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Plumber

Job Spotlight - Plumber

Most people only think of their Plumber when something has gone wrong such as a backed up toilet or a clogged shower. You might even have some preconceived thought of what it takes to work in plumbing. Throw those thoughts out the window. The plumbing profession can be both dynamic and very rewarding in ways you never imagined.
 

Quick Facts: Plumbers, Steamfitters and Pipefitters
2015 Median Pay (Annual) $50,620
2015 Median Pay (Hourly) $24.34
Entry-Level Education At Least a high school diploma or GED
Recommended Education Post-secondary education (certificate or degree)
2014-2024 Projected Outlook 12% growth (faster than average)
2014 Number of Jobs 425,000
2014-2024 Estimated Employment Gains 49,100

Resource: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Plumber FAQs

The information we are about to present to you will discuss what it takes to start working as a plumber, including education requirements and what you should expect working in this field. We have put together a list of questions that we have been asked about work in plumbing. If we missed any of your questions or you would like to add any, just contact us.

What is a Plumber?

A Plumber is a tradesman that has been instructed on installation, repair and maintenance of the variety of plumbing systems used in the modern world. These systems include drainage, drinking water (potable water) and sewage. Those who working in the plumbing business can work in a wide variety of environments from homes and businesses to schools and airports, to name just a few places.

Those choosing work as a plumber may be surprised that the job is more than fixing leaky pipes or making sure the toilet flushes right each time. Some plumbing specialists work in the construction industry. They are found laying down pipes for water and sewage as well as installing showers, bathtubs, sinks, dishwashers and other appliances according to the blueprints or specs of the building.

Other Plumbers may work in the role of bigger picture projects such as setting up systems to help move water from reservoirs and water treatment plants to homes and businesses. Or they work on the other end of it by laying down the pipes and framework remove waste to sewers and treatment plants.

The job of a Plumber is not one that is boring as everyday can bring something different. From simple repairs to entire tear downs of plumbing systems. Jobs in plumbing are taking off as one of the fastest growing jobs in the country. The pay level is rising too ranking as one of the top paying jobs for those without a 4-year college degree.

How to Get Started as a Plumber

Quick Info: Working as a Plumber
Start in high school
• Talk to guidance counselor
• Take shop classes including metal working and drafting
• Include classes in science, math and computer science
Education programs
• Enrolling in an accredited vocational school or community college
-OR-

• United Association (UA) apprenticeships
-OR-

• Enlisting in the U.S. Military
Earn your certification
• Complete at least 144 hours of formal instruction
• Know your state, local and federal plumbing codes
• Demonstrate knowledge of installation, repair and maintenance of plumbing systems

If you have it in your mind that a job as a Plumber is the choice for you, then you probably started your preparation in high school. A high school counselor will recommend students interested in plumbing to take classes in shop, science, computer science and math. At schools that offer some vocational courses, students will be told they should take any of the plumbing classes, drafting and reading blueprints.

After high school is when the real education takes place for those want to get in to the plumbing business. There are three types of instruction you can choose to get started. Each method has its own pros and cons so you will need to weigh which one is best for you.

Formal Education

While a college degree is not a requirement to become a Plumber, it can be very helpful in a few ways. First of all, by attending a technical or trade school or a community college will help you get a better grasp on the basics of the plumbing position. These basics include a greater understanding of the math, science, drafting and blueprint reading that can be extremely handy for those looking for certification.

Another aspect that is sometimes overlooked is that by earning a diploma or a degree from a post-secondary school can open up more than a few doors for aspiring Plumbers. You might find employers who feel that a formal education is a big advantage than those who just do an apprenticeship. As some of the plumbing technology becomes more advanced and the competition for jobs becomes more intense, having a degree from a community college or a trade school might put you over the top on your competition.

A good number of those working in plumbing will attend an apprentice program. Since most apprentice programs have become very competitive as far as candidates securing a spot, taking part in one of the short certificate programs offered a trade school can give you a bit of an edge over your competition. Even though going to a trade school does not guarantee you an apprenticeship, it might be enough to get you in.

If you decide to go to a technical school or a community college you will get a good dose of education and practical experience in a plumbing program. You will spend time in both a classroom environment and a shop class to experience the workings of the job. Some of your courses will about drainage systems, pipes, venting, valves and water supply.

Pros

  • Can be able to start working in 2 to 3 years
  • May be an asset when it comes to looking for a job
  • Could give you an edge when applying for apprenticeship

Cons

  • Not paid to learn
  • Some classes may not seem relevant
  • Takes 1 to 3 years to complete
Apprenticeships

A majority of Plumbers today got their education through an apprentice program. When it comes to apprentice programs there are basically two types to consider. The first one is through a labor union such as the United Association (UA) which is a union for Plumbers, fitters, welders and HVAC service technicians. The second choice, as you might expect is a non-union apprenticeship through a training center or a local Plumber.

Both of these types of apprenticeships can provide you with the information and skills needed to become a certified Plumber. Apprentices will work under the supervision of a journeyman Plumber in a union program or possibly a master Plumber in the non-union method. The experienced plumbing instructor will take the apprentice under their wing, so to speak, by showing them the ropes of what the job entails and how to do it.

Typically an apprenticeship can last 5 years and you will be paid a discounted rate to learn. As the apprentice gains more experience they will be held responsible to perform more complex jobs. Around the 5 year mark, or when you have logged the necessary amount of hours according to the state or local regulations, the apprentice can take the exam to be recognized as a journeyman.

Most apprenticeship programs require that applicants have a high school diploma or a GED. There are also some age restrictions between 16 and 18, depending on where you live. Some programs require some post-secondary education either taken before or during the apprenticeship. Contact your local UA and department of licensing for more requirements.

Most union apprenticeships accept a limited amount of trainees every year. This could mean that finding a spot could be very difficult and competitive. If you are not accepted, you could always try to find a local master Plumber who will take you in as an apprentice.

Pros

  • Real world experience
  • Getting a paycheck during schooling
  • Easier to learn tricks of the trade

Cons

  • 3 to 5 years of apprenticeship
  • Can be let go if not working out
  • May be difficult to get in to
Military Experience

If you want to learn the trade of a Plumber, but still want to experience a little bit of adventure, then you could consider enlisting in the U.S. military. The Army, Navy and National Guard offer excellent programs in plumbing and pipe fitting. This could be a great choice for someone who wants more to life than school or an apprenticeship.

After enlistment you will take an aptitude test and if you qualify you could be on your way to working as a Plumber. The instruction you will receive will be a combination of classroom instruction with some practice in repairing plumbing systems. Some of the topics included in this instruction include:

  • Installation and repair of pipe systems, plumbing fixtures and boiler controls
  • Repair and maintenance of hydraulic and pneumatic systems
  • Proper methods of welding, soldering, cutting and silver brazing

Not only will you receive great instruction and real world application of your skills, you will also have the benefits of being in the armed forces. This includes travel, paychecks, room, board and being part of a proud tradition. You may become amazed on how many doors will be open to you when your enlistment is up with a number of employers giving the edge to someone with vet status.

Pros

  • World travel
  • Once in a lifetime experiences
  • Free room, board and a paycheck while enlisted

Cons

  • 4 year enlistment
  • Can be sent to hostile environments
  • Limited amount of freedom
State Certification

After you have completed your education you will need to start thinking about certification. Most states require some certification in order to become a journeyman Plumber. This move to journeyman is the second step to becoming a Master Plumber.

The type or format of the exam you will need to take for this new title may vary from state to state. Most of these exams will test the knowledge and competence of an aspiring Plumber of such topics like state, local and federal plumbing codes, and techniques for installation, maintenance and repair of plumbing systems. Other topics may include reading and creating blueprints and building plans. Expect a wide range of plumbing and piping systems to part of this exam.

There are certain requirements that must be met in order to take the journeyman examination. Typical requirements include:

  • Completion of 144 hours of formal training through an accredited program such as a tech school, community college, licensed contractor or a plumber’s union.
  • Classroom training on blueprint reading and state codes
  • Completion of at least 4 years of apprenticeship or training working with a master Plumber
Our Recommendations
We are strong believers in formal education as the world and technology gets more complex and competitive. We feel that earning a certificate studying at a tech school or a community college may offer you more opportunities in job searches and even applying for an apprenticeship. There are some job centers and trade schools that offer a combination of the apprenticeship and formal education which may be the best of both worlds. If you are serious about being successful as a Plumber, you should have a good mix of formal education and real world experience.

Where Can I Find Plumbing Schools?

Quick Info: What To Look For in Formal Plumbing Education
Some of the top factors that help determine a good plumbing education
• Plenty of hands-on learning
• Experienced instructors
• Comprehensive study of state, local and federal coding and licensing laws
• Helpful practice examinations
• Job placement options

Finding a trade school or a community college that offers plumbing courses is right at the end of your fingertips. A quick search on the internet will show you a number of options you can choose for your educational needs. More than likely the schools that come up in your search will be localized.

When looking for the right school for your education you should look for certain factors to help narrow down your search. For example, it is best to find a school or program that meets the educational requirements of a national accreditation body such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Careers (ACCSC). Accreditation means that is has met the intended quality and requirements that are necessary for students to succeed.

Some other factors you should look in should include distance, cost of tuition and the graduation rate of students. You should be comfortable with all of these to help you have a better experience. It would also be a good idea to find a school that either offers an apprentice program or has connections to help you find an apprenticeship. This way, you can get the most out of your education. Plus, this combo of apprenticeship and education can be a fast ticket to the ultimate goal of working as a master Plumber.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are a little different to find than a school. In some cases it is as easy as contacting the local union that represents Plumbers such as the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Other times you might have to search out a master Plumber who will take an apprentice under their wing for instruction. Either way, you will have to do a little research.

Take note: Most union apprenticeship programs can be difficult to enter since there is limited spots for instruction. The process to apply for a union apprenticeship involves a written application and an aptitude test. Other requirements may include a valid driver’s license or state ID card, clean criminal record and passing a drug test.

U.S. Military

Unlike the previous strategies, enlistment in the military is a bit easier. Contacting a recruiting office or filling out a form online can provide you a start in what could be the greatest experience of your life.

There are three military branches that offer instruction in plumbing and pipefitting. These are the Army, Navy and the National Guard. You should enlist in the type of service you want to represent. Please note that by joining the military you could be deployed to dangerous areas or war zones. However, the plumbing training and the steady paycheck should override some of those possibilities.

U.S. Army

U.S. Navy

National Guard

Are There Any Online Plumbing Courses?

There are some top ranked schools in this country that offer online plumbing courses and certificate programs. As with a traditional campus-based school you will want to check that it has been properly accredited by a national body. You can do this by looking for an accreditation seal on the website or by calling the admissions office.

As you might expect, online courses are basically classroom instruction that do not provide any practical experience, so you may need to find a way to get it. We do recommend that if you decide to go to an online school for plumbing instruction that you also join the UA or one of the local unions for plumbing and pipefitters. This way you can apply for an apprenticeship and double up your experience.

Why Choose Online Courses?


It should not be a mystery that online schools are becoming increasingly popular each year. For some online education is a great way to keep their full-time job while preparing for another job. For others it is a way to be able to get a college degree without having to relocate to a campus. No matter the reason why students enroll in an online school, they are trying to improve their quality of life and job opportunities.

All you need to be an online student is a computer with a high-speed internet connection and initiative to learn. Students enrolled in online schools do enjoy some benefits that you might not find a campus-based school. Some of these bennies include:

  • Study from anywhere
  • Flexible class schedule
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Way to balance life and school

How Long Does It Take to Complete Plumber School?

It will take at least 4 or 5 years as an apprentice for you to attain enough hours to take the journeyman exam. If you decide to go to school to improve your chances to get in an apprenticeship program, this can add an extra 1 to 3 years on to the total. This might sound like a long time but in reality it goes by quickly and you will be amazed on how rewarding of a career this will be.

What is a Good Plumbers Job Description?

Working in the plumbing business is more than fixing a jammed up toilet or a leaky faucet. There are a number of different jobs that you may run in to on a daily basis at any time of the day. Some of the typical work you will run in to could include:

  • Maintenance and installation of heating systems
  • Installation and repairing of garbage disposals
  • Inspection of pipes and fixtures by flushing with water or air pressure to find leaks
  • Add pipes, appliances and fixtures according to blueprints and building plans
  • Create written cost estimates and discuss contracts
  • Bend, thread and create pipes to fit as needed
  • Connect or extend piping for underground water or sanitary systems to house or building
  • Create openings and hang pipes from ceiling joists
  • Repair defective appliances, pipes or fixtures
  • Make a determination of the total amount of pipes and material needed to do job
  • Replacement of worn or defective parts
  • Determine the malfunction of systems not working properly

What Does the Plumber Salary Look Like?

After all that hard work and training, rest assured that you are entering one of the highest paid positions that does not require a 4-year college degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released the latest annual median salary for Plumbers. This number is a whopping $50,620 a year or over $24.34 an hour.

plumbing salary

This salary statistic by the BLS is not a guarantee of what you will receive in this job. There are some factors that will play in to your actual real-dollar paycheck. Some of these factors include:

  • Where you live
  • Type of company you work for
  • Union membership
  • Experience
  • Demand of services where you work

How Does the Future Look for Plumbers and Pipefitters?

The latest projections from the U.S. government shows a dramatic increase in number of new jobs in the area of plumbing and pipe fitting. The current estimate is a growth of 49,100 jobs over the next decade (2024) or an increase of 12% of new opportunities for Plumbers. This is faster than the average growth of all occupations through the same time period. It is good to get in to plumbing now.

Plumber Projected Job Growth

Are There Any Certifications for Plumbers?

If you want to stand out from others in the plumbing business, you can always earn a certification in some of the specialty niches within the industry. These certifications will prove that you have gained the necessary expertise in these fields to be considered an expert. These are completely voluntary but might be able to make you more noticeable for prospective clients.

These certifications can be earned through testing from some of the professional associations that serve as advocates for the plumbing business. Groups like the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) is one such group that offers a number of certifications for you to get. For those who want to cash in on the environmental friendly trend, there is a group called the Green Plumbers USA that offer certifications for those performing environmentally safe plumbing services.

Are There Plumbing Licenses?

While there isn’t a ruling body that oversees licensing for Plumbers, you will find that most states and localities oversee licenses. The requirements for these licenses may vary from state or region, so it is best to check either with the local union or the department of licensing for more information.

The first set of licenses has to do with the level or rank of the Plumber. As we mentioned previously, there are two levels of plumbing ranks that are required to have some licensing. A journeyman is the first rank you can achieve after you finish your apprenticeship. Typically it takes 4 to 5 years of supervised work to be eligible to take the exam.

The highest rank is a master Plumber. Most states will allow you take the master exam after a year of working as a supervised journeyman. This includes states like Georgia, Minnesota, Texas and Louisiana. Some states will demand more work experience before you are able to take the exam. California is the only state that does not have a designation of Master Plumber so a journeyman is as high as you can go.

Once you start working as a master Plumber, you may want to start your own business. If so you will most likely need to get a contractor’s license. This will give you the ability to work and own a plumbing business in the state or area of issue.

What Are the Different Specializations for Plumbers?

Once you have decided to that you want to work as a Plumber, you can always specialize in certain areas either to work on specific jobs or to help create new opportunities for your job. The most common specializations for those in the plumbing business are:

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