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The Difference between Hiring an Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master Plumber

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In the United States, any person who is looking to learn a craft or a skill must start by undertaking an apprenticeship: this is the law in every state. What differs between states, however, is the expected duration of an apprenticeship. Plumbers need to learn a variety of crucial, and often physically difficult, skills with which to maintain, or fix, drainage systems. The most effective way to learn these skills is by accompanying a Master Plumber: a plumber who has had many years of experience and has passed a state-certified plumbing examination. So if aspiring Master plumbers need to kick-off their careers as an apprentice, what comes between an apprenticeship and a fully-certified Master plumber, sometimes known as a plumbing contractor?

An apprentice will, after about 2-6 years working with an experienced plumber, will be able to work as a journeyman. Whereas an apprentice can only work under direct supervision, journeymen are free to work independently as they have proven they have the plumbing knowledge and experience. If you are looking to hire a plumber, there are a few key differences to be aware of before you select an apprentice, journeyman or a master plumber.

What can an apprentice do?

An apprentice is in the process of learning the key skills related to the plumbing trade, as demonstrated to them by a master plumber. Apprentice plumbers are people who have been interested in the trade, and have some know-how, but haven’t been able to practice. As such, an apprentice will have basic knowledge about the trade but have little hours of experience in physically applying this knowledge. It is not recommended for apprentices to undertake any plumbing work on their own, without the supervision of a master plumber. If you or somebody you know is a plumber’s apprentice, have the master plumber oversee the job rather than working unsupervised. Most master plumbers will be accompanied by an apprentice anyways, so when you contract any professional plumber expect to meet at least two differently skilled individuals. When an apprentice has around 3 years of experience with a master plumber, they can apply to become a journeyman.

Hiring a journeyman

Plumbing requires a variety of skills which take years to acquire; by the end of an apprenticeship individuals should have knowledge of the state’s building legislature and different types of plumbing systems, and techniques which are environmentally friendly. After some years as an apprentice you may apply for a journeymen’s license, which requires an examination and documentation of all previous work. The main difference between an apprentice and a journeyman plumber is that a certified journeyman is able to take on work on their own, without the supervision of a master plumber. Journeymen are also able to hire an apprentice to help them with their work. A journeyman can take up employment with a licensed plumbing contract company, or they can choose to work independently. The journeymen’s license is more limited than that of the master plumber, however, in that journeymen plumbers are not allowed to start a plumbing contracting company of their own. Journeymen cannot become business owners, but after a few years as a journeyman they can take the master plumber’s exam, after which they can open their own plumbing business.


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