What is a Journeyman Plumber?

The term “journeyman” refers to a tradesperson who has successfully completed an apprenticeship and is ready to work in their specific trade. Journeymen are fully qualified and competent to work as an employee, but not yet qualified as a master tradesperson. As such, a journeyman is unable to work independently in most places and will need to be supervised by a more experienced master. 

In the plumbing trade, a journeyman is anyone who has completed the mandatory training as a plumber. The time it takes to complete training can vary based on the regulations in your state or locality. However, plumbers typically train for four to five years before graduating to become a journeyman plumber. 

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Apprentices, Journeymen and Master Plumbers

Created to protect the public who rely on qualified tradespeople to keep essential structures up and running, trades generally have three classifications: apprentices, journeymen and masters. So, what is the difference between plumbing apprentices, journeyman plumbers and master plumbers? In a word: experience. 

  • Plumbing apprentices—Plumbing apprentices are untrained professionals who enter the workforce under a qualified mentor to gain knowledge and experience in the trade. Generally the lowest-paid team members, apprentices are also known as assistants, since their primary job is to help more experienced plumbers get the work done. Apprentices can be supervised by journeymen or master plumbers, who bear the responsibility for ensuring the apprentice receives the proper training in all aspects of the field. 

  • Journeyman plumbers—Once an apprentice has satisfied their apprenticeship requirements, they can graduate to become a journeyman plumber. Although usually unable to work without the oversight of a qualified master plumber, journeyman plumbers do not need to be closely supervised and are, in fact, often responsible for overseeing the training of an apprentice plumber. Journeyman plumbers are responsible for installing plumbing, drainage systems and gas lines as well as maintaining and repairing systems that already exist.  

  • Master plumbers—Master plumbers have worked many years in the trade, including at least two years as a journeyman plumber in most cases. Master plumbers have the freedom to work independently and run their own business. They can also supervise both apprentice plumbers and journeyman plumbers. Master plumbers are also the only plumbers who are qualified to design plumbing systems, create schematics and deal with building code and permit officials. 

Licensing for Journeyman Plumbers

With few exceptions, most states require plumbers to attain a license from a statewide regulatory board. Licensing is also common in many cities, large towns and counties, even in states that don’t require a license. For instance, New York State does not require a license for practicing plumbers, but plumbers in New York City will need to be licensed.

Although the actual regulations vary by locality, many plumbers’ licenses are awarded under a tiered system, which is based on training and experience. This means the journeyman plumber’s license is separate from the master plumber’s and has different qualifications associated with it. In general, plumbers of all levels, with the possible exception of apprentice plumbers, should expect to have to take an examination in order to become licensed. 

Wage Expectations for Journeyman Plumbers

Completing an apprenticeship and becoming a journeyman plumber comes with a significant boost in wages. According to payscale.com, journeyman plumbers make an average hourly wage of $24.61. Added to the baseline salaries are bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing, which could boost wages by as much as $9,000 per year. Annually, journeyman plumber wages range from $37,438 to $81,167. 

By comparison, apprentice plumbers make an average hourly wage of $15.14, with the potential for up to $7,000 in annual bonuses.

If you are planning to eventually advance your career to become a master plumber, you will be glad to know that master plumber salaries are even higher than journeyman salaries. For master plumbers, the average hourly wage is $27.82, with the potential for an additional $11,000 in annual bonuses.

Working as a Journeyman Plumber

Once you have completed your apprenticeship and obtained your qualifications, you should have learned everything you need to know to carry the additional responsibilities of a journeyman plumber. You may even begin mentoring new apprentices, who are eager to learn the trade.

Journeyman plumbers, although usually supervised by a master plumber, are able to work independently. As such, when you become a journeyman plumber, it will be up to you to decide where repairs need to be made, what materials to use and how to streamline and optimize your workload. 

The newfound independence of a journeyman plumber comes with a duty to follow safe work practices, follow local building codes and ensure that repaired and installed systems are appropriate for use. Journeyman plumbers will need to know which materials are necessary for specific projects and apply that knowledge to providing piping systems that won’t contaminate drinking water or leak dangerous chemicals. Diligent practice of the trade is especially important for those who are training apprentices. 

Working Under a Master Plumber

Although fully qualified to perform the work of a plumber, there is still much for the journeyman to learn. For example, journeyman plumbers are not qualified to design plumbing systems or prepare blueprints. Falling under the auspices of a master plumber allows the journeyman access to an ongoing mentor. In this way, the journeyman plumber has someone who can help troubleshoot complicated repairs and provide the additional training needed to attain the knowledge and abilities of a master plumber. 

Journeyman plumbers are simultaneously teaching and learning while continuing to develop and hone their skills. As you begin this career transition, remember you have not finished your training but merely begun preparing to move your career forward.

Although most states require you to complete a minimum of two years as a journeyman plumber, extending the training is not uncommon. Since an examination is a requirement to progress to the next level, you will want to ensure that you have all of the knowledge you need prior to attempting to become a fully qualified master plumber.