Pros and Cons of a Career as a Master Plumber
A master plumber holds a special plumbing license that demonstrates experience and professional ability. Check into the pro and cons to determine if becoming a master plumber is the right career for you.
|Pros of a Career as a Master Plumber|
|Get paid while you train (through an apprenticeship)*|
|High job growth field (21% rise projected from 2012-2022)*|
|Good salary (median salary of about $51,000 in May 2014)*|
|Opportunity for self-employment*|
|Cons of a Career as a Master Plumber|
|Long apprenticeship period, plus additional experience required for licensing*|
|High risk of injury*|
|May be on call at all hours*|
|Must hold state license*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Info
Job Description and Duties
Like all plumbers, master plumbers install, maintain and repair pipe systems that carry water, waste, air, steam or other liquids. They must know what type and size of pipe is best for the situation and know how to install it. Plumbers must be proficient in construction techniques because they cut holes in walls and hang pipes from supports. They cut pipes to the proper length and fit them together. Plumbers install bathroom and kitchen fixtures and clear up problems such as clogged drains and leaks.
Master plumbers are a step above journeyman, or entry-level, plumbers. They must meet their state's experience and training requirements that show they are experts in the field. A master plumber performs all the duties of a journeyman plumber, but also can supervise the journeyman plumbers. Master plumbers may create blueprints that show where the plumbing pipes should be installed in new construction. They must be very familiar with the building codes of the jurisdiction in which they're working.
You'll certainly get wet as a master plumber and you may have to climb ladders, crawl into tight spaces and lift heavy materials. Plumbing is a dangerous profession, with a higher than average injury rate. Master plumbers who work at construction sites may work regular hours, although some overtime may be necessary to meet deadlines. Master plumbers who are self-employed can set their own hours, but often work at night or weekends to handle plumbing emergencies for their customers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters into the same employment category and forecasted that their employment would grow by 21% from 2012-2022, faster than average for all occupations. The BLS said most jobs for plumbers would come from the construction of new buildings and retrofitting older buildings with water-saving fixtures such as low-flow toilets and shower heads.
The BLS reported that the median annual salary for plumbers, steamfitters and pipefitters was nearly $56,000 in May 2014, with the middle half making between roughly $38,000 and $68,000. According to PayScale.com, the 10th to 90th percentile of master plumbers made between roughly $35,000 and $90,000 in 2015.
Training and Licensing Requirements
The path to becoming a master plumber usually begins with an apprenticeship. The BLS stated that you must be at least 18 years and hold a high school diploma or a GED to enroll in an apprenticeship program. During the four or five years of apprenticeship, you'll work for a contractor who will pay you as you learn in the classroom and on the contractor's job site. You'll learn about the tools of the trade and study blueprint reading, mathematics and the state and local plumbing codes.
Master plumbers must hold a special license in most states. The requirements for master plumbers vary between jurisdictions, but most call for you to be a licensed journeyman with a certain number of hours of plumbing experience. You'll have to pass a test that shows you understand the process of planning a plumbing system and are familiar with local plumbing codes. You may also demonstrate your skills through a practical exam. Some master plumbing licenses also authorize you to work with gas lines so you can install water heaters.
What Employers Are Seeking
Employers generally have a specific list of skills in mind when they're looking for master plumbers. The postings often cite special skills such as certification to work with gas lines. Since master plumbers are managers, many employers need someone with good communications skills to talk to other plumbers and to customers. Here's a sampling of job postings from real employers in April 2012:
- A plumbing company in Atlanta needed master plumbers who could work with all types of pipe and plumbing jobs in residential, restaurant and multi-family buildings. Welding and pipefitting skills were required and the plumber must be knowledgeable enough to bid jobs.
- In Virginia, a company needed a master plumber with gas certification to work on residential and commercial jobs.
- A heating, cooling and plumbing company in Pennsylvania was looking for master plumbers who could read blueprints. The candidate should have at least five years of residential and commercial experience.
- In Ohio, a plumbing company needed a master plumber who could serve as a manager, recruiting new clients and meeting with existing ones to plan jobs. The posting stressed that this was a job for a self-starter who could multi-task.
How to Stand out in the Field
Union membership is one way to keep your finger on the pulse of the plumbing industry in your community. Unions usually supervise apprenticeship programs and offer continuing education courses to help you keep on top of changes in the industry. Many jobs come through the union, also, especially in big cities. Another way stay on top is by learning all the skills you can. For instance, the BLS says plumbers who know how to weld may have more job opportunities than those who don't possess this skill.
Other Career Alternatives
If you like supervising others and being in charge, but don't relish the thought of training for more than five years, perhaps you should consider becoming a construction manager. Like a master plumber, you'll need to be aware of building codes and safety regulations, and you'll participate in on-the-job training. Some people get a job as a trainee right out of high school, but the BLS notes that most employers prefer someone with at least an associate's degree in construction management or construction technology. The BLS predicted that employment for construction managers would increase by about 17% from 2010-2020, as fast as average for most occupations. The median annual salary for a construction manager was about $84,000 in May 2011, the BLS reported.
An occupation that's related to a master plumber, but perhaps with a little more adventure, is a boilermaker. Boilermakers assemble, install and repair large metal vats that hold gases and liquids. You may work outdoors in all types of weather or inside in hot, cramped quarters. You may have to travel for a job and stay away from home for an extended period. You might work in a factory, a building or on a ship. Like master plumbers, boilermakers train through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship program. The BLS forecasted that employment for boilermakers would grow by about 21% from 2010-2020, faster than average for other occupations. The median annual salary for this occupation was nearly $57,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS.