The employment growth of plumbers is expected to grow over the coming years, offering a variety of exciting employment opportunities. What is even better is that there are no formal educational requirements to becoming a plumber. However, plumbers do need to complete an apprenticeship and some exams before they are allowed to practice.
Plumber Career Guide
Plumber Career Ratings
Real-Life Plumber Job Profiles
What a plumber actually does
Plumbers install, maintain, and repair pipes in a variety of settings, including residential and commercial buildings, factories, and other locations. Regardless of where a plumber works, or who they work for, their typical duties and responsibilities include:
- Interpreting blueprints and building specifications to map layout for pipes, drainage systems, and other plumbing materials
- Installing pipes and fixtures, such as sinks and toilets, for water, gas, steam, air, or other liquids
- Installing supports for pipes, equipment, and fixtures prior to installation
- Assembles fittings and valves for installation and modifying the lengths of pipes, fixtures, and other plumbing materials
- Installing heating and air-conditioning systems, including water heaters
- Collaborating with other construction workers, such as contractors, construction workers, electricians, pipefitters, and steamfitters in installing and repairing plumbing
- Choosing the correct plumbing materials based on budget
- Writing reports that document the problem with plumbing systems and summary of the action taken
- Performing tests, analysis and inspections of plumbing systems to identify problems and replacing worn parts
Why they are needed
Plumbers are needed because every liveable building needs plumbing. Plumbers are the only construction workers with the unique skills to build, maintain and develop this system. Without plumbers, buildings would not have the correct sewage, drainage and water systems.
Pros and cons of a career as a plumber:
- There is lots of opportunities in this career. For example, you can work for a large company, a small company or start your own company
- There are little educational requirements, making it an accessible career
- It is a career that offers lots of variety: you can work on general plumbing, residential plumbing or take a specialized route
- You get to meet lots of different people and work as part of a team
- There is job security, as plumbing cannot be outdated by technology
- Each day is different when working as a plumber – you will do different jobs in different places
- Plumbers can work long, and sometimes irregular, hours
- It is a physically demanding jobs. Plumbers must be physically fit and have stamina
- There are occupational risks associated with being a plumber. They work in many hazardous places with chemicals, sparks, loud noises, flying particles, falling objects, molds, gasses and power tools
- Although the formal educational requirements are low, plumbers still need to complete an apprenticeship, which can be time consuming
- Plumbers may have to work with difficult or impatient clients
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
This growth is expected the growing population is creating a demand for new construction, which will always require plumbing. Furthermore, there will always be a need to maintain and repair the plumbing systems 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 plumbers 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 plumbers will rise. However, in general, the demand for the maintenance and repair of plumbing and pipe systems must continue even during economic downturns, so plumbers and fitters outside of construction often have more stable employment.
To become a plumber, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically required. Vocational-technical schools offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use.
After getting a high school diploma, most plumbers 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 plumbing 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, plumbers become ‘journey-level workers’, which means they are qualified to perform tasks independently. After several years of plumbing experience, plumbers can sit another exam to earn ‘master’ status. Plumbers may also advance to become supervisor, project manager or they may choose to start their own business as an independent contractor.
Example Job Titles for Plumber
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 industries were manufacturing, where the median annual salary was $57,150, government ($56,790), plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors ($54,760) and heavy and civil engineering construction ($52,820).
Apprentices tend to earn less than qualified plumbers.
Autonomy and Flexibility
The level of autonomy and flexibility for a plumber will vary depending on the amount of experience they have. For instance, a plumber with 10 years experience will have more control over their decisions than an apprentice. Similarly, a self-employed/contractor plumber is likely to have more flexibility than those who work for a large company. However, the downside to this is that they will be responsible for forming and managing relationships with builders and suppliers to ensure materials are available at affordable prices and that ongoing work is available.
Locations and commute
According to Zippia, the best states to be a plumber based on average annual salary and the amount of jobs available, are:
- South Dakota, where the average annual income is $63,939
- Montana, where the average annual income is $64,155
- Oklahoma, where the average annual income is $57,265
- Ohio, where the average annual income is $62,561
- Delaware, where the average annual income is $63,416
The worst states, in accordance to Zippia, are the District of Columbia, Idaho, Arkansas, Oregon and Washington.
The work of a plumber is physical and can require 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. Plumbers commonly perform their work outdoors or in uncomfortable conditions, such as basements or tight, cramped spaces like a crawlspace.
Common Matching Personality Types
Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Plumber careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Plumber 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 Plumber.
16 Types (Myers-Briggs)
Big Five (OCEAN)
Holland Codes (RIASEC)
Like most construction trades, there has been no scientific exploration into exactly what personality types will make a successful plumber. However, the Myers Briggs personality type of ISTP, or otherwise known as ‘the craftsperson’, is likely to be a successful plumber. 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 plumber.
Accomplishment and mastery
As plumbers can learn advanced skills in a relatively short space of time, there is high skill accomplishment and mastery. After gaining experience in the occupation, plumbers may then have opportunities to advance to become a supervisor, job superintendent, or estimator or to start their own business. This increases the amount of accomplishment and mastery.
Meaning and contribution
As building cannot function without the correct plumbing, the work of a plumber is incredibly meaningful for all of us. Their work makes a huge contribution to society, by aiding the building of many new homes.
Plumbers tend to work for themselves as independent contractors, for plumbing 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.
They may also routinely work long hours when projects are nearing completion or during economic boom times when the demand for new construction intensifies. Evening, holiday and weekend hours are often necessary, as plumbing specialists are routinely on-call for emergency repairs. This means that at certain points, plumbing doesn’t offer the best life fit.
Who will thrive in this career?
One of the most important to ensure you will thrive as a plumber is to be physically fit and strong, as their work is often physically demanding Those who can work well as part of a team and communicate will with others are likely to thrive as plumbers, as the work is often team focused and involves communicating with other construction workers and clients. Finally, the ability to pay attention to detail is essential, as a plumber will have to closely follow instructions and blueprints.
Who will struggle in this career?
The opposite as to what was mentioned above: you are are likely to struggle with working as a plumber if you are physically unfit. Similarly, if you prefer to work alone or do less practical work, then you may struggle as a plumber 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 the schedule of a plumber.
Skills and talents
Plumbers 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 plumbers will spend a lot of their working day lifting heavy materials, reaching/standing and kneeling
- Mathematical skills, because plumbers need to do calculate where pipes will go and the length needed
- Communication skills are key as plumbers need to be able to communicate with clients and other construction workers
- Dexterity, as plumbers need to be able to carefully and accurately place roofing tiles and other materials
- Detail orientation, as plumbers must follow blueprints and instructions precisely and ensure they finish their work to the highest of standards
- Critical thinking, as plumbers must be able to problem-solve when issues arise in a project. This may be when roofs become faulty and roofers must figure out how to fix them, or when a project overruns.
Plumbers must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Vocational-technical schools offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They also offer welding courses, which are required by some pipefitter and steamfitter apprenticeship training programs.
After getting a high school diploma, most plumbers learn the trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Typically, apprentices receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training each year. 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.
Most states and some localities require plumbers to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by states and localities. However, plumbers are often required to have 2 to 5 years of experience and to pass an exam that shows their knowledge of the trade before allowing plumbers to work independently.
Although not a necessity, plumbers can also decide to obtain optional certification, such as in plumbing design, to broaden their career and advancement opportunities. In addition, most employers require plumbers to have a driver’s license.
How to Become
The employment growth of plumbers is expected to grow over the coming years, offering lots of employment opportunities.
As with all building trades, the more experience, the better. Therefore, if becoming a plumber sounds like something you would like to do, we recommend trying to get some general construction work to gather some experience.
Education and learning
There are no formal educational requirements to becoming a plumber. However, plumbers need to complete an apprenticeship and some exams before they are allowed to practice.
Plumbers 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 can sit an exam to become a ‘master’ of plumbing!
Ask a Question
Have a question about Plumber 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.