|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||340,370|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||4.8%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||22,880|
- Although most modern plumbers do attend one-year certificate programs or two-year associate's degree programs at vocational colleges, this often isn't a requirement of the job.
- The vast majority of these workers must enroll in an exhaustive apprenticeship that can last for four to five years.
- Industry standards require apprentices to complete at least 1,700 hours of on-the-job training as well as nearly 250 hours of classroom and technical experience on an annual basis.
- Apprentices who successfully complete the requirements become journey workers. Those who wish to become master plumbers or plumbing engineers must accumulate several years of job experience and may need to attend additional educational programs.
What you study:
Aspiring plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters typically cover the following subject areas during their apprenticeships:
- Workplace safety
- Municipal and state-level building codes
- Soldering and welding techniques
- Blueprint reading/drafting
Shows a quick introduction into a plumbing career. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
When you started thinking seriously about going into the plumbing business, you were amazed at the sheer diversity of the opportunities that the field presented. To your surprise, you learned that just one in six plumbers is self-employed.
After realizing that self-employed plumbers need to be on call at all hours of the night and may have to work significant amounts of overtime, you opted for a position that allowed for a slightly better work-life balance. Now that you work in-house for a plumbing and HVAC contracting company, you don't earn quite as much as a self-employed plumber. However, you're able to spend plenty of time with your family in the evenings and on the weekends.
You also enjoy the fact that you aren't required to work in a set location. In the course of a typical month, you may visit five or 10 discrete locations to install new piping, make repairs to existing plumbing, or set up an upgraded HVAC system.
Today, you'll be helping to install an HVAC system in a new office building near your hometown. Since your title is "assistant plumber," you'll be working under the "master plumber" at your construction site.
You arrive at 8 a.m. and quickly check in with your supervisor. Once you've strapped on your hard hat, you're sent to a half-finished room on the first floor. For the first part of the day, you'll be using a welding gun and soldering iron to fit lengths of steel pipe together for the building's sprinkler system. Between each length, you add a directional widget that allows for the attachment of a "spur" pipe. Later, you'll attach actual sprinkler heads to these spurs to create a functioning fire safety system.
As you work, you need to ensure that you don't disturb any of the recently installed electrical components in the walls and ceilings of the building. From time to time, you consult a copy of the building's blueprints to ensure that you're not making any false moves.
After your hour-long lunch break, you come to an obstacle that requires a pipe to deviate from its planned course. After checking with the master plumber and project engineer to ensure that it's fine to do so, you use a pipe-cutting saw to cut the pipe to an appropriate length. Then, you and a helper use a pipe-bending machine to bend another length of pipe around the obstacle.
By the end of the day, you've installed ceiling piping in three separate spaces on the building's first floor. Although there's more work to be done, you're excited to begin testing the lengths of pipe that you've put together. Later in the week, you expect to move into the building's bathrooms and begin installing copper pipes for its sewage disposal system.
You walk out of the building right at 5 p.m. Although you've worked plenty of overtime in the past, this project remains on schedule, and you've thus far been able to adhere to a 40-hour workweek. As you drive home, you think about the progress that your team made today and look forward to doing more tomorrow.
Certifications and Licensing
Plumbers and steamfitters who work in the United States must generally carry a state-issued license. In order to obtain this certification, aspirants must demonstrate that they have at least two years of on-the-job experience. This experience is typically gained over the course of an apprenticeship. License applicants must also pass a state-level licensing exam that tests their knowledge of building codes, safety protocols and general plumbing knowledge. Although some pipefitters must also be licensed, they may not be subject to such onerous requirements. Those who wish to go into any of these fields are advised to check with their state's regulatory authority for certification information.
Full-time versus part-time:
Since plumbing, pipefitting and steamfitting is a diverse industry, it's difficult to generalize about the work hours and environments that its practitioners face. In general, self-employed plumbers must be on call on a 24-hour basis and may need to work overtime during busy periods of the year. Self-employed plumbers and HVAC contractors don't generally work in a fixed location. In fact, these workers may be required to travel a great deal to perform their duties.
On the other hand, those who work in factories or other facilities may remain onsite for the vast majority of their working hours. These individuals also work full-time and may need to perform overtime work as necessary. Due to the hands-on nature of their work, these employees can't work from home.
These websites are useful for anyone who wishes to pursue a career as a plumber or pipefitter:
- Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors' Association -- As a major American trade association for plumbers, pipefitters and HVAC technicians, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors' Association offers a number of resources for aspiring plumbers. In addition to informational white papers, webinars and advocacy resources, it also maintains a complete listing of career resources, educational requirements, and even scholarship support for aspiring students. The PHCCA also maintains fruitful connections with a variety of employers around the industry.
- U.S. Department of Labor -- Through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a comprehensive primer on careers in the plumbing, pipefitting and steamfitting industry. Although it doesn't contain dedicated job postings, it offers information about salary expectations, job-growth outlook, educational requirements and licensing demands.
- American Society of Plumbing Engineers -- Since most of the ASPE's members work in industrial settings or high-skill occupations, the ASPE tailors most of its job listings to this sub-field. However, it also offers a wealth of general information about plumbing and pipefitting careers at large, including job listings, educational requirements and licensing advice. It also maintains a robust professional development network.
- United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and HVAC Service Techs -- This large organization serves as a trade union for plumbers, pipefitters and HVAC service technicians in the U.S. and Canada. Since it focuses on journeymen plumbers and steamfitters, the UA is a crucial resource for individuals who wish to obtain licenses and educational credentials in these specific sub-fields. It also offers career-related support, professional development, and networking services that put aspiring plumbers in touch with prospective employers.