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Pipefitter Career Guide

If you are naturally good at assembling things and prefer hands on and practical work, then we think this might just be the career for you!

Pipefitters are skilled tradesmen that create, assemble, install, alter and repair complexed piping systems. To become a pipefitter, you must have a high school diploma and complete an apprenticeship program. Overall, as career as a pipefitter is one that offers a lot of variety, stability and exciting employment opportunities.

 

The need for pipefitters is kind of like the need for doctors – everyone everywhere will always need them.

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Pipefitter Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What a pipefitter actually does

Pipefitters are skilled tradesmen that create, assemble, install, alter and repair complexed piping systems, such as those in manufacturing, commercial and industrial settings. These piping systems are used for heating, hot water, cooling and steam and pipefitters make sure that pipes are cut, installed, and maintained according to specifications. Their typical duties and responsibilities include: 

  • Reviewing blueprints to understand piping requirements
  • Inspecting and preparing sites for construction operations
  • Measuring and cutting pipes in accordance to the blueprint
  • Welding, assembling and lubricating pipes
  • Installing and securing pipes (e.g. with clamps)
  • Repairing malfunctions, breakages, or leaks in pipes
  • Collaborating with other workers (e.g. plumbers, painters) to produce finished constructions

Why they are needed

Pipefitters are absolutely necessary in the safe completion of many infrastructures. From high rise offices to community centres and new homes, pipefitters ensure that the heating, cooling and steam systems are safe and effective. Without pipefitters, the building needed to support the growth and development of society would not be possible.

Pros and cons of a career as a pipefitter

Pros:

  • There are lots of opportunities for pipefitters. For example, you can work for a large company, a small company or start your own company
  • You get to meet lots of different people and work as part of a team
  • Each day is different when working as a pipefitter as you will constantly be doing different jobs in different places
  • There are little educational requirements, making it an accessible career for many
  • It is a career that offers lots of variety: you can work in residential or industrial pipefitting, or take a more niche route
  • There is great job security, as pipefitting cannot be outdated by technology

Cons:

  • There are occupational risks associated with being a pipefitter. For example, they work in many hazardous places with chemicals, sparks, loud noises, flying particles, falling objects, molds, gasses and power tools
  • Pipefitters are often on call incase emergencies. This means that they may have to work long, and sometimes irregular, hours
  • It is a physically demanding jobs. Therefore, pipefitters must be physically fit and have stamina
  • Although the formal educational requirements are low, pipefitters still need to complete an apprenticeship, which can be time consuming

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

This growth is expected because the growing population is creating a demand for new construction, which will always require pipes for heating, cooling and steam to be fitted. Furthermore, there will always be the need to maintain and repair pipe systems that are already in place.

Many of the coming job openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force. It is important to note that, as with other construction trades, the employment of pipefitters is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. When there is an economic fall, overall construction levels decrease and therefore so do the number of jobs available. On the other hand, when there is a boom, employment and demand for pipefitters will rise. However, in general, the demand for the maintenance and repair of pipe systems must continue even during economic downturns, so pipefitters outside of construction often have more stable employment.

Career paths

To become a pipefitter, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically required. Vocational-technical schools also offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use, which are advantageous.

After getting a high school diploma, most pipefitters learn the trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Typically, apprentices receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training each year. They will also receive some technical instruction, such as safety, local pipefitting codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. Apprentices also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions, trade associations, and businesses. Most apprentices enter a program directly, but some start out as helpers or complete a pre-apprenticeship training programs in plumbing and other trades.

After completing an apprenticeship program and passing the required exams, pipefitters become ‘journey-level workers’, which means they are qualified to perform tasks independently.

Example Job Titles for Pipefitter

Below is a list of common job titles in the Pipefitter field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was $55,160 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,170.

The top paying industry was manufacturing, where the median annual salary was $57,150. This was followed by the government ($56,790), plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors ($54,760) and heavy and civil engineering construction ($52,820).

Autonomy and Flexibility

The level of autonomy and flexibility for a piperfitter will vary depending on the amount of experience they have. For instance, a pipefitter with 10 years experience will have more control over their decisions than an apprentice. Similarly, a self-employed/contractor pipefitter is likely to have more flexibility than those who work for a large company.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states to be a pipefitter, based on average annual salary and number of jobs available, are:

  1. Rhode Island, where the average annual salary is $58,854
  2. South Dakota, , where the average annual salary is $47,220
  3. Nevada, where the average annual salary is $55,594
  4. Louisiana, where the average annual salary is $47,081
  5. Iowa, where the average annual salary is $40,000

The worst states to be a pipefitter, according to Zippia, are South Carolina, West Virginia, Hawaii, Kentucky and Missouri.

Work environment

The work of a pipefitter is physical and can require the movement of heavy copper and PVC piping. Work can be performed on pipes carrying both liquids and gases, and risks are involved when dealing with pipes carrying gas. Pipefitters commonly perform their work outdoors or in uncomfortable conditions, such as basements or tight, cramped spaces like a crawlspace.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Pipefitter careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Pipefitter career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Pipefitter.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

Like most construction trades, there has been no scientific exploration into exactly what personality types will make a successful pipefitter. However, the Myers Briggs personality type of ISTP, or otherwise known as ‘the craftsperson’, is likely to be a successful pipefitter. This is because these types are able to tackle problems in their immediate environment, with an innate mechanical ability and they enjoy building and fixing objects. ISTPs are typically very attentive to detail, independent, adaptable and self-directed, which are key skills for pipefitter.

Accomplishment and mastery

As pipefitters can learn advanced skills in a relatively short space of time, there is high skill accomplishment and mastery. After gaining experience in the occupation, pipefitters may then have opportunities to advance to become a supervisor or to start their own business, further increases the amount of accomplishment and mastery.

Meaning and contribution

As building cannot function without the correct pipe fittings, the work of a pipefitter is incredibly meaningful for all of us. Their work makes a huge contribution to society, by aiding the development of the buildings we use for work, play and living.

Life fit

Pipefitters can work for themselves as independent contractors, for pipe fitting companies, in a factory or industrial setting, for gas companies, or they may be employed by construction companies or builders. Regardless of where they work, they tend to work full time hours. Sometimes, they may be on call for emergencies and have to work evenings and weekends.

Who will thrive in this career?

One of the most important qualities a pipefitter can have is to be physically fit and strong, as their work is physically demanding and involves carrying heavy materials and kneeling down for long periods of time. Those who can work well as part of a team and communicate will with others are likely to thrive as pipefitter, as the work is often team focused and involves communicating with other construction workers (e.g., plumbers, welders, bricklayers) and clients. Finally, the ability to pay attention to detail is essential, as a pipefitter will have to closely follow blueprints and ensure all pipes are cut and fitted correctly.

Who will struggle in this career?

You are are likely to struggle with working as a pipefitter if you are physically unfit, as this means you won’t be able to carry the heavy material that is required for the job. Similarly, if you prefer to work alone or do less practical work, then you may struggle as a pipefitter due to the team environment and the hands-on nature of the work. Finally, those who do not want to work irregular and unpredictable hours may struggle with being a pipefitter, as they may have to be on call to answer emergencies.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Pipefitters learn many of the skills they need on the job. However, it is also important to have skills such as:

  • Physical fitness and stamina, as pipefitters will spend a lot of their working day lifting heavy pipes and and kneeling down
  • Communication skills are key as pipefitters need to be able to communicate with clients and other construction workers
  • Mathematical skills, because pipefitters need to calculate, based on blueprints, how long a pipe should be cut and where it should fit
  • Dexterity, as pipefitters need to be able to carefully and accurately move pipes and other materials
  • Detail orientation, as pipefitters must follow blueprints and instructions precisely and ensure they finish their work to the highest of standards
  • Critical thinking, as piperfitters must be able to problem-solve when issues arise in a project. This may be when pipes become faulty and piperfitters must figure out how to fix them, or when a project overruns.

Education

To become a pipefitter, a high school diploma or equivalent is required. Vocational-technical schools also offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use, which are advantageous.

After getting a high school diploma, most pipefitters learn the trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Typically, apprentices receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training each year. They will also receive some technical instruction, such as safety, local pipefitting codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. Apprentices also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions, trade associations, and businesses. Most apprentices enter a program directly, but some start out as helpers or complete a pre-apprenticeship training programs in plumbing and other trades.

After completing an apprenticeship program and passing the required exams, pipefitters become ‘journey-level workers’, which means they are qualified to perform tasks independently.

Certifications

Some states require pipefitters to be licensed and they may also require a special license to work on gas lines. Licensing typically requires an exam or work experience or both. Contact your state’s licensing board for more information.

How to Become

Summary

Pipefitters are skilled tradesmen that create, assemble, install, alter and repair complexed piping systems, such as those in manufacturing, commercial and industrial settings. Overall, a career as a pipefitter is one that offers a lot of variety, stability and exciting employment opportunities.

Immediate action

As with all building trades, the more experience, the better. Therefore, if becoming a pipefitter sounds like something you would like to do, we recommend trying to get some general construction work to gather some experience. We also advise finding local apprenticeship programs.

Education and learning

Pipefitters must have a high school diploma. They will then need to complete an apprenticeship and some exams before they are allowed to practice.

Skill development

Pipefitters learn all their skills through an apprenticeship, where they receive on the job training and instruction. They can develop their skills further with more experience and take additional courses to become specialized.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Pipefitter careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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