Plumber: Career Summary, Job Outlook, and Training Requirements

Research what it takes to become a plumber. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Plumbing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Plumber?

Plumbers install and repair pipes and pipe systems. As a plumber, you'll need to know how to work on a variety of plumbing systems and fixtures and understand how to assemble pipes using the appropriate tools. Plumbers need to have good organizational skills and be able to identify and solve problems. This profession typically involves daily travel to worksites. Though a number of plumbers work for plumbing companies, some are self-employed, which involves having good business skills.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required High school diploma (or equivalent)
Training Required Apprenticeship
Key Responsibilities Comply with building codes
Inspect/troubleshoot pipe systems
Install pipes and pipe systems
Licensure Licensure required, specifications vary by state
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 12%* (for all plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters)
Average Salary (2015) $55,100* (for all plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Would I Do as a Plumber?

As a plumber you'll generally be either self-employed or employed in the construction industry, working for plumbing contractors, government entities or large companies. You could provide installation and repair services for water, waste or gas systems, as well as their related fixtures and appliances, such as bathtubs and sinks. Your duties may include cutting pipes, made from such materials as copper, plastic or steel, to assemble systems.

You may work in a single location during a typical day, or you may travel between sites (both residential and commercial) in order to complete several work requests. Depending upon your employer, you might work regular daytime hours or more irregular hours in order to accommodate customer schedules.

What Could My Job Outlook Be?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters were predicted to grow at a faster than average rate of 12% during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). The BLS noted that many opportunities for employment were expected due to growth in the construction industry. A growing emphasis on efficiency in plumbing is also anticipated to help spur employment opportunities for skilled plumbers.

What Training Will I Need?

To become a plumber, you can enroll in a pre-apprenticeship associate's degree program offered by a technical or community college, although it's not always necessary. You'll most likely need to complete an apprenticeship program with or without previous academic experience in the subject. Your training in a college program will involve a technical curriculum that equips you with the skills and knowledge to work under a licensed plumber in an apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeships, which can last 4-5 years, require you to be supervised by a licensed plumber and learn the tools of the trade on-site. You'll receive classroom instruction in addition to paid on-the-job training. Coursework may cover plumbing codes and regulations, plumbing assembly, drafting and safety. Once you've completed an apprenticeship, you'll qualify to become a journeyman plumber, which is a generalist plumber who has the knowledge to perform plumbing duties in all construction phases.

How Do I Become Licensed?

You'll need to become licensed to work independently as a plumber in most states and communities. Specific licensure requirements vary by region, but you'll typically need to complete 2-5 years of experience and pass an examination on the general plumbing trade and local plumbing codes. Your state may have different types of licenses available for different levels of plumbers and different plumbing specialties. After completing an apprenticeship program, you'll typically need to earn a journeyman's license from your state before you may be employed.

With additional experience and training, you can go on to become licensed as a master plumber and be qualified to employ journeyman plumbers and apprentices. Your state may require that you periodically renew your plumbing license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Careers similar to plumbing include pipefitting, boilermaking, and working as a heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC) technician. Pipefitters are professionals who install and maintain pipes for chemicals, acids, and gases in various settings, including office buildings and factories. Boilermakers assemble, install and maintain boilers, tanks or large vats in settings such as factories and ships. HVAC technicians install, maintain and repair HVACR systems. These occupations typically all require an apprenticeship or certification and a license.

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