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Pipelayer: Job Info & Requirements

Pipelayers are responsible for digging trenches and laying and connecting the pipe used in water mains, sewers, gas and other pipelines. The job of pipelayer is generally included in the related fields of plumber, pipefitter and steamfitter. Learn about the required training, job outlook and salary expectations to see if this is the job for you.

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Career Definition for a Pipelayer

While a career as a pipelayer can be financially rewarding, it is also a physically taxing job requiring the strength and stamina to carry and work with heavy loads, in remote areas, in all types of weather and conditions. Pipelayers may have to travel or relocate to job sites. They are also exposed everyday to the risk of falls, burns from welding torches, lacerations from sharp-edged tools and dangers from working with heavy equipment.

Education High school diploma and apprenticeship required
Job Skills Digging; understanding blueprints safety rules and codes; working irregular hours
Median Salary (2015)* $50,620 (for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 12% (for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Typically, training for a job as a pipelayer requires a lengthy apprenticeship. A high school diploma may be required by some employers. A 4- or 5-year paid-apprenticeship involving on-the-job training and extensive classroom work is the usual path to a career as a pipelayer. Classroom work can involve drafting, mathematics, physics and chemistry. These apprenticeships are usually run by local union or non-union contracting companies, although training can also be available through trade schools or local community colleges.

Skills Required

In addition to the skills needed to dig trenches, lay pipe and connect it, pipelayers need to be able to read and understand blueprints and plans, follow instructions and plan jobs. They also must understand safety rules and local plumbing codes and regulations. Pipelayers who work in construction generally work 40-hour weeks, while those involved in maintenance can be on-call at all hours of the day or night and travel extensively.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in general are expected to increase by 12% from 2014-2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for pipefitters is expected to be driven, in part, by construction of factories and new power plants. Although all construction trades are subject to fluctuations in the economy, the plumbing and pipelaying trades are somewhat more stable since demand for repairs and maintenance is relatively steady. The BLS reported the median annual salary for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was approximately $50,620 as of May 2015.

Alternate Career Options

You can also consider these options for careers in labor:

Electrician

Those more interested in installing or maintaining electrical systems might consider this profession. Skills can be learned through a technical school program followed by a formal apprenticeship. For 2014-2024, the BLS projects faster-than-average job growth of 14% for this occupation. Workers earned an annual median salary of $51,880 in 2015.

Boilermaker

These professionals serve an apprenticeship after their technical training. Sometimes, they will be performing dangerous work: assembling, installing and fixing boilers or other large containers holding liquids and gases. Faster-than-average employment growth of 9% is projected by the BLS from 2014-2024. Also, according to the BLS, in 2015, the median salary was $60,120 per year.

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