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Choose a Plumbing Apprenticeship: Is a Union Apprenticeship Best?

Most people who are starting on the path to becoming a professional plumber will begin their plumbing career with a plumbing apprenticeship. Electricians and other construction trades also get trained in apprenticeships, so this article will help them, too.

Perhaps the first big decision the potential plumbing apprentice will need to make is whether to join a plumbing union or work as a non-union plumber. This choice determines the plumbing apprenticeship program you will enter as well as – probably – the initial job you will  have as Journeyman after the apprenticeship is over.

Union Apprenticeships vs. Non-Union:  The Differences Have Decreased

Although union shops used to provided their people with greater earnings and benefits, the gap in these aspects between union and non-union careers has decreased considerably. This shift appears to be due to the nationwide shortage of licensed plumbers. Today, plumbers at every level can find outstanding employment opportunities at both union and non-union companies.

These jobs typically include excellent wages and great benefits like medical health insurance, disability insurance, vacation time, sick time, 401k and pension programs, education tuition assistance and often other benefits, too. In some instances, based upon the job requirements, a company motor vehicle might be provided, too. The greatest distinctions now between union and non-union plumbing positions are in the plumbing apprenticeship programs, continuing education programs, and the types of work that the plumber might be focusing on.

Apprenticeship Programs

When looking to choose between union and non-union businesses, people who are considering becoming a career plumber (or electrician, etc.) should primarily evaluate the apprenticeship programs that these businesses supply. The future plumber will want to look at the plumbing apprenticeship program with the same rigor they would use in choosing a plumbing trade school or college to attend.

The beauty of the apprenticeship is that it effectively provides both on the job training and a plumbing trade school education, all while you are getting paid to work. Select the best apprenticeship program to allow you to grow professionally as a qualified plumber, don’t just pick the apprenticeship that pays the most.

Union Apprenticeship Programs

Overall, the apprenticeship programs that are offered by the numerous plumbing unions are great. The selection process is demanding as they don’t admit everybody who applies, and the plumbing training program is structured. Most union apprenticeship programs last from 4 to 5 years and offer a combination of practical and traditional in-class education. At the conclusion of the plumbing apprenticeship program, the apprentice is eligible to get a Journeyman plumber license.

In general, the senior plumbers in the union are available to assist you learn and coach you on the skill-sets required to become successful in the business. In the union apprenticeship, the union and the union plumber are making an investment in the apprentice in order to pass the highest standards of the trade along to the next generation of plumbers.

Non-Union Apprenticeship Programs

While a good many of the non-union plumbing apprenticeship apprentice programs are very good, many of them aren’t up to the same standard of the ones provided by the unions. In looking at the many non-union programs, the potential plumber needs to carefully look into the program and compare them to the union alternatives. The most crucial factor to look for is whether the apprenticeship is formalized with an organized, written program that includes plenty of in-class time plus on the job teaching.

As an apprentice, you are there to learn and not to be a plumber’s helper. Make certain the plumbing contractor who you will work for shares your focus on helping you learn to be a plumber. Also, definitely make certain the classroom-type training is organized and professional. You cannot afford to join an unstructured program, work four to five years with only ad-hoc, mediocre formalized training, and then find out that you do not possess the education or the technical skills to pass the certification exam and become a Journeyman plumber.

Continuing Education, Work Types, Other Differences

One of the goals of both union and non-union apprenticeship programs is to teach the new plumbers the best way to install and service a wide variety of plumbing systems and equipment. Another focus is to train the apprentice on the importance to one’s reputation and future career of always performing great quality work and being reliable. It is really not enough just to “meet code”. The apprentice’s workmanship will have to both exceed the code and fulfill the standards of the plumbers for whom the apprentice is working. Professionalism and quality are never waived due to job timetable or money.

Keeping up with changes in code, new gear and new methods demands continual learning through your employment, from the very first day as an apprentice until the day the plumber retires. Continuing education is typically more organized with plumbing unions than it is with non-union employers. As a union person, you’ll be paying dues to the union on a yearly basis and the continuing education programs are one of the more important benefits of being a union member. In a great many non-union firms, a structured continuous education program is not a priority, particularly in these demanding financial times. After you learn the skills necessary to be a plumber, you’re going to want to keep them updated.

One other thing to take a look at when selecting the union or non-union route is to consider the kinds work you are interested in performing. Union personnel often work on larger, more complex, longer-lasting plumbing projects. Non-union employees ordinarily build smaller sized, less complicated, shorter projects. A lot of people like focusing on the same project for a long time, while other folks want more variety. The prospective professional plumber will need to think about what kinds of projects they may be interested in when choosing between the union or non-union route.

All that being said, the union vs. non-union decision is a personal decision for the future plumber to make. The prospective apprentice must examine the various plumbing apprenticeship programs, continuing training and the types of work that interest them. Regardless of which path is chosen, a qualified professional plumber has the chance to earn a very good income in a profession where their abilities will always be in demand.

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More information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.