Tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians typically have an apprentice training system. This means that those who join the profession learn the trade by taking classes and working, usually full-time, as an apprentice at a relatively low wage. After completing an apprenticeship, which typically takes three to five years, and passing an exam, you can become a journeyman. Another three or four years of working as a journeyman gives you enough experience to qualify to take the exam to become a master plumber or electrician.
Applying for Apprenticeships
Organizations such as unions and electrical and plumber contractor associations offer trade apprenticeship programs. Typical qualifications for an apprenticeship program include a minimum age of 18, a high school diploma or GED, one year of algebra, a passing score on an industry-specific aptitude test and a clean criminal history check and drug screening. Many apprenticeship programs only have a limited number of spots each year, so it is important to have good references and high test scores.
A Trade Apprenticeship
A trade apprenticeship typically lasts three to five years. Most apprenticeship programs require 150 to 250 hours of classroom study and around 2,000 hours of paid supervised training every year. Apprentices who have completed an accredited certificate or associate degree program can reduce the length of their apprenticeships. Apprentices are often assigned to work with experienced tradesmen across a broad range of tasks, so they are prepared to work in manufacturing, the construction industry or as private tradesmen after completing the apprenticeship. Trade apprentices are usually paid around half the wages of journeyman. Becoming a journeyman requires passing a state licensing exam.
Working as a Journeyman
A journeyman is an experienced professional at his trade. With four-plus years of experience, he has learned all of the basics of his profession and is likely developing expertise in one or more specialty areas. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, plumbers earned a median annual income of $51,450 in 2016, while electricians earned a median wage of $52,720 a year.
Reaching Master Status
It takes seven or eight years of professional experience to qualify to sit for the exam for a master plumber or electrician license. A master plumber or electrician is expected to be able to take on most types of specialty work in his trade or recommend another professional who has experience dealing with a specific problem. Master plumbers and electricians typically earn significantly more than journeymen, and many have earnings that put them in the top 10 percent of their profession. The top 10 percent of electricians earned at least $90,420 in 2016, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent of plumbers earned $90,530 or more.