Becoming an electrical contractor in Tennessee requires licensure through the Department of Commerce and Insurance. Though licensing is administered through the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, individual cities and counties have independent rules and local licensing requirements.
For those just entering the electrical workforce, or perhaps are looking to become a general contractor, the first step may be to gain an education by enrolling in an electrical trade program, or finding a position to gain documented experience working as an assistant for an electrical contractor. One of these two experiences is important in becoming a licensed electrician. To become a Tennessee general contractor or journeyman electrician requires passing exams and submitting letters of reference that detail previous experience gained through working as an apprentice or in the field.
There are three types of licensing for electrical contractors in Tennessee:
- A General Contractor License with a CE license classification is comparable to a Master’s Electrical License, (typically a license at a government level) in the state of Tennessee, and is necessary when the total cost of a project exceeds $25,000, including the cost of materials and labor. This license is acceptable statewide, without the need of Limited Licensed Electrician (LLE), or the additional exams required for each county or municipality, though adherence to the local permits, licensing rules, inspections and local fees of each jurisdiction is required.
- Local licenses are required in areas where there is a codes office, regardless of the cost of the project. This license is often referred to as a journeyman or master license. Every jurisdiction has individual local requirements that must be adhered to. A general contractor’s license with a CE certification may provide exemptions from local exams, but local fees must still be paid.
- A Limited Licensed Electrician (LLE) is required for projects less than $25,000. In municipalities where there is not a local license agency for inspections, the Division of Fire Protection performs inspections. Not all local governments accept an LLE, and some require additional exam requirements. It is important to note that an LLE license is not considered a Contractor’s license and may not use the term “Contractor.” It is important to contact the Division of Fire Prevention for local codes and lists of requirements.
Tennessee Electrical License Reciprocity
License reciprocity is the recognition of a license, or the process of a trade exam waiver from state to state. The state of Tennessee does not allow using another state’s license, but does provide a Trade Exam Waiver Agreement for “Contractor’s” license with the following states:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- NASCLA (National Commercial Exam)
It is important to note that the Trade Exam Waiver Agreement only waives the trade exam. A contractor applies for a trade exam waiver by having the participating state complete the License Verification form and submit it with a Tennessee Contractors License Application. Some states charge fees for completion, and fees may vary by state.
Tennessee Electrical Journeyman License Requirements
In Tennessee, a state Electrical Contractor’s License with a CE classification is equivalent to a Master’s Electrical License. This state contractor’s license is required for general as well as subcontractors when the cost of a project (including materials and labor) that exceeds $25,000. Though a CE classification is acceptable statewide and further municipal and county exams are not required, the contractor must still obtain local jurisdiction permits and inspections, as well as adhere to licensing rules, and pay local fees.
A state-issued Electrical Contractor’s License with a CE classification is the nearest thing to a traditional Master’s or Journeyman Licence, as it is acceptable statewide without further exams, is acceptable for projects exceeding $25,000, and may advertise as a contractor — unlike an LLE. To become a licensed contractor (not pursuing reciprocity) the following steps must be completed:
- Select business structure and license name. Identify the best mode of operation: sole proprietor, corporation, partnership, or LLC. The license will be issued in the exact name of the business owner listed on the financial statement. Select and verify that the business name not in use by any other active licenses. Those operating as a corporation, a general partnership, or LLC must register with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
- Pass the required exams. While a Trade exam may be needed to obtain classifications, the “Tennessee Business and Law” exam is required. The cost of each exam is $55.00, and can be scheduled through the PSI exam vendor website.
- Identify the qualifying agent. The qualifying agent (QA) may be an owner, officer, or a full-time employee with power of attorney. It is the individual who passes the exam on behalf of the business, or supplies the experience needed for the designated classification of a contractors license. The QA must register with the PSI before taking the exam. It is not required that the same individual takes the Business and Law exam and the Trade exam, it may be different individuals on behalf of the company.
- Determine the license classification. The CE classification covers all categories of electrical contracting. Prime and Subcontractors must both be licensed to perform electrical work, permits and inspections must be obtained with local governments.
- Financial statement review. A financial report must be prepared by a licensed CPA. The contractor’s license will be issued in the exact name as listed on the financial statement. The review or audit of the financial statement will determine the monetary limit amount approved for contracting and bidding.
- Providing proof of Insurance. The certificate of insurance must be in the same name as that on the financial statement and license name. General liability, as well as workers’ compensation, must be provided to cover the business owner as well as employees, though the employer may register for an exemption. For more information review the Employer Handbook on premium and benefit provisions of Tennessee.
- Complete and submit a license application. Register an account and complete the application online, or mail in a paper form. Take note that the preferred method is online, and that a paper form will take longer to process. The license application will include a list of owners, officers, and QA information such as: experience and disclosure of history (including but not limited to: prior licenses, convictions, judgments, law violations, and complaints).
- There are no specific yearly or hourly requirements, but a letter of reference from past clients and/or inspectors detailing past work, as well as a list of relevant job descriptions with contract amounts must be submitted.
- A board member interview or board approval may be required. The Board meets every other month; reference the board meeting calendar for details.
- The deadline for applications to be submitted by the 20th of the month prior to the board meeting.
There is an application fee of $250.00. A license is issued for two years.
- License approval typically takes 4-6 weeks. Contracts, bids, and offers may NOT be offered prior to obtaining a license.
A state Limited Licensed Electrician (LLE) is not considered a contractor’s license, cannot use the term “Contractor,” and is only required for projects with a total cost of less than $25,000. It is always important to check with the local government to ensure that the LLE is accepted, or if there is a further exam requirement. The application process to obtain an LLE is significantly less complicated. To obtain an LLE, the following steps must be completed:
- Apply online, or complete the LLE application.
- Provide passing exam scores for the LLE trade exam, and copy of a photo-ID.
- Disclose any convictions, complaints, or judgements.
- Submit the payment of a two-year license fee of $50.00.
Some cities that have their own codes offices and perform their own inspections and licensing. This means that a state-issued LLE may not be accepted and an additional local license may be needed. Local Licenses are not state licenses, but are also an equivalent to a Journeyman or Master qualification. You may be exempt from this local license with a CE classification, but local fees must still be paid. Local licenses may require differing years of experience, as well as apprenticeship programs and years of work under a journeyman. It is always important to contact for local code requirements and check with the Division of Fire Prevention.
Provided below are application links or resources for a few counties and cities in Tennessee that perform their own inspections and have their own licensing and testing requirements:
Electrical Trade Exam
A Trade exam may be needed to obtain a state-issued Contractor CE classification, and LLE. The cost of the exam is $55.00 and can be taken through the PSI exam vendor website. There is no pre-approval for the exam for electrical workers, but applicants must register and schedule an appointment through the PSI website, or by calling PSI at (800-733-9267). A photo ID and Social Security Number is needed to register for the exam. More information can be found on the candidate information bulletin. Exam prerequisites for local licenses of Journeyman and Master may vary by city and county.
Electrician Apprenticeship and Pre-Exam Requirements
As many of the cities and counties in Tennessee have their own licensing programs in place that differ from state licensing, there are no cut-and-dry electrician apprenticeship requirements. However, the Electrical Trade Exam, as well as applying for local licenses, does require a background and knowledge that is achieved through working with a journeyman with on-the-job experience, an apprenticeship with a union, or a trade/technical school program and apprenticeship.
Many Tennessee jurisdictions only require direct on-the-job experience to apply for a journeyman-level electrician license. This can be a preferred route for licensing categories as 2-3 years of experience is enough for select municipal licensing jurisdictions, and a full 4-year apprenticeship would not be necessary, though selecting some classroom education may be helpful before sitting the exam. Searching for jobs to gain experience may be done on job boards such as Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, or even Craigslist. Look for jobs that indicate “helper” or “apprentice”.
Union-affiliated apprenticeships require an applicant to be 18 years of age with a high school diploma or GED, have a passing score in high school algebra, as well as passing scores in general reading, math, and aptitude tests, and reliable transportation to job sites. Union apprenticeships provide field training as well as classroom education in one comprehensive program. Union apprenticeships are coordinated between the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) to organize Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committees (JATC) that facilitate relationships with unionized electrical contracting companies.
There are five JATCs in the state of Tennessee:
- Chattanooga Electrical JATC
- Electrician Training Academy Knoxville (ETAK)
- Memphis Electrical JATC
- Nashville Electrical JATC
- Oak Ridge Electrical JATC
Enrolling in a technical college or trade school program accumulates hours in the classroom as well as in the field that would apply for entry-level apprenticeship positions with electrical contracting companies as well as unions. Some programs include field experience with a local contractor that can transition into a full-time apprenticeship position. There are also other resources provided by the college’s career assistance center.
Electrical Trade Schools in Tennessee
Northeast State Tech
Tuition: Approximately $10,000.
Contact Info: (423)323-3191
Address: 2425 Highway 75, Bountville, TN.
Chattanooga State Community College
Tution: Approximately $5,105.
Contact Info: (423)697-4400
Address: 4501 Amnicola Highway, Chattanooga, TN
Dyersburg State Community College
Tuition: Approximately $1,250
Contact Info: (731)286-3200
Address: 1510 Lake Rd, Dyersburg, TN
Tennessee College of Applied Technology
Contact Info: (865)546-5567
Address: 1100 Liberty Street, Knoxville, TN
Nashville State Community College
Tuition: Approximately $5,120
Address:120 White Bridge Pk., Nashville TN
Tennessee Professional License Search
Though many cities and counties issue licenses independently, the state of Tennessee does have a professional license database that provides information about regulated professions, including electricians. This resource is a means for others to verify authenticity and credentials.