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Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Plumbing Technology

A career as a plumber, pipefitter, steamfitter or pipelayer requires little formal education. Learn about the degrees, training, and job duties as well as the license and certification requirements needed to see if one of these occupations is right for you.

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A degree or certification in plumbing technology is an ideal foundation for a career as a plumber, pipefitter or steamfitter, or to work as a pipelayer. These professionals may work in factories, businesses or homes. Although certification isn't usually required it can lead to a higher salary and may improve job prospects.

Essential Information

The plumbing trade involves working with pipes and other equipment used to transport and drain liquids and gases. Most plumbing professionals learned their skills on-the-job through an apprenticeship program. The highest level of certification for plumbing professionals after becoming a journey worker is master plumber. Read on for more information about plumbing technology careers.

Careers Plumber, Pipefitter, Steamfitter Pipelayers
Required Education High School Diploma or GED, Apprenticeship Program, Associate Degree High School Diploma or GED, Apprenticeship Program, Associate Degree
Other Requirements Professional Certificate in Plumbing, State License, Plumbing Contractor's License for advancement Complete Apprenticeship Program for Journey Worker Title
Projected Job Growth (2014 - 2024)* 12% 11%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $50,620 $37,780

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Professionals in the industry work in residential homes, businesses, factories and outdoors. Within the plumbing industry, there are several different career paths, which include plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters and pipelayers.

Plumber

Plumbers are called in to install, repair and examine piping systems that are used for moving water, sewage and gases in and out of buildings. Workers connect pipes to various types of industrial and residential fixtures, such as heating and cooling units, sinks, washing machines, bathtubs, water heaters and toilets. Plumbers commonly use hand tools, like wrenches, cutting saws and hammers, but they also use advanced diagnosing equipment to determine pipe pressure or to locate faulty equipment.

Some plumbers work in the construction industry where they install new piping systems into buildings. During new construction, plumbers often work with contractors to plan out all plumbing systems needed for a particular structure. Plumbers in the construction industry require the skills to read blueprints and should be familiar with building codes regarding plumbing installation protocols.

Pipelayer

Although pipelayers may perform some of the duties of plumbers, pipelayers usually focus on lying out industrial-sized piping systems, such as those used for city sewer systems, water treatment plants and petroleum manufacturers. Pipelayers normally work in teams as they install pipes made out of metal, cement or clay. Most industrial-sized piping systems are installed in the ground, which means that pipelayers must first prepare holes and trenches to support the system.

To connect piping systems, pipelayers use welding torches, industrial epoxies and large power tools. After installing a system, pipelayers work with other plumbing professionals to test the system. While pipelayers work significantly on the installation process, several pipelayers also focus on repairing corroded piping or updating older systems.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Between 2014 and 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that careers in the plumbing technology field, including plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, were expected to increase by 12% (www.bls.gov). The BLS indicated that new career opportunities for plumbers would be due to the maintenance needs of existing structures and the steady flow of new construction projects, along with more stringent standards for water efficiency. In 2015, the BLS reported an annual median wage of $50,620 for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, while pipelayers earned median wages of $37,780.

Degree Programs

Information from the BLS indicated that most plumbing professionals received training through apprenticeship programs rather than formal degree programs. Many colleges and vocational institutes run plumbing apprenticeship programs in cooperation with local plumbing professionals, but national plumbing unions sponsor apprenticeship programs as well. Some apprenticeship programs may offer students the option of earning an associate degree or professional certificate in plumbing.

Classroom-style coursework in plumbing apprenticeship programs covers topics such as rigging and signaling, construction safety, hand tool usage, residential plumbing techniques, plumbing materials, blueprint reading and plumbing building codes. Students who want to enter into a particular plumbing profession, such as becoming a pipelayer or pipefitter, may need to enroll into a specialized apprenticeship program that focuses on that specific plumbing trade.

Certification Programs

Most certification programs within the plumbing industry are voluntary, according to the BLS. Workers in the plumbing profession can choose to be certified to work on specific brands of plumbing equipment or on installation methods. One certification trend reported by the BLS included professionals being certified in energy conservation plumbing techniques.

Although not a technical certification program, workers who complete a recognized apprenticeship program in most states usually earn the title of 'journeyman,' which in the construction industry is a title that identifies workers who have been trained in their trade for a specific period of time. Earning different professional titles, such as journeyman, can also help workers earn higher salaries and better benefits.

An apprenticeship is a common path to employment for many plumbing professionals. It's also an option to complete a professional certificate or associate's degree in plumbing. Employers may prefer applicants with formal training.

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