What Is the Difference Between a Journeyman Plumber and a Master Plumber?

If you’ve been considering a plumbing career and have already spent some time researching the profession, you’ve probably seen the terms “journeyman plumber” and “master plumber” used frequently. At this point, you might want to learn more about the different levels of plumbers, what their job duties include and how might this affect your future career. If that’s the case, keep reading to find the answers to your questions about journeyman and master plumbers. 

The Progression of Your Career as a Plumber

Plumbing careers usually start at the apprentice level. Apprentice plumbers are basically plumbers-in-training. While working as an apprentice, you will work alongside both journeyman and master plumbers as they install, inspect, maintain and repair piping systems. Apprentices bear the responsibility for assisting the main plumber on the job by carrying supplies, handling tools and working on minor repairs. In addition, apprentice plumbers will need to study building codes, learn to read blueprints and perfect their skills with the tools of the trade. Although there is much for an apprentice plumber to learn, the position has the advantage of earning a living wage while training for a future career.

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Once you have completed your apprenticeship, you will be qualified to work as a journeyman plumber. The journeyman can work with much less oversight than an apprentice, although they will still be required to work under a master plumber. Journeyman plumbers can in turn supervise and train apprentices in the trade. You will need to have worked for at least two years as a journeyman prior to being qualified as a master plumber in most places. 

Master plumbers are at the top of their careers. They are the only plumbers who can work with complete independence, supervise other plumbers or run a plumbing business. As a master plumber, you will be responsible for the work of the journeyman and apprentice plumbers who work under your supervision. Obtaining permits and meeting building code requirements also fall under the jurisdiction of the master. Additionally, the master plumber is the only plumber who can design a plumbing system and create schematics for other tradespeople to follow. Reaching the level of master comes with a lot of responsibility and independence. 

Salaries of Journeyman and Master Plumbers

Plumbers at all levels can expect stable career growth and decent pay wherever they work in the country. According to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plumbers made between $32,690 and $97,170 in 2019. It is likely that the lower end of the scale represents the pay for apprentices, while master plumbers can expect salaries closer to the top. This scale is a good representation of your potential financial growth as you work your way from apprentice to master. 

More specific numbers are given by the website payscale.com, with estimated wages for various types of plumbers. The site lists the average hourly salary for journeyman plumbers at $24.61, with the potential for an additional $9,000 in bonuses, profit sharing and commissions.

Master plumber wages were somewhat higher, with an average hourly salary of $27.82 and the potential for $11,000 in bonus pay. It should be noted that master plumbers also have the ability to run a business, which could lead to a far more lucrative future than that of a plumber who works for someone else. 

Licensing

Licensing for plumbers varies by state and locality, with most states having a statewide requirement for licensing in the trade. Licenses can also be necessary on a local level, so you will need to check the specific requirements in the areas in which you plan to work. Local licenses can be required even in states that do not have a licensing board for the profession. For instance, New York State does not require a plumbing license, but plumbers in New York City will need to acquire one.

Generally, whether you can work as an apprentice, journeyman or master plumber is determined by the type of license you are qualified to hold. In most states with licensing, only journeyman and master plumbers need to apply for a license, although there are exceptions. Standard requirements for journeyman and master plumber licenses are as follows:

  • A journeyman license can be applied for upon the completion of a five-year apprenticeship. Journeyman plumbers will need to pass an examination to earn their licenses in the trade. Although they still need to work under a master plumber, they can complete work independently with minimal supervision. A journeyman is qualified to oversee and train a plumbing apprentice. 
  • A master license can be applied for after completing two years as a journeyman plumber. You will need to pass an examination, which will cover topics specific to your work as a master in the trade. Masters can supervise both journeyman and apprentice plumbers and are the only plumbers who can work without supervision. There are specific tasks that are reserved for master plumbers only, such as designing piping systems, running a business, preparing schematics and working with code enforcement agents. 

Journeyman Plumbers

The term “journeyman” originated in the medieval trade guilds. It refers to a person who has completed an apprenticeship and is fully qualified to work in the trade as a full employee. Despite the journeyman plumber’s knowledge of the trade, there is still much to learn prior to becoming a master. Working as a journeyman under the auspices of a master allows for time to become thoroughly competent with the more advanced aspects of the trade, such as designing schematics and supervising a crew. 

Master Plumbers

Master plumbers, as the title suggests, have gained complete mastery of the trade. They have typically undergone seven years’ worth of training as apprentice plumbers and journeyman plumbers to reach this pinnacle of their career. Once you have reached the master’s level, your career can truly be tailored to your needs, whether you choose to work independently or find a full-time, full-benefits position in an organization. Whatever your goals, becoming a master in the trade will open the door to a brighter future.