Plumbers work in various residential, commercial, and industrial settings with a focus on installing, repairing, or replacing pipes and fixtures. This usually involves in-depth knowledge of building codes, the ability to create cost estimates, and the ability to use specialized tools and equipment to maintain water, gas, and waste systems.

The average yearly pay for plumbers is substantial, at $61,100 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). People who enjoy working with their hands and learning on the job can often get paid while becoming plumbers, since a high school diploma or GED can lead to short plumbing trade school courses and then into a paid apprenticeship with an experienced plumber. Read on to learn how to become a plumber.

What Does a Plumber Do?

Career Basics

Plumbers can work on virtually every system in your house that uses water. They analyze what is malfunctioning, determine the tools and materials needed, and fix the problem. Installing new systems, replacing old systems, and keeping the finished result up to regulatory standards are all parts of the job.

Steps to Becoming a Plumber

Step 1
Get a high school education or GED

If you're not working with a high school diploma yet, the first step is to pass the GED, which may require a refresher course in preparation.

Step 2
Take state-required plumbing trade school courses

If your state requires classroom education, technical and vocational schools often offer plumbing, pipefitting, and steamfitting coursework, as well as two-year degrees that combine a variety of these courses. Costs can range from only a couple of thousand dollars for the most basic classes, up to about $10,000 for an associate's degree in plumbing technology.

Step 3
Find an apprenticeship

One of the options that may take longer but cost less is to find an apprenticeship with a licensed plumber. During your apprenticeship, you'll assist the plumber, earning a wage, while learning as much as possible from them.

When you've learned all the required skills, you can take your licensure exam, but these apprenticeships are often four or five years long, compared to a school program that could be two years or less. Talking to local plumbers or contacting a plumbers' union near you can help you find an apprenticeship.

Step 4
Take your licensure exam

When you're prepared, either through school or through an apprenticeship, you'll need to take a standardized exam to become a licensed plumber in most states. In others, the years you spent getting experience can help, but in many cases, there will be an exam that takes you from apprentice to journeyman.

Step 5
Get your first plumbing job

Now that you have your education, license, and enough experience, you can get hired as a plumber. Joining a plumbing union might help with this, but you don't have to join a union to become employed.

Salaries and Job Growth

State

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Projections Central

Top 10 States With the Highest Job Growth

  1. Nevada: 37.2%
  2. Utah: 33.3%
  3. Colorado: 31.8%
  4. Arizona: 19.9%
  5. Oregon: 19.8%
  6. Idaho: 17.8%
  7. Montana: 17.4%
  8. North Carolina: 17.2%
  9. Texas: 16.6%
  10. Arkansas: 16.4%

Career Paths for Plumbers

You'll start out as a plumbing apprentice, working under experienced plumbers to learn about the industry.

Once you stay in your apprenticeship for long enough (typically about four years), you can become a licensed plumber, or a journeyman.

Working your way through an apprenticeship or launching a career as a journeyman plumber after school is only the beginning of a plumbing career. From there, after 2-7 years of additional experience and the acquisition of professional references, you can become a master plumber.

In this role, you can supervise other plumbers, and work independently.

As a plumbing manager, you'd still work for a plumbing company, but in a role overseeing other journeymen and apprentices.

As the owner of a plumbing business, your later career may involve educating apprentices and journeymen and leading business administration, though if you prefer to continue working hands-on with plumbing during that time, that is also possible.

Components of a Successful Plumbing Career

Skills
You'll need a strong understanding of what tends to make leaks or clogs occur in a plumbing system, including the ability to trace a problem back to its source and evaluate the best way to fix it.
Technology
You'll become familiar with scoping technology and the many ways that plumbing systems have evolved over the years. As you work on more and more systems, you'll be able to recognize both the plumbing fixtures and materials and the patterns of problems that emerge with particular systems.
Tools
You'll need to be able to use many mechanical tools that can fix loose or leaky fixtures and pipes, as well as electronic devices used to evaluate plumbing systems of all kinds.
Credentials
You'll pursue either an apprenticeship or a plumbing trade school program that enables you to apply for licensure as a plumber in your state.

Getting Financial Help with Your Plumbing Program

Scholarships for Plumbing Programs

Companies like Swan Heating and non-profit organizations like the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Careers Foundation offer scholarships that can be used toward receiving a plumbing certificate.

Federal Grants for Plumbing Programs

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

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Laura Leavitt
Contributing Writer

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