How to Become a Plumber
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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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Projections Central
Top 10 States With the Highest Job Growth
- Nevada: 37.2%
- Utah: 33.3%
- Colorado: 31.8%
- Arizona: 19.9%
- Oregon: 19.8%
- Idaho: 17.8%
- Montana: 17.4%
- North Carolina: 17.2%
- Texas: 16.6%
- 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.
Pro Tips from a Plumber and Hiring Manager
Schwamb has 30 years of plumbing experience. He started his plumbing career at a young age, working his way up in a family business. In 2007, he ventured off to own and operate his own plumbing business, Order A Plumber, in Long Island, New York. Order A Plumber specializes in all phases of plumbing service and repair, including residential and commercial construction. Schwamb offered his advice for entry-level workers below.
How to Interview as a Plumber
As an owner, Schwamb takes part in the interviewing process for every prospective employee. When interviewing with plumbing companies, he says there are a few key things your future employer will look for, and believe it or not, it's not your plumbing ability.
According to Schwamb:
- Future employers are looking for applicants who show up early to the interview. Not just on time, early.
- They are looking to see that you are dressed professionally. This does not mean a three-piece suit, but they are looking to see if you put time into your appearance, so tuck in your shirt and comb your hair.
- Prospective employers will also be looking for your resume. Even if you don't have much to list, they want to know that you took the time to make one because if you did, chances are you are looking to add to it.
- Lastly, they are looking for you to be honest about what you want out of the plumbing field and your work experience. Employers know you are entry-level before you sit down. What they want is honesty, reliability, punctuality, and a good work ethic. Simple!
What to Expect When You Get Hired
Here are Schwamb's tips for after you land the job:
- Do yourself a favor and get some work boots. Ask your employer what they recommend for the type of work you will be doing.
- For tools, ask for a basic tool list and go buy the basics. The basics, yes, I said that twice. No need to go out and max out your credit card on tools you do not know how to use and will most likely lose in the first few months. Get a tool box, a tape measure, and about 7-8 other basic tools to start. Try to buy at least one new tool every week or so to add to your tool box.
- Show up to your first day early and ready to work. Good Luck!
Components of a Successful Plumbing Career
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)
- Who qualifies: Low-income students applying for accredited school programs.
- Award amount: Between $100-$4,000 a year.
- Deadline: June 30th before the Fall or semester when you'd begin your program.
- How to apply: Apply through the FAFSA, which may also yield Pell Grants.
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- Average salary: $61,550
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- Average salary: $46,760
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- Average salary: $53,410
- Education: Post-secondary training or associate degree, apprenticeship, state licensure/industry certification.
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