Becoming a Plumber: Salary Information & Job Description

About this article
A plumber's average annual salary is around $54,620. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a plumber is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Plumber

The work of a plumber isn't glamorous: in any given day, you may have to deal with clogged toilets and mucky pipes. Consult this table of pros and cons to learn more.

PROS of Becoming a Plumber
Faster-than-average job growth (21% projected from 2012-2022)*
One of the largest and highest paying construction occupations*
Good pay ($54,620 on average in 2014)*
Formal education is not required*

CONS of Becoming a Plumber
Higher-than-average risk of injury and illness (burns, falls and cuts)*
A license is usually required*
Apprenticeship training can take five years*
Working conditions may be cramped*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a plumber, you'll work with a variety of pipe systems. You may install new systems that help provide water flow into a structure, or you may install waste removal or drainage systems. You may also repair pipes that have been broken or replace those that are worn out. Plumbing work can be done indoors or outdoors on residential, commercial or municipal systems. In addition to working with pipe systems, you may also do finishing work and install fixtures, such as shower heads or faucets.

During the course of your work, you may have to cut into walls and repair them when you're finished, add support systems, bend pipes, test new systems, dig outdoor trenches for new pipes and work with blueprints to determine how to lay out new systems. It's your duty to make sure you're working within the boundaries of local ordinances and laws. General risks come with the job, such as exposure to combustible gas, severe weather conditions, falls, cuts and burns. There is a higher-than-average risk of nonfatal injuries in this career, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Prospects and Salary Information

In 2014, the BLS reported there were approximately 372,570 jobs held by plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters (www.bls.gov). Self-employed individuals held around 11% of these jobs. The BLS projected a 21% job growth for the field from 2012-2022, which is faster than average. Demands from new construction, repair and maintenance of old systems and the implementation of conservation systems were expected to contribute to the growth. A large number of retirements will also offer plenty of job opportunities.

Periods of unemployment are possible, due to fluctuations in the economy that affect construction. When one job ends, you may have to wait to secure another job or wait until your next job begins. However, economic downfalls don't usually have such a major impact on this field, due to the necessity of working plumbing systems, which makes this one of the more resilient fields in the construction industry. The BLS reported that plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the 10th-90th percentiles earned between roughly $29,470 and $88,160. According to the BLS, apprentice plumbers generally earn 30-50% of what fully trained plumbers do, but as they acquire more skills, their pay increases.

Career Skills and Requirements

Most of the training you'll receive to become a plumber will be on-the-job through an apprenticeship. These programs are usually offered through unions or other trade organizations, but some may be offered through community colleges or technical schools. Apprenticeships usually take 4-5 years to complete and include a minimum of 144 hours of classroom work. Most programs require a high school diploma and have minimum age requirements. Other requirements could include a drug screening, physical fitness, CPR certification and a valid driver's license.

Most areas require plumbers to be licensed. While requirements vary, you'll typically need to have 2-5 years of experience and pass exams that test your knowledge of plumbing codes. Skills you may need for this profession include:

  • Customer service
  • Basic construction knowledge
  • Computer knowledge
  • Time management

Job Postings from Real Employers

March 2012 job postings from real employers showed that employers want to know that the individual they hire is going to show up on the job site ready to work with the skills needed to get the job done. Here are some examples of what specific jobs ads showed:

  • A plumbing company in California was searching for an experienced plumber with at least three years of experience, knowledge in all aspects of service plumbing, a valid CA driver's license and a clean driving record. This position required driving to job sites and working independently.
  • A construction company in New York wanted someone with 1-2 years of experience or equivalent training and certified to operate a G38 Torch from the New York City fire department. The ability to lift 60 lbs. without assistance was also required.
  • A California service and repair company was looking for a plumber with five years of experience and a clean driving record.

How to Beat the Competition

While competition is not expected to be too fierce in the plumbing field, you can still get an edge over other plumbers and secure more work if you try to expand your skills and credentials. According to the BLS, plumbers with welding experience may experience the best job opportunities. You could consider taking welding classes at a community college or technical school to develop these skills. In addition, you may aspire to earn more advanced licenses offered by your state. With extra experience or training, you could specialize in pump and irrigation systems, backflow assembly or limited volume pumping systems.

Other Fields to Consider

If you don't want to work with pipes and plumbing systems but want a career similar to plumbing, you might want to work with heating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems. You may also consider becoming a boilermaker and work with large vessels that contain liquids or gases.

Heating, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installer

While you'd still be working in the construction industry and using technical skills, a career in this field doesn't require as much education as a career in plumbing. Your main task in this career would be to work on systems that control the air quality in buildings. To work as a technician, you can choose to complete a program through a technical school or community college. Schooling usually lasts between six months and two years, and you may need to be licensed in some locations. Apprenticeships are also an option, but like plumbing, they can take up to 5 years. If you handle refrigerants, you'll also need to earn certification. The job growth was expected to be higher for this field, with a 34% growth projected from 2010-2020 by the BLS. However, your salary may be lower as the average salary was reported to be almost $46,000 in 2011.

Boilermaker

Working as a boilermaker allows you the opportunity to work outside of the construction industry. You'll install and repair large vessels that hold a variety of things, such as chemicals, beer and oil. You must still complete a 4- to 5-year apprenticeship to work in this field, and the job growth is a bit slower with a 21% increase projected for the 2010-2020 decade. On the plus side, the average salary is slightly higher than it is for plumbers, with boilermakers earning an average of nearly $57,000 in 2011. Another plus is that licensure is not required.

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