We Know: How to Become a Plumber

What are the job prospects for becoming a plumber?

According to the US Department of Labor, too few people are seeking training to become plumbers right now, which means that the job market in the near future should only improve. Plumbers generally specialize too, so you might decide you prefer installing the initial plumbing in a house to working with septic systems.

For any sort of plumbing career, your first step is training.

Tell me about apprenticeship programs.

Most plumbers don't go to a formal school. Instead, they take a position as an apprentice and train under a master plumber for four to five years. During your apprenticeship, you should be exposed to plumbing from all ends, from primary installation in a new house to renovating plumbing to repairing and maintaining existing plumbing, and from fixing the leaky faucet to sorting out problems with the septic tank on the other end. You may also acquire experience with special skills like reading blueprints. You'll certainly learn how to determine what kinds of materials and plumbing fittings should go in which place.

You can find apprenticeship programs through unions and non-union industry organizations like:

  • The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada
  • The Mechanical Contractors Association of America
  • The National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors
  • The National Fire Sprinkler Association.
  • The Associated Builders and Contractors
  • The National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors
  • The American Fire Sprinkler Association
  • The Home Builders Institute of the National Association of Home Builders.

You must be 18 for most programs and many require a high school diploma or GED. Even if it's not required, it's a good idea to have a high school degree or equivalent in order to understand the math and other applied scientific principles behind plumbing.

Being a plumbing apprentice is not an unpaid position; instead, you would normally get about half what a licensed plumber's salary is. Your pay rate would go up as your skills improved. After about four or five years of training, apprentices can take the board exam to become licensed plumbers.

What is the training process?

Plumbing apprentices will have both on-the-job and some classroom instruction. In the classroom, apprentices learn drafting, blueprint reading, math, applied physics and chemistry, safety skills, and the details of plumbing codes and regulations for the area the training's taking place. On the job, apprentices learn how to identify grades and types of pipes, use the regular tools of a plumber, and safely unloading materials. During training, apprentices gradually gain information on how to work with all the types of piping and how to install different pipe systems.

What are the physical requirements?

Because of the physical nature of the work, plumbers should be strong and healthy. You'll need good stamina to be able to do heavy work as well as deal with breathing and working in difficult conditions.You may have to work outdoors sometimes in unpredictable weather; septic tanks burst in the dead of winter too!

How much money do plumbers make?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2002 (the most recent data available) the median hourly earnings of plumbers was $19.31. The middle 50 percent earned between $14.68 and $25.87. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $11.23, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $32.27.

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