With a shortage of plumbers and plenty of expected growth, you can become a plumber and enjoy your career. If you want to learn about becoming a plumber, you need to know the right steps. Getting the right education and training will go a long way to helping you enter this career.
Becoming a Plumber, Your Step-By-Step Guide
Step #1 – Get Your High School Diploma
You will need a high school diploma to pursue a career as a plumber. The best candidates for this career will be skilled in science and math courses.
If you’re considering becoming a plumber, you may want to take courses about blueprint reading and drafting in high school. These courses can help you when you get into your plumber training program.
You will want to make sure you get high grades and score well on the SAT or ACT. Many trade programs and vocational schools will admit those with good scores and good grades. You will also need to be at least 18 years old to enter into a trade program.
Step #2 – Complete a Trade Program
After graduating from high school, you can enter into a trade program. You will attend online or in-person classes for steam fitting, plumbing, and pipefitting. Many community colleges and trade schools offer these types of programs.
Your trade program will likely cover many areas, including:
- National codes
- Hot and cold-water delivery
- Pipe system design
- Basic principles
- Interpreting drawings
- Soldering techniques
Many other courses will likely be a part of your plumbing program. It will take about two years to complete a trade program. In some cases, you will earn an associate’s degree, while others will provide a certificate. Some certificate programs only last a year.
Step #3 – Complete Your Apprenticeship
You will need to complete your apprenticeship after your training. You can skip the training and go right into an apprenticeship, but this will make the apprenticeship take longer.
This is considered your paid learning experience, and it’s required in most states. You will likely need to get an apprentice license to be able to enter into your apprenticeship.
You will learn many things through your apprenticeship, including:
- Pipe system design
- Piping systems
- Plumbing fundamentals
- Repairing plumbing fixtures
- Cutting and welding pipes
- Blueprint reading
- Inspecting and diagnosing issues
With this type of on-the-job training, you will learn everything you need to become a plumber.
Your apprenticeship will require at least 250 hours but could require as much as 2,000 hours. Typically, this is a state requirement and can take up to five years to complete.
Step #4 – Get Your License
Once you complete your apprenticeship, it’s time to become a licensed journeyman plumber. This will require at least five years of experience as an apprentice. You will also need to pass the journeyman-level exam.
It’s common for a state to require you to pass this exam before you can work as a plumber. The test will cover the following topics:
- General laws
- Medical piping
- Clean water service pipes
- Lavatory faucet installation
- Cost reduction methods
- Safe working habits
- Sterilizer installation
- Water conservation law
This test will consist of 125 questions and be an open book. You will need to schedule the exam and pay between $150 and $200 to take the exam.
Things to Know When Becoming a Plumber
Along with taking these few avenues to become a plumber, you will also want to keep your record clean. It’s necessary to pass a drug test and a criminal background check. Some of the things that could keep you from becoming a plumber include:
- DUIs or DWIs
- Failed drug test
- A large number of traffic tickets
- Some misdemeanors
- Reckless driving convictions
You will need to have a valid driver’s license to work as a plumber. Most plumbers need to be able to drive, which means they have to be insured by their employer. Keep your record clean so that you won’t run into any issues.
A Few Plumbing Specialties to Consider
After becoming a plumber, you can decide to specialize in commercial or residential plumbing. There are a few other specialties to consider, too, including:
- Steamfitters – This type of person will install the piping that moves steam under high pressure.
- Pipelayers – If you become a pipelayer, you will be in charge of installing the pipes for plumbing systems. This could include drainage pipes for storms and water mains. This is a strenuous job as you will be digging into the ground to lay the pipes.
- Pipefitters – Another specialty for plumbers is becoming a pipefitter. This position will usually include working on industrial projects installing HVAC piping and other types of piping.
You can certainly specialize in a few different areas as a plumber. Each area will come with its own salary range.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Plumber
How much does the training cost to become a plumber?
There are multiple ways to become a plumber, and the cost varies from one to another.
If you choose to just do an apprenticeship, the cost can be $0 to $1,000. Those choosing to do a self-paced online program will likely pay from $800 to $3,000. A certificate program will cost $3,000 to $10,000. If you choose an associate’s degree program, you will likely pay $10,000 to $23,000.
How long does it take to become a plumber?
Just as the cost is variable, depending on the path you choose, the amount of time it will take to become a plumber is also variable. If you choose the online version of the training, it’s self-paced, so you choose how slow or fast you move through it.
A certificate program will take about one year before you can enter into your apprenticeship. If you choose an associate’s degree, you will need about two years to complete it, and you will still need to do an apprenticeship.
Just doing a plumber apprenticeship will take four or five years. With a degree or certificate, your apprenticeship won’t take as long.
Can I get a scholarship to help with the cost of becoming a plumber?
Yes. There are scholarships available for those looking to become a plumber. The World Plumbing Council offers some scholarship opportunities up to $10,000. You can also look into scholarships from chapters of the ASPE (American Society of Plumbing Engineers). Both the Nexstar Legacy Foundation and the PHCC Educational Foundation also offer some scholarships.
How much can a plumber earn?
Your actual annual salary will depend on the location you work within and your experience. The more experience you have, the more money you can make, especially if you become a master plumber.
The average annual salary for a plumber is about $55K per year. However, the highest 10% of those working as plumbers can earn close to a six-figure salary. Plumbers just getting started will likely earn closer to $33K.
As you complete your apprenticeship, you will likely earn about half of what a fully trained plumber will earn. You will also earn more as you go through the different levels of plumbing.
As an apprentice, you will likely make $12 to $19 per hour. A journeyman plumber can earn between $17 and $43 per hour. If you become a master plumber, you can earn $36 to $67 per hour. Some plumbers will go on to management positions or will open their own companies. If you go this route, you can earn even more.
Is there a shortage of plumbers?
Yes, in fact, there is a shortage of many skilled trade workers. For every three skilled trade employees leaving the field, only one new worker is entering it. The growth rate of plumbers is expected to be about 4% over the next decade.
While the growth rate is lower than the average of all occupations, employers have reported they are struggling to find skilled plumbers.
What does a plumber’s career path look like?
For most plumbers, after completing the apprenticeship, they will become a Journeyman plumbers. This can lead to becoming a Master Plumber or a Contractor. It’s even possible to advance further to become a General Manager, Service Manager, or Field Supervisor. Some plumbers even go as far as to own their own plumbing company.
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