Computers and robots may be taking over the jobs of some workers, but plumbers aren't among them. These skilled professionals do hands-on work that can't be easily duplicated by a machine. Plumbing programs prepare students to complete these essential tasks:
- Reading blueprints and following state and local building codes.
- Installing pipes and fixtures in new buildings and existing structures.
- Inspecting and testing plumbing systems.
- Identifying problems within a system and implementing solutions.
- Repairing and replacing old plumbing parts.
Within the plumbing profession, there are specialized occupations. Some plumbing degrees are designed to prepare students to pursue these jobs. However, even those who graduate from a general plumbing trade school may be able to specialize through on-the-job training.
- Plumbers have broad training that can be used in a variety of jobs. They install and repair pipes that carry water and gas in residential, industrial and commercial settings.
- Pipefitters often work with pipes that carry substances other than water. For instance, they may install and maintain pipes that move acids and chemicals.
- Sprinkler fitters specialize in installing and repairing sprinkler systems.
- Steamfitters are professionals that install pipes that move steam under pressure.
- Gasfitters install and maintain pipes that move natural gas in residential, commercial and industrial settings.
How to Become a Plumber
You won't have to go to a four-year college to become a plumber, but you should expect to spend a couple years learning the trade. Fortunately, plumbing programs typically include a paid apprenticeship. That means you should have income coming in which will offset the cost of a plumbing training school or plumbing degree. Keep the following steps in mind for becoming a plumber:
- Though it may not seem required, many employers want their employees to at least have a high school diploma/GED or equivalent.
- Complete postsecondary training, often through a certificate or associate degree in plumbing technology or a related field.
- Work as an apprentice to an established plumber. Sometimes these are offered as part of the above-mentioned certification or degree progam.
Most plumbing programs include the following topics:
- Pipe systems design
- Safety procedures
- Blueprint reading
- Government regulations
- Physics and chemistry
Degree Programs for Plumbers
While not every plumber has a degree, everyone working in the profession has postsecondary training. You need more than a high school diploma to work in this field. Some plumbing professionals get on-the-job training, but others attend a plumbing trade school. These may award one of the following:
- Certificate/Diploma: These short-term programs are offered at plumbing training schools and community colleges. They can typically be completed in 1-2 years and include both classroom and hands-on instruction.
- Associate Degree: Many community colleges offer an associate degree in plumbing technology or a related field. You may want a plumbing degree if you'd like to specialize or if you want the option to potentially transfer your credits and apply them toward a bachelor's degree. An associate degree typically takes two years to complete.
Apprenticeships for plumbing
Regardless of whether you get a plumbing degree, you'll need a plumbing apprenticeship to gain the experience necessary to work independently. Apprenticeship programs are offered through trade groups or may be arranged by a plumbing training school. Most apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction. It's not usual for these programs to last 4-5 years.
Plenty of schools and organizations offer plumbing programs. These include plumbing trade schools, community colleges and professional groups.
You might be surprise to learn there are even online plumbing schools. These are typically open to those who already have a job in the field. Those eligible complete the hands-on portion of their apprenticeship with their employer while taking online courses for the classroom component of the program.
Licensing and certification for plumbers
Once you complete your apprenticeship, you'll need to be licensed by your state before you can begin working on your own. Requirements vary by state, but most are looking for 2-5 years of work experience. States typically also have a licensing exam that covers knowledge of plumbing practices as well as plumbing codes.
What's more, there are voluntary certification programs offered by industry organizations. While not required, some employers may prefer to hire certified workers. Plumbing certification programs include the following:
- UPC Master Level Plumber from the National Inspection Testing and Certification Corporation
- Certified in Plumbing Design by the American Society of Plumbing Engineers
- Service Plumber Certification from ASSE International
Career advancement for plumbers
Becoming a Master Level Plumber is one way to advance your career. Others decide to move into specialized work where there may be less competition and more demand for their skills. Or you could advance your career by starting your own plumbing business. Taking some business classes when you earn your plumbing degree may be a good way to get ready for this career path.
Skills and Qualities for Plumbing Professionals
A plumbing trade school can teach you the skills and knowledge needed to find work in the field. However, you're more likely to excel if you develop these skills and abilities as well.
- Critical thinking: Plumbing systems can be complex, and workers need to evaluate a work situation to determine the best way to proceed with a project.
- Complex problem solving: Pipe systems, particularly older ones, don't always work as expected, and plumbers need complex problem solving skills in order to fix them.
- Extent flexibility: Plumbers are often bending, twisting and stretching to reach various components. Extent flexibility refers to a person's ability to move into the right position to get the job done.
- Finger dexterity: Having this ability means a professional can grasp, twist and turn the small parts that make up plumbing systems.
- Near vision: Good vision will help a plumber see the various components of a system, particularly in areas such as under cupboards or in closets where lighting is less than ideal.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Plumbing Professionals
How much you'll earn as a plumber can depend upon your experience, where you work and whether you've completed any plumbing certification programs. While there are no guarantees, the chart below looks at the range of incomes found nationwide for plumbing professionals, in addition to what the job outlook for plumbers might be:
Projected Job Growth
|Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||438,070||$58,150||13.6%|
Professional Resources for Plumbers
A number of groups exist to promote the work of plumbing professionals. They may offer educational opportunities and other resources to those working in the field.
- United Association - As a union for plumbers, fitters, welders and service techs, this group represents approximately 340,000 tradesmen and women across North America.
- Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association - Dating to 1883, PHCC advocates for plumbing professionals and provides apprenticeship opportunities and online plumbing programs.
- American Society of Plumbing Engineers - With more than 6,000 members worldwide, ASPE supports the work of professionals who design and inspect plumbing systems.