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How to Earn a Plumbing Degree or Diploma: Education Roadmap

Plumbers repair and install pipes and plumbing systems that transport water, steam, gas, air, and sewage. They also clear clogged drains and repair toilets, sinks, and other fixtures. Individuals may earn a plumbing degree or diploma from community colleges and technical schools. View article »

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  • 0:04 Should I Become a Plumber?
  • 0:38 Career Requirements
  • 1:20 Step 1: Choose a…
  • 1:58 Step 2: Apprenticeship Program
  • 3:16 Step 3: Become Licensed
  • 3:35 Step 4: Find a Job

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Plumber?

In addition to installing and repairing pipe systems, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and some small appliances, plumbers may also install heating, cooling, and mechanical control systems, including sprinklers. Plumbers must ensure that all their work is done according to national plumbing codes. Aspiring plumbers typically must graduate from high school and complete an apprenticeship. Some may also choose to enroll in degree programs at technical schools. After accumulating experience, plumbers usually must then apply for licensure with their state.

Career Requirements

Education Required High school diploma and apprenticeship (industry standard) or an associate's degree program
Degree Field Plumbing
Experience 2-5 years' related work experience
Key Skills Ability to work independently, detail-oriented, skilled with problem-solving, business-oriented, customer service skills
Licensure Required in most states
Salary $50,620 per year (May 2015 median salary for all plumbers)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Penn Foster Career School, Payscale.com

Step 1: Choose a Plumbing Program

Both diploma and associate's degree plumbing programs are available and can provide students with the entry-level skills and knowledge to enter plumbing apprentice programs. Plumbing degree and diploma programs also prepare students for related trades, such as industrial pipefitting and sprinkler fitting. Individuals interested in combining in-depth plumbing training with general education courses should pursue an associate's degree. Students might consider schools that offer job placement programs. Plumbing courses might include plumbing theory, water hydraulics, distribution systems, and advanced plumbing.

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Step 2: Apprenticeship Program

Apprenticeships are entry-level training programs primarily offered by union organizations, such as the United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and HVAC Service Techs. Organizations affiliated with unions and non-union plumbing contracting companies also offer apprenticeships. These programs typically don't require a degree or postsecondary diploma, but they do require a high school diploma or GED and prefer applicants with formal training and education. Admission to an apprenticeship program can be very competitive.

Apprenticeships provide the most thorough plumbing training and can include up to 2,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as 246 hours of technical education. These programs typically take four or five years to complete and include classroom instruction, as well as on-the-job training. Apprentices lay pipe, read blueprints, and interpret plumbing codes. They receive significant hands-on experience with plumbing tools, such as reamers, snakes, benders, and chisels. Apprentices receive approximately half the pay of licensed plumbers for their work. Individuals who complete apprenticeship programs are qualified to become licensed plumbers.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Most states require plumbers to obtain a license in order to practice the trade. State licensing requirements vary, but many mandate that plumbers have no less than two to five years of work experience and pass an exam covering plumbing practices and codes. Individuals will want to check licensing requirements in the state where they plan to work.

Step 4: Find a Job

Those who finish training programs and apprenticeships can look for plumbing jobs with construction companies and plumbing, air conditioning, and heating contractors. Many plumbers work as freelancers or contractors after gaining a license and experience. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters were expected to experience a 12% growth in jobs from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which was much faster than average. The demand for plumbers was expected to increase because of the growing construction of new buildings and the need to maintain and repair existing structures.

If considering a career as a licensed plumber, remember to check the state requirements, for they may include the completion of a diploma or associate's degree from a technical school, completion of an apprenticeship, and the passing of an exam on best practices and plumbing codes. Once licensed, an individual can work as a freelance plumber or work for construction, plumbing, or heating companies that fix and install plumbing fixtures, pipes, and plumbing and heating systems.

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