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A Beginner’s Guide to Plumbing Apprenticeship Programs

The plumbing apprenticeship represents a crucial step in the journey to becoming a plumber. Find out everything you need to know!

Entering the plumbing industry remains a lucrative career option for a very good reason. Every home, office, store, restaurant, theater, and what-have-you requires a plumber for the necessities of modern life: running water and a flushing toilet.

If you want to learn and master this trade, you need hands-on experience alongside a mentor called a master plumber. In other words, you need an apprenticeship. In fact, studying in an apprenticeship for several years remains a requirement for your final plumbing state license exam.

Finding, preparing for, and making the most of a plumbing apprenticeship program might seem overwhelming, but it’s an exciting journey that leads to a rewarding career. 

Finding Plumbing Apprenticeship Programs

Before you can get too excited about an apprenticeship program, you have to find one to apply to. Word of mouth recommendations tend to lead to good results. If you have already made some connections in the plumbing industry, ask them for opinions and advice about local plumbing apprenticeship programs. Who knows? You might get lucky and land an apprenticeship with a master plumber you already know.

Local trade or technical schools and plumbing unions remain popular options for plumbing apprenticeship programs. Expect to take some classes as well as adhere to a full journeyman’s schedule. The application process varies, but you may need to pass some aptitude tests in math and science and meet for an interview when you apply to more formal programs. Plumbing apprenticeship programs typically require a high school diploma or GED.

You can also reach out to established plumbing companies to inquire about an apprenticeship. However, plumbing apprenticeships can be quite competitive. With more people interested in apprenticeships than actual apprenticeship positions, you can stand out from the crowd if you have already attended some plumbing courses or have a letter of recommendation. This shows you’re serious about plumbing and won’t waste time or resources by dropping out as soon as the work gets tough.

Preparing for a Plumbing Apprenticeship

As an apprentice plumber, you need your own gear and equipment. Don’t worry about getting highly specialized tools at this point, but do assemble a basic kit with high-quality tools that feel comfortable in your hands. A good plumber is a prepared plumber.

Not sure what you should get? You can ask your program or mentor for a list, but in general, expect to have the following: 

  • Pipe cutters
  • Pipe wrenches
  • Pliers 
  • Adjustable wrench 
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Torpedo level
  • Multi-bit screwdriver
  • Hammer
  • Permanent markers
  • Personal protection equipment (PPE)

As you continue to learn, you’ll find yourself borrowing tools from your mentor often enough to warrant investing in your own. Build up your tool kit over time to feel less of a financial punch. 

Making the Most of an Apprenticeship Program

Once you officially start your apprenticeship, leave your ego at the door. Come ready to learn and remain teachable. You should ask questions, make a solid effort to follow instructions, put in the sweat, take notes, and study in your free time when needed. 

You also need to remain safe on the job. Pay attention and use your PPE. An apprenticeship will force you out of your comfort zone, but it should never push you into danger. Speak up if you feel like something may be unsafe. 

Over time, you’ll get asked to perform more complicated tasks or to see a project through from start to finish. Embrace these opportunities. They mean your mentor likes your performance and thinks you are ready to move forward in your training. 

Embarking on Your Career as a Journeyman

Plumbing apprenticeships last for several years based on the experience required for an individual state’s license exam. Becoming a licensed plumber is the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s just one exam away.

Look up the specific licensing requirements for the state in which you’ll work. Note that sometimes plumbers who live on the border will need to get a license from each state in order to take advantage of a larger potential client pool. Your apprenticeship takes care of the education or experience requirements, but some states also require proof of liability insurance

You’ll likely need to submit an application to the state’s Plumbing Division before you’ll be allowed to sign up for the journeyman’s exam, which often has a processing fee. You’ll have a limited time to take the exam, so show up on time. 

Becoming a Master Plumber

Achieving the title of a journeyman plumber represents years of hard work, but when you finish, you have another accomplishment to look forward to: becoming a master plumber. After working for a certain number of years as a journeyman plumber, you’ll be qualified to take your state’s master plumber exam. This grants you the ability to give back to the plumbing industry by owning a company and supervising other plumbers. You’ll probably have your own apprentice too, and the cycle of education will continue.