Plumbers keep the world flowing. They handle basically all installation, repair, and maintenance for water and gas systems. As a plumber, your job duties can include everything from fixing leaky faucets in a home to designing and installing a complete water and sewer system for a commercial structure.
Note that plumbers and pipefitters are different careers, although they have some overlap. Also called a pipe layer, a pipefitter installs and maintains specialized pipes, such as storm sewers, water mains, and sanitary drains. While plumbers do install pipes, they also perform a much broader array of services.
Here's everything you need to know about how to become a plumber.
Plumbing offers a fairly fast path forward. Plus, you can make money while learning. The career trajectory for a plumber usually follows this route:
- High School or GED
- Vocational Training
- Obtaining a License
- Employment with a Plumbing Company or Solo Work
In high school, you'll want to develop a foundation in science and math. Also, a familiarity with computers and electronics is helpful. Try to take shop classes, too, to help become comfortable with basic tools.
Next, you'll enter either an accredited technical college or trade school to begin your plumbing education. Typically, these programs take two years to complete. You'll learn a variety of plumbing concepts and techniques. Also, you'll earn certifications related to water, drainage, and piping.
Then, you'll start a plumbing apprenticeship, either through a plumbing company or a solo master plumber. They usually last for four years. Before an apprenticeship can begin, the completion of a certain number of classroom hours is usually required. The exact number varies based on requirements by the state and individual plumber or plumbing company.
After completing your apprenticeship, you'll need a license from the state before you can work as a plumber. License requirements vary but typically involve a set number of apprenticeship hours, classroom hours, or a combination of both. To earn the license, you must pass an exam, which covers plumbing codes, procedures, and more.
How Do I Become a Plumber?
The path to becoming a plumber is fairly fluid. Some apprenticeships are available if you're enrolled in trade school but haven't yet graduated. Although increasingly rare, other apprenticeships have no vocational school requirements, allowing you to start right out of high school.
After earning your license, you can either go into business for yourself or work for a company. Many companies require people they've apprenticed to then work for them for a predetermined length of time. Even if not required, many newly licensed plumbers choose to work for their apprentice sponsors.
Going into business for yourself is another viable option. You have the opportunity to make more money, but you'll also have to take on extra responsibilities, such as managing the finances, hiring other employees, and more.
Certification is only valid at the state level. While that gives you the freedom to work anywhere within the state, you'll need to recertify if you want to move out of state or if you work near a busy state border.
How Much Does a Plumber Make?
Salary depends on experience, specialization, work location, and other factors. However, demand for plumbing always exists, making it a lucrative career even when you're an apprentice.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, plumbers earn a mean salary of $56,330 annually. The average base salary starts at $25.12 per hour.
In 2019, about 490,200 plumbers were employed in the US, and the industry has a healthy projected growth rate of 4%. An estimated 20,900 news jobs will likely be added in the next ten years. Opportunities for work exist practically anywhere, from large cities to rural areas.
Are Requirements Different from State to State?
The basic skill-set necessary to become a licensed plumber in all 50 states is fairly consistent. It requires passing an exam as well as accruing on-the-job experience with a licensed plumber (or plumbing company). Additionally, most states require proof of bonding.
Within each state, the application process can differ. Some states issue a single license while others separate licenses into commercial or residential, gas or utility, or in other ways.
Many states offer tiered licensing, such as Journeyman and Master licenses. The type of license determines what kind of work you're allowed to perform. A Master plumber is licensed to work on more complex, specialized jobs (which usually earn more money).
Skill Sets Required to Become a Plumber
Success as a plumber depends on the following key skills:
1. Mechanical Expertise
You'll need to understand how plumbing systems function, which includes a thorough understanding of water behavior, plumbing materials, and more. The engineering and mechanical aspects of the job should interest you.
2. Physical Strength and Dexterity
Plumbing is a physical job. You'll need to use your fingers in cramped spaces, crawl under sinks, lift heavy objects, and much more. As you age, the demands of the job can take a toll on your body, which is why many plumbers eventually transfer into management or teaching positions.
3. Problem Solving
No two plumbing problems are exactly the same. A good plumber is also a good detective, able to track down the source of a leak or other problem and then implement the perfect solution. You'll need problem-solving skills and the ability to handle frustrating situations.
What's the Career Progression for a Plumber?
The career progression for a plumber is wide open. Some plumbers perform the same types of tasks their entire career, while others explore many different options within the industry. A potential career path, where each step typically leads to a salary increase, can look like the following:
- Apprentice – An aspiring plumber
- Journeyman – A professional plumber allowed to work on most basic jobs alone
- Master or Contractor – A plumber with extensive experience allowed to work on almost any type of plumbing job
- Manager – A general manager, field supervisor, or other supervisory roles at a plumbing company
- Owner – The owner/operator of a plumbing company
Plumbing is an in-demand career with a strong starting salary plus the ability to earn even more as you gain experience. Plus, job opportunities are plentiful with the option of also starting your own business.
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