How to Become a Plumber: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn the steps for becoming a plumber. Research the various education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in plumbing.

Should I Become a Plumber?

Plumbers install and maintain plumbing fixtures like bathtubs, sinks and showers for residential, commercial and industrial clients. They also install and repair water and gas pipes, drainage systems, waste disposal systems and appliances, such as dishwashers and water heaters. Successful plumbers usually have solid math and problem-solving skills, high mechanical aptitude, good manual dexterity and a tolerance for working in cramped spaces.

Plumbers often work on-call and may have to work nights and weekends; the nature of the job requires travel to multiple work sites on a regular basis. Injuries like cuts or burns are common in this profession. Some plumbers are self-employed and have the freedom to set their own schedules. Full-time work and overtime are common for this profession.

Career Requirements

Education High school diploma or GED
Licensure and Certification Most states require licensure; voluntary certification available
Training 4- to 5-year apprenticeship
Key Skills Math knowledge, good customer service, and decision-making prowess; ability to use pressure gauges, augers, pullers and wrenches; physical strength
Salary (2014) $50,660 annually (median salary for all plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Step 1: Get Professional Training

While a formal training program may not be required, it can aid advancement and teach students useful skills that can come in handy on the job. Many trade or technical schools and community colleges offer formal training programs for those individuals who want to become plumbers. These are typically short certificate training programs that last about one year. Coursework covers water supply and drainage systems, as well as piping, venting, fittings and valves. Students can expect to learn plumbing skills and maintenance. They can use this training to begin an apprenticeship as a plumber or go on to earn an associate's degree.

Step 2: Complete an Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship programs are provided by local unions and their affiliates, as well as by non-union contractors. These programs last from 4 to 5 years and combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction, which can be either paid or unpaid. On-the-job training should total anywhere from 1,700 to 2,000 hours per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Apprentices learn local plumbing codes, as well as all types of plumbing procedures, from primary installation of plumbing fixtures to repair and maintenance of water pipes. Trainees also gain special plumbing skills, such as choosing materials and plumbing fittings, identifying grades and types of pipes and using the tools of their trade.

Step 3: Obtain a License

Most states require that plumbers be licensed, according to the BLS, although there are no national uniform licensing standards. In most states, plumbers must have 2 to 5 years of work experience before they can take an examination and obtain a license. The exam requires applicants to know all local codes for plumbing. In some states, plumbers who plan to work on gas lines will need to acquire an additional license.

Success Tip:

  • Be sure to study. The licensing exam assesses an applicant's knowledge of plumbing codes and practices. Some states may offer exam outlines that can be used as study guides. It is important for those who wish to become licensed to take advantage of study material and ask questions while working as apprentices.

Step 4: Seek Additional Certification

In addition to apprenticeship and licensure, plumbers may choose to earn certification. While certification is not required, it might help plumbers advance in their profession and take advantage of new job opportunities. In response to a growing awareness of the need to conserve water, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association has teamed with GreenPlumbers USA to train and certify plumbers in water and energy efficiency technologies. National Inspection Testing Certification (NITC) also offers the Journey Level Plumber certification. Having certification in these areas may give plumbers an edge and open up higher level or better paying employment opportunities.

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