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Apprenticeship, Journeyman, and Master Plumbers: Understanding the Difference

Many professions and industries have classifications that define your experience level, and plumbing is one of them. As you move through your career in plumbing, you’ll start with an apprenticeship. From there, you’ll become a journeyman, and then finally earn the classification as a master plumber. Here’s what you need to know about the three levels.


This is your career starting point. As a plumber apprentice, you’ll study under a journeyman or a master plumber. You’ll actually be doing plumbing jobs, but it’s under their guidance and direction. If ever there was a perfect definition for “on-the-job training,” this would be it.

You’ll still be responsible for a certain amount of coursework during your apprenticeship. Most plumber apprenticeship programs take from 2 to 6 years to complete. They have an average of 246 hours in the classroom, as well as about 2,000 hours on the job under the supervision of a journeyman or master plumber.

Registered apprenticeships are extremely important to the plumbing industry. It’s how the entire industry maintains its extremely high level of professionalism and skills. It’s a form of mentorship that’s highly valued around the world.

You’re not automatically guaranteed an apprenticeship. You’ll apply for one, just as you would apply for a job. Depending on the company, you may be asked to demonstrate basic skills. It’s possible you’ll even be interviewed by a selection committee. They’re looking for your interest and your passion for the trade.


You’ll become a journeyman plumber after you’ve completed the requirements for your apprenticeship. At this point, you’re able to practice the trade alone—but only after you have passed the appropriate licensing exams for your state.

These licensing exams vary, but they all serve the same purpose. They test your skills and knowledge learned during your apprenticeship. Get used to licensing tests, by the way. Most states have continuing education requirements, as well as licensing renewals.

The most important thing to know about the journeyman plumber classification is that—after obtaining the appropriate licensing—you’re able to work unsupervised and earn a journeyman-level salary.

Master plumber

After you’ve worked for 2 consistent years as a journeyman, you’re ready to move up to the top classification as a master plumber. But…not before a specific exam, which looks at your practical skills and measures your abilities with a written portion.

Passing this exam qualifies you to claim the classification as a master plumber. If you’re wondering what the most important difference between the journeyman and master classifications are, it comes down to this: leadership. Plumbing companies seek out men and women with a master plumber classification for supervisory roles, which have higher salaries to reflect the bigger responsibilities.