Most people grow up talking about getting a college degree and going into some sort of glamorous career. People generally don’t grow up trying to figure out how to become a plumber when they get older.
But some of my more practical friends and clients have found that you can skip the 4-8 years of mind-numbing college professors and all of the hassles that go along with going to college, and enter into a very lucrative trade.
Plumbing is an obvious essential for homeowners and businesses all over the US. Plumbers have also had a bad rap over the years because of butt-cracks and shady characters being depicted in the media. However, the plumbers I know are making bank and are in constant demand.
It’s a path to a stable, dependable income – something that is hard to find in today’s economy.
Becoming a plumber, however, is a challenging process, (not as challenging as endless college classes and student debt), but one that could take several years to complete. Once you do get your license, however, you can earn a good salary – far more than as a regular tradesperson without any specific skills.
So how do you become a plumber and what steps are necessary?
Step 1: Get A High School Education
There’s a reason that people say that the most important thing that a young person can do is complete high school. Without the proper high school qualifications, you’ll find it difficult to become a plumber (or enter any professional trade, for that matter).
So what qualifications do you need? The most important requirement is the high school diploma or a GED equivalent. A high school diploma says that you have sufficient reading, writing, science, and math skills to get into the plumbing trade.
Plumbing is a surprisingly technical discipline and requires that you have good knowledge of a range of mathematical concepts. You’ll have to measure pressure in pipes, gauge water and be confident working with mathematical relationships, like the ratio of pressure to volume, surface area, and flow rate.
High school mathematics will teach you the basic concepts you need, like units of measurement, geometry, and algebra – conceptual tools you’ll come to rely on when working in the field.
Step 2: Get A Technical Plumbing Course
You can’t just finish high school and then become a plumber: many states in the US demand that you take a technical course of some description to qualify.
The number of hours you have to spend in the classroom depends on the state, with each having a different set of rules. However, you’ll likely spend around two years in training, or about half the time it takes to get a standard university degree.
Where Can You Get A Technical Training In Plumbing?
When it comes to getting technical training in plumbing, you have a lot of choices.
One option is to look for a private school which offers a plumbing program. Most private schools offer flexible training schedules, meaning that you can work in your regular job while getting your qualifications. You can search for plumber trade schools and then apply in a relatively short amount of time.
Another option is to go through a trade institute. Trade institutes often allow you to finish your initial training faster than colleges and may offer specific fast-track options for those who want to enter the labor market sooner. Other options include going through a plumbing union or professional plumbing association.
What Will You Learn As Part Of Your Course?
Plumbing training covers a vast variety of topics which can be categorized into three broad groups.
The first group is theoretical training. Theoretical training takes you through the basic principles of plumbing, teaches you about the differences between industrial, commercial, and residential plumbing setups, and introduces you to building codes. You’ll learn about the different kinds of plumbing systems you’re likely to encounter, how to operate safely in environments in which you find yourself, and which materials are toxic and hazardous.
The second group includes business and administrative training. Many plumbers work for themselves and have to run their own business. It’s crucial, therefore, that plumbers have necessary business skills and can do things like accounting, project management, and plumber marketing. Plumbers also need to be able to estimate their business costs and make sensible decisions about which investments to finance and which to pay out-of-pocket.
Finally, technical courses teach hands-on training. The practical element is where you’ll learn the most about your trade and get a sense of what it will be like when you’re called to resolve customer problems, be they in the home or at business premises. You’ll learn about soldering techniques, servicing and troubleshooting plumbing fixtures, drainage and waste management, and pipe designs. The purpose of the practical element is to get you familiar not only with the technical side of the job but also with manually handling and inspecting the objects you’ll encounter as a plumber.
Step 3: Get An Apprenticeship
You don’t have to go to college to become a plumber: an alternative is to enroll in an apprenticeship program.
Plumbing unions usually run apprenticeship programs. The idea is to pair budding trainees with plumbers who already have a license to operate in the field. You’ll learn both on the job and in the classroom, working your way through a curriculum as you continue the journey to full plumber status.
Plumbing apprenticeships are highly sought-after and, like technical training institutions, often require that you have a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
Plumbing apprenticeships have several advantages compared to standard training. Apprentices, for example, get paid for the time they spend at work and often do not have to pay fees for their training. Taking an apprenticeship, therefore, is a net financial gain, even if they pay is low.
Apprentices also spend a substantial amount of time in the field, working on real-world problems. Learning the theory of plumbing from a book is great, but you need practical experience to feel confident applying what you’ve learned in the classroom.
It’s worth pointing out that not all plumbing apprenticeships offer the classroom training required to become a fully licensed plumber. Enrolling on a plumbing apprenticeship, therefore, is not sufficient to become a plumber: you need an industry-recognized qualification too.
How Long Do Apprenticeships Take?
Typically, apprenticeships take between two and five years to complete, depending on how intensely you pursue technical plumbing training alongside work. Again, the precise requirements vary according to state.
Step 4: Take Your Plumbing Test
The final stage of becoming a licensed plumber is to take some kind of test. The exact form that the test takes depends on the state in which you intend to work. Some states have a written-only exam, while others require you to demonstrate practical skills or both.
The exam is likely to test everything that you learn during your training, including practical skills. The good news is that a lot of what the exam demands is stuff that you’ll already be extremely familiar with, especially if you worked as an apprentice in the years before.
Once you’ve passed the test, you’ll be classified as a “journeyman plumber” and licensed to operate within state borders. Journeyman plumbers can work for a local plumbing firm or set up their own businesses legally.
Step 5: Become A Master Plumber
Becoming a journeyman plumber isn’t the end of the story. As you progress your career, you may want to continue your training so that you can become a recognized master plumber. As a master plumber, you can charge higher rates and take on more lucrative and complex plumbing jobs with confidence.
To become a master plumber, you’ll need to take a second exam, more difficult than the first. Once you’ve become a master plumber, you’ve reached the top of your career.
How Much Money Does A Plumber Make?
The amount of money that you make as a plumber depends on the stage of your career and the state in which you live.
Apprentice plumbers typically make between $15,000 and $20,000 per year. Pay for apprentices is lower than for qualified plumbers because they are still in training.
Journeyman plumbers – those who have completed their licensing exam – can typically earn between $25,000 and $40,000 in their first year. The amount that you get paid as a journeyman, however, scales with experience and any other qualifications you may have (such as safety testing).
The average salary for a plumber is currently around $55,000 but remember, that figure includes plumbers from across the pay spectrum, including master plumbers.
The amount of money you get paid depends on the region too. A plumber in Arkansas will earn $50,900 on average, while one in Massachusetts stands to gain $60,100 per year, thanks to the higher cost of living.
Can you earn six figures as a plumber?
Master plumbers have more opportunities than journeyman plumbers to earn high incomes. The majority of plumbers will be happy to remain as journeymen plumbers, but many like the challenge of the work and want to progress to the final stage.
Many master plumbers do not earn any more than their journeymen counterparts, but some find ways to increase their income substantially. Master plumbers have a lot of autonomy in their work and are able to work on projects as they please. Master plumbers who find lucrative clients or run their own businesses can sometimes earn more than $100,000.
Becoming a plumber is a good career choice. The BLS projects that 21,000 new plumbers will be needed every year for the next decade, providing excellent employment opportunities.
Is it something you will pursue?