker, pussy, pansy, loser and other nasty things I wont write in this letter. 

I have been told that I am catering too much to the apprentice. 

I know that there are a lot of great journeymen out there.  I was very fortunate, I was trained by 3 incredible journeymen. Not only did I become a better electrician because of them, I became a better man.  This letter is not for them.

I worked under and with journeymen who treated their apprentices with what could only be classified as abuse.  This letter is for you.

Times have changed for both apprentices and journeymen.

Whether you care to admit it or not we live in a different time.  Maybe when you went through your apprenticeship you were treated harshly.  Perhaps you were screamed at constantly, felt like you could never do anything right, and went home every night with a knot in your stomach.  I am sure more than once you were brought close to tears through the actions of your journeymen.  You were ridiculed and for lack of a better word abused.

Let me tell you one thing you may be lying to yourself about.

This did not make you the electrician you are today!

You are the tradesman you are today because of you, not because of them!

Perhaps you became the way you are in spite of them.  But let me make one thing clear.  You could have become a great tradesman in a nurturing environment as well.

Don’t give them the credit that you deserve.  Do not subscribe to the “thats the way I was trained and look how I turned out” philosophy.

I am not saying that there won’t be times that you need to be hard on your apprentice.  I am saying that you can be tough on them in a matter that is respectful of their humanity.

Do you honestly think that you are going to get more productivity out of someone who fears you or someone that has respect for you? 

Training is part of a journeymans job description.

This is another fallacy that needs to be addressed.  I have heard from many apprentices that they have been told by their journeymen that “it is not my job to teach you”

That is not true!!!!!

It is part of the job description.  How did you learn?  Through working with journeymen throughout your apprenticeship. 

I understand that it can be trying on the patience.  How is that any different than any other problem you have to troubleshoot in the trade? 

You are making an impact in someones life.  It is a great responsibility and a great honour. 

Give it the respect it deserves.

Remember what it was like to be an apprentice.

Try to remember back to what it was like when you first started.  You didn’t know anything.  Someone had to show you and even then you made a lot of mistakes.  The last thing you needed when you made a mistake was someone berating you telling you what a waste of skin you were (I know this is an extreme but it does happen).

Your apprentices are going to make mistakes.  Have the grace to help them learn from them not be afraid of them.

Getting frustrated and doing it yourself helps no one.

If you want something done right you better do it yourself, right? 


It becomes twice the amount of work for you and your apprentice will learn nothing.

I know that time is of the essence and that it may feel like a waste of time to explain and show how to do things but you are bringing a world of hurt on yourself.  Now instead of doing your job, you’re doing their job as well.  This is going to slow you down and frustrate you. 

If you take the time to properly explain how to do something it might take a bit more time at the beginning but as they learn, they are going to get better and faster.  The next job that you have that requires that specific skill you won’t have to worry about it.  They got it covered because you took the time to teach.

At the end of the day it boils down to one word.


If you are respectful of your apprentice and treat them as such you would be surprised at what kind of productivity you get out of them.  When I was coming up through the trade I would have moved mountains for some of the journeymen I worked for.  Conversely I would have done as little as possible for journeymen who treated me less than human.

The times have changed my friends.  It is time that the culture of the Journeyman/Apprentice relationship changed as well.

This isn’t the end.

I would love to hear what you all think.  If you have any questions or comments, make sure you contact me at

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Comments on An open letter to journeymen

  1. Tim says:

    I’m an electrician. I’ve been in the trade since 91. I became a journeyman in 97. My first day on the job my mechanic looked at me and said the only difference between this apprenticeship and the military is you go home at night. He was right. But I made it. I went through the ibew in richmond va. It was very tough but like I said I made it. I had good mechanics and bad ones of course that’s my opinion. But I learned that apprentices are in fact here to learn. They are gonna make mistakes. Journeyman make mistakes. They are there to learn. Some are slower than others. That’s ok. To be honest when your teaching them the trade, sometimes you in fact learn something or even a different way of doing it. I’ve always said you can ask10 journeyman the same question and you’ll get 10 different answers. But at the same time appretices should respect their mechanic as should the mechanic respect the apprentice. But I’ll also say just because your a journeyman you don’t necessarily know everything. Also a card doesn’t make you a good electrician. Just throwing that out there. I’m sure I’ll get alot of ugly comments about that. I hope this is helpful.

    1. Chad says:

      I agree 10000000% Respect goes both ways. I also agree that a card doesn’t make you a good electrician. I know a lot of shitty journeymen. The best thing about this trade though is that you never stop learning. Am I right?

  2. Lori V says:

    I have been a journeyman since 1985. Yes I was one of those that learned old school. Do I consider myself abused? No. What apprentice’s fail to realize is that just as there are 10 different ways to install the same end result, there are 10 different personalities out there. Yes there were times when a JW was rude or gruff, but by persevering it showed those individuals that you had the stick- to- it- iveness to get the job done and not go off and cry or pout. THAT was the makings of a JW that in the end could weather any storm and face any adversity. It usually garnered respect from those same rude and gruff old bastards. Most of the apprentices I have encountered today are respectful and polite and yes will do anything I ask of them. But for those 10% who believe after performing the same task for a year and are adept at the one task and believe that somehow that makes them an electrician, that they somehow can treat their journeymen disrespectfully they can just go pound sand. In the good ol’ days I would have told them to get the f^%$# off the job. Now even I have to worry about them filing lawsuits and charges claiming “hostile working environment”. And by the way, I am a female.

    1. Chad says:

      I hear ya Lori. I agree that it can be a good life lesson too working with and for assholes. It is just that some of the guys I have worked with and around have taken it too far. Being tough on someone is one thing. Bringing a guy to tears and then bragging about it to his co workers is another (seen this happen many times). Most apprentices have their heads on straight but the ones that don’t? Well it might be time to “not have any work” and to let them go.

  3. Terry says:

    Well you need to remember that the JW along with the apprenticeship program is responsible for the training. It is up to the employer to make sure that he has matched a qualified JW with the apprentice. I am an employer and we work hard at making sure that an up coming apprentice gets all the help he or she needs.

    1. Chad says:

      That is awesome Terry. I think a lot of Journeymen forget that it is part of the job to teach. It is great to see employers out there who understand that.

  4. Josh H says:

    This is a very interesting post on Journeyman and Apprentice relationships. A lot of the negative information presented reminded me of a few Journeymen I have had the displeasure of working for. Please keep in mind I have received my Journeyman certificate 6 years ago and have been working in the trade for 10 years now, I am currently pursuing my Masters certification, and started a second apprenticeship welding.

    I got into the electrical trade somewhat by accident, I was framing houses right out of high school and built a few on the south side of Edmonton, in the fall of 2005. I then decided that walking on a frosty upper plate carrying a sheet of 5/8″ tongue and groove on a windy day, was not for me, freezing my ass off, and having to drive 5 minutes to go for a shit. It was then I was looking over at the electricians roughing in a house a few lots over and thinking to myself, boy oh boy them fellas look nice and warm. So that was decided, I jumped at the chance to become an electrician. My Dad was even happier about my decision, holy hell his boy finally decided on doing something with his life! I hired on with a certain electrical company who definitely took advantage of my eagerness and willingness to keep a job. I was expected to show up at 630 am and load their van for free for a 1/2 hour, then follow he service van around the city doing service calls. I was not getting paid mileage or getting my fuel covered, and to boot there was an open seat in the van! This just sets the tone with this company… The 4th year I was assigned to work with had quite an attitude problem with green apprentices. I was told I was expected to carry his tools, the company tools, the material, and then my tools into the clients house. Okay no worries! I thought he was just asking me to do a favour by carrying his tools into the house because he was having a meeting with the client. Nope! He just sat in there and finished his coffee. Well I was shocked, so I asked him why bother bringing in his tools if he was just sitting around doing nothing? His response was “the shop knows you know nothing about electrical work, and this is the only way to justify you being here.” To which I replied: “so that means you will teach me what I need to know right?” Well his answer was “No, you should just learn by watching” Essentially he was trying to command respect out of me by playing a higher level card, and by trying to teach me a lesson on the first day. Needless to say I quit 4 days later because this guy was a total head case, and the boss was not compassionate toward his workers.

    Shortly there after I found work with a commercial company who I eventually worked for, for 3 1/2 years. I was indentured with them and eventually became a 4th year apprentice. Although when I first started out with them in December of 2005, I was extremely green in a commercial setting. First time wearing a hard hat, working in a public setting and very nervous about not screwing up. The first journeyman I was assigned to had a penchant for making my somewhat intelligent questions feel absolutely dumb. Keep in mind I had no experience except for residential, and renovation, so I thought loomex was pulled through conduit. (Hey I’ve never admitted this to anyone else before but for the sake of this blog what the hell!) Well this journeyman called me every name under the sun in the crowded bank we were working in and totally humiliated me in front of 40-50 people. All because I asked a simple question. Yes or no would have sufficed, or even a quick 2minute explanation of wire types and uses. So eventually my “dumb questions” and my slowness to perform (because I wasn’t instructed properly or adequately) led to my transfer to another journeyman.

    This 2nd journeyman seemed to be better when I met him. I worked with him for a week or so, and found out this guy was a hot head. I seen him pounding out a 3/4″ emt coupling to make a slip coupling, and low and behold the cast zinc failed, the coupling rolled over, he smoked his finger with his kleins and started dropping f-bombs, and going nuts. I asked if he was okay, and apparently he was because that goddamned coupling came flying at my head. Good thing for that hard hat I wasn’t used to…

    So from that point on I decided I would stick it out because I purchased new tools for the trade, and these guys would not get the best of me. I wanted to treat others with respect, specifically my journeymen, because I wanted to learn the trade, but also build a good working relationship with them. I also made my self a promise, that when I got my ticket, I would be respectful to my apprentices and be willing to teach them everything I know in relation to their job or task that they will be performing for me. So far the results are good. I have had some apprentices working for me who just simply did not want to learn, because they knew it all, or have a sense of entitlement. Those are the ones I do not have time for. I am very much for the ideology of you cannot teach those who do not want to learn.
    I also have had some apprentices who are sponges and just soak up the info like it is going out of style. Those are the ones I enjoy working with, because they are not afraid to ask questions! If someone is asking a question for a first time, it genuinely means they do not know the answer!! I get that. After all as a journeyman it is my responsibility in Alberta according to Alberta Regulation 258/2000-16-(a)-(b) that I am responsible for teaching the technical info, having knowledge, and giving guidance to an apprentice for the development of skills and competence required in the trade. I love teaching, it is my absolute favourite part about this trade. And secondly I love learning. A successful journeyman not only learns from other journeymen, but also learns from his apprentices, and other trades.

    So apprentices be eager, be attentive, be ready to receive constructive feedback, have a few laughs, play safe, and pay attention to your journeymen and listen to what they have to say, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good journeyman may not always have the answer, but will do his damndest to get that information to you.

    1. Chad says:

      What an awesome posting Josh. I think that there are a few of us out there who had bad experiences with dickhead journeymen and vowed to be different. I do think that the culture is changing and it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I also understand that some apprentices are lazy and that it is frustrating. I guess what I am trying to say is that respect needs to go both ways as does work ethic. I am glad to see guys/girls in the trades like you out there making a difference. Keep it up and keep in touch!

  5. Charles says:

    Personally, I have never let anyone abuse me on the job. No job is worth that and I am worth way more than that. I have quit a few jobs because someone felt they could abuse me, and I stood up to them and said NO. I agree, we all need to treat each other with respect, but when we are not treated with respect we have to respect ourselves and stand up for ourselves. I haven’t only quit jobs because of disrespect, I have in every case stood up to the people who tried to abuse me and some have backed down. BTW, I have had many many jobs in many different areas in life before I became an electrician and in just about every case where I worked with a few or more people, there seemed to always be someone who felt they could push their weight around. I am happy that in BC, it is now against Work Safe regulations to harass someone on the job. If these apprentices are being harassed, they need to stand up for themselves and report the people who are doing it. We as journeyman should be backing them up and encouraging them to do so.

    1. Chad says:

      Thanks Charles, You are right on the money!

  6. william schwartz says:

    I was trained by those “old Time” journeymen. I learned that what you get out of it has a lot to do with what you are willing to put into it. I will teach a helper as long as they want to learn.
    I have three rules when working with an apprentice:
    1.) Do not let them hurt anyone else
    2.) Do not let them hurt themselves
    3.)Bonus round if we can get the first two right we might get some work done.

    I don’t care how green you are, I care about the attitude, curiosity, and willing ness to work hard and learn. Respect is something earned.

    Pull up your pants because I am not interested in looking at your underwear and for God’s sake leave your cell phone in your lunch box!

    1. Chad says:

      Great points William! I agree 100% on all points (especially pulling up your pants)

  7. Davis says:

    I’m a master electrician been doing this for over 30 years what I ask every appearance that I train is the following
    Do you want to learn to be a electrician and do this the rest of your life or is this a hobby? The correct answer will make him respect his chosen trade and a better electrician, most just want a pay check and not learn.This is the most dangerous trade to be in you never know what to exspect when you turn on a switch

    1. Chad says:

      That is a great idea. I like the idea of asking that question.

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