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How to Become a Plumber 

If you’ve been interested in becoming a plumber, you might be looking for information about the career and what types of opportunities it can provide. Considering that plumbing is a vital infrastructure, plumbers can find work in a variety of situations, from small business ownership to a full-time, full-benefits position with an established company.

You will be glad to know that the career offers plenty of work, long-term stability and decent wages. This article will provide you with all of the information you need to get started in this skilled career. 

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Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters

Although plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters all work to install and repair piping fixtures, there are some differences between the job designations. While all of these specialists need to have experience with welding and the techniques of the trade, the work is not the same.

Plumbers concentrate their training on everyday piping systems such as drinking water pipes and waste removal systems. Plumbers also work with different tools than pipefitters and steamfitters. Standard plumbing tools include basin wrenches, toilet augers, pipe wrenches, flashlights and tube cutters. 

Pipefitters work with both high- and low-pressure systems, use different piping materials and special tools for their trade. The pipes they work on might carry chemicals, acids, steam or industrial gasses. Common industry tools include fitter grips, cutting torches, welders, saws and pressure gauges. 

Similar to pipefitters, steamfitters work with high-pressure systems on a regular basis. The job can carry an increased risk of injuries compared with plumbers and pipefitters, due to the nature of the high-pressure systems on which they work. Steamfitters are often responsible for installing and repairing the gauges and automatic controls that keep high-pressure piping systems operating safely and effectively. 

Training for a Plumbing Career

Apprenticeships are standard for training in the plumbing industry, even for those who have undergone classroom instruction. Many post-secondary courses offer mentorship programs during training or placement in an apprenticeship once the course is completed.

In some states, apprenticeships are the only training method and are regulated by a statewide regulatory body. To find an apprenticeship or training program in your area, you can search for a listing of schools that offer training, seek training through a local union or search for potential matches on this website

There are many advantages to training through an apprenticeship, including hands-on learning, access to an industry expert and, in many cases, the ability to earn income while learning your trade. The amount of time you will need to spend in an apprenticeship can vary depending on state regulations. However, in general, training takes an average of four to five years. 

Licensing for Plumbers

Licensing regulations can vary from state to state, with the majority of states requiring a license to practice in the trade. Licensing can also be required in some localities, even when state licensing is not needed. As such, it will be essential to check the local regulations in the areas in which you wish to work.

In states where licensing is required for plumbers, there are generally different tiers for licensees, depending on experience. Those with the most experience will typically qualify for a license as a master plumber and are able to supervise other plumbers, design plumbing systems and work independently without supervision. Journeyman plumbers are less experienced than master plumbers and can supervise apprentices but need to work under a master plumber. Some states will also require apprentice plumbers to apply for a license at a lower cost. Generally, you can expect to have to pass an examination in order to earn your plumbing license. 

Wage Expectations and Career Growth Projections

As a career, plumbing holds a lot of promise, both in terms of wages and ongoing opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), plumbers reported annual salaries between $32,690 and $97,170 in 2019, with a median wage of $55,160. Wage statistics can vary by region and employment sector, meaning your salary could be higher or lower depending on where you work. It is also important to note that wages on the lower end of the scale likely reflect salaries paid to plumbing apprentices and assistants, as opposed to fully qualified plumbers. It is reasonable to expect that your earnings will jump as you complete your training to become a journeyman plumber, and increase once again when you become a qualified master plumber. 

Plumbers can find opportunities in a variety of industries but are most commonly employed by building contractors, utility system construction companies and nonresidential building contractors, according to the BLS. Plumbers can also be found in government agencies, hospitals, manufacturing companies, shipbuilding and the aerospace industry. Self-employment is a possibility for master plumbers who wish to work independently. Some even choose to accelerate their earning potential by beginning a plumbing company of their own and employing many others to work for them.

The industry is currently experiencing a positive growth rate, which is projected to continue into the long-term future. According to Projections Central, the growth rate between 2018 and 2028 is expected to be about 13.7 percent. This translates to about 68,300 new jobs in the trade, with approximately 66,100 job openings annually nationwide.

Working as a Plumber

So, what is it like to work in the field every day? Plumbers spend their time designing, installing, maintaining and repairing the piping systems that make modern society possible. Since these vital systems exist nearly everywhere, plumbers can be found working in a wide variety of places, from private residences and office complexes to factories and public buildings.

Working in the field comes with a great deal of responsibility for public safety, as plumbers will need to know which materials to use for the various types of substances they carry. For instance, a plumber will need to know which pipes can be safely used for drinking water and how to design a system that avoids contamination. Extensive knowledge of local building codes is vital to those in the trade, as is the ability to read blueprints.  

Plumbers should expect to engage in physical labor as a regular part of the job. The work requires using heavy tools and equipment, which will need to be transported to each worksite. Plumbers should also expect to work in tight, dimly lit spaces and are often required to crawl beneath a building to inspect pipes and perform repairs. 

For those who wish to participate in business ownership or management, basic business skills will be essential. Business owners will need to be able to balance their books, create marketing strategies and meet industry safety regulations. Maintaining a continuous stream of revenue can rely on accurately preparing estimates and bids for potential customers. Communication skills are also a must, as contractors often need to communicate with customers and other tradespeople to coordinate timely project completion. 

Career Paths

As mentioned above, plumbers can find work in many places, giving those in the field the freedom to choose a career tailored to their needs and interests. As a plumber, there is also ample opportunity to achieve specialty certifications to advance your career into a specialized niche area.

Regardless of where you begin working in the trade and in what direction you choose to grow, a career as a plumber has the potential to help you meet your lifestyle needs.