Homes, businesses and factories need good plumbing; plumbers help keep offices, buildings and residences sanitary. Plumbers, pipefitters and welders maintain, assemble and repair drainage systems and pipes and pipe systems which carry water, gas, air, or other liquids to and in residential homes, businesses and factories.
Plumber, pipefitter, and welder careers include maintaining and installing pipe systems and fixtures, reading blueprints and following building codes, and assessing materials and equipment needed. Plumber, pipefitter, and welder careers also include testing pipelines and systems, replacing old or damaged parts and repairing pipes and pipe systems when needed.
Plumber, pipefitter and welder skills and job duties tend to overlap; however, they are each specialized in different areas. For example, pipefitters commonly maintain manufacturing or industrial pipes which carry gases, acids and different chemicals, whereas steamfitters specialize in piping systems that carry steam under high pressure. Master plumbers work in settings such as construction sites where they develop blueprints which demonstrate where all the necessary pipes and fixtures will be located.
Service technicians install, maintain and repair plumbing, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration systems in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.
Education and Certifications
Typically people interested in a plumber, pipefitter, welder and service tech career need a high school diploma or equivalent, pass basic math, and train as an apprentice. Trade schools offer courses on pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They also offer welding courses that are considered necessary by some pipefitter and welder apprenticeship training programs.
Businesses and unions usually offer apprenticeships which can take 4 to 5 years to complete. For each year apprentices receive training, they must earn at least 1700 to 2000 hours of paid onsite training and a minimum of 246 hours of technical instruction. They receive education about blueprints, safety, plumbing codes, applied physics, chemistry and math. After they complete their training they can work independently as a journey worker. Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly, some start out as helpers. The Home Builders Institute offers a pre-apprenticeship training program in plumbing and other trades.
In most states plumbers need a license. In addition, in some localities pipefitters need a license. Most states and localities require plumbers to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary, most states and localities require workers to have 2 to 5 years of experience and to pass an exam that shows their knowledge of the trade and of local plumbing codes before they are permitted to work independently. In addition, most employers require plumbers to have a driver’s license.
In some states, pipefitters may even require a special license to work on gas lines. Licensing typically requires an exam, work experience, or both.
Essential Career Information
- $52,590 - Median pay, 2017
- $31,470 - Wage of lowest 10 percent, 2017
- $91,810 - Wage of the highest 10 percent, 2017
- 480,600 - Number of jobs, 2016
- 16% - Employment growth forecast, 2016
- Entry-level education requirements - High school diploma or equivalent
- Communication Skills. Plumbers must be able to direct workers, bid on jobs, and plan work schedules. Plumbers talk to customers on a regular basis and need to understand and communicate problems and directions.
- Mechanical Skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters use a variety of tools to assemble and repair pipe systems. Choosing the right tool and successfully installing, repairing, or maintaining a system is crucial to their work.
- Troubleshooting Skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters find, diagnose, and repair problems. For example, pipefitters must be able to perform pressure tests to pinpoint the location of a leak.
- Dexterity. Hand–eye coordination. Plumbers must be able to maneuver parts and tools precisely, often in tight spaces.
- Physical Strength. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters must be strong enough to lift and move heavy tools and materials.