HOW TO BECOME A PLUMBER

HOW TO BECOME A PLUMBER IN THE USA

According to the official statistics provided by the United States Department of Labor, there are currently around 490,200 people working as plumbers in the United States. A walk of life that brings in safety, beauty and comfort to homes and lives all across the country. The greatest contribution in the field of plumbing has most definitely been its ability to ensure the safe and hygienic use of water which is an indispensable resource for the planet. It is an industry that has devoted itself to the service of public health and welfare and evolved as a powerful economic engine, facilitating employment for millions of people across the world. Employment in the plumbing sector is expected to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029 but just like any other profession, it is susceptible to fluctuations in the economy. However, the maintenance of pipe systems continues even during economic recessions, as a result of which, employment and job security is relatively stable in this field. As a crucial industry with high demand, the importance of plumbers in our daily lives is undeniable. Let’s dive into the details of the work environment, the diverse aspects of the job, its positioning in the occupational world and a step by step guide on how to become a licensed plumber in the United States of America.

Piping systems

Duties: 

  • The basic job of a plumber involves installing and repairing pipes that supply water and gas to, and carry residue away from homes and business settings.

Plumbers also:

  • Install plumbing fixtures
  • Inspect and operate different equipment
  • Clean drains
  • Clear obstructions 
  • Maintain septic systems
  • Train apprentices
  • Coordinate with other construction workers 
  • Ensure that a property’s plumbing system functions properly
  • Plumbers may even work right alongside architects and be involved in drafting blueprints to ensure the efficiency of the final product

Work Environment:

Plumbers have to travel to various sites of work every day, performing tasks in homes, factory settings and office buildings. They usually work in indoor spaces but due to the diverse nature of different settings, sometimes plumbers may also be required to work outside, often in poor weather conditions. 

Plumbing is a full-time job and work is therefore not categorized into shifts. A plumber may have to cater to clients ranging from those in organised government institutions working in a scheduled manner to those caught in a midnight emergency at home. They must be available on call regularly and sometimes even have to work over time. A self-employed plumber often enjoys the freedom of chalking out his or her own schedule.

Environment of work

Job Outlook:

A plumber’s earnings vary depending on level of experience and the location of the plumber. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018, plumbers receive a median annual salary of $53,910 that is higher than that of other construction trade workers and other workers in general. The salaries of the bottom 10% to the top 10% go from $32,100 per year to $93,700 per year.

As surveys have revealed, it can be a fulfilling career. Licensed plumbers tend to remain in the field for the entirety of their careers. Some even choose to work post their usual age of retirement. In this case, they work part-time, train apprentices and provide opportunities for learning.

Life as a plumber:

In addition to the pay, a day in the life of a plumber is hardly ever dull. A plumber will never have to take on repetitive tasks, as the profession poses a wide range of challenges to solve, all of which are situated in vastly different settings. Owing to the nature of their work, plumbers often have to sustain injuries. One must possess physical strength, a basic knowledge of math, geometry and algebra and be capable of adapting to convoluted situations. Plumbing can be a very fruitful and profitable career. Even today, people have a very stereotypical image of plumbers in mind. However, plumbing has become a multi-faceted job which requires plumbers to receive professional training to polish their skills and enables them to deal with high-tech equipment.

A plumber at work

HOW TO BECOME A PLUMBER:

Provided here is a step by step guide on how to go from zero experience to becoming a full-time licensed plumber in the U.S.A-

How to become a plumber

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A PLUMBER:

It usually takes 4-5 years to become a licensed and certified plumber. In high school, those interested in the plumbing profession can start preparing for their occupation by taking classes in geometry, algebra, physics, and computer-aided drafting. A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a plumber. Vocational technical schools offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They offer welding courses that are necessary for some apprenticeship training programs as well.

There is also a possibility of obtaining scholarships specific to plumbing education. A number of organisations can be considered in this regard; 

  • American Society of Plumbing Engineers – The ASPE Alfred Steele Scholarship grants scholarship up to $3000 to qualified applicants. It is restricted to ASPE members and their immediate families who have a GPA above 3.0 and are willing to attend university on a full-time basis. 
  • World Plumbing Council – There are two scholarships available; one to students from developed countries and the other to students from developing or underdeveloped countries. The Scholarships are granted to individuals actively involved in their local plumbing industry, particularly in education and training. The intent is to provide opportunities for an educational exchange between plumbing industry participants from different countries.
  • Nexstar Legacy Foundation – Since its inception, the Nextstar Legacy Foundation has awarded $105,000 in scholarship grants to students wishing to pursue education in plumbing, HVAC and electricity.  
  • PHCC Educational Foundation – Provides financial assistance to students pursuing a career in the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling (PHC) industry.
  • San Jose Plumbing Scholarship- The San Jose Plumbing Contractors introduced this scholarship to those interested in studying in the PHCC Association of Orange county, Riverside and San Bernardino.

In addition to acquiring the desired educational qualifications, plumbers must also take care to ensure a clear criminal, driving and drug record. Reckless actions and any sort of misdemeanor may create difficulties in pursuing a career in plumbing.  As the job involves travelling, most employers look forward to hiring plumbers who have a driving license. A clean background enhances the chances of becoming a licensed plumber.

HOW TO BECOME A PLUMBER APPRENTICE:

A formal educational and training program is not mandatory to become a plumber but it does come in useful when applying for an ambitious and competitive apprenticeship. These programs have a flexible duration but usually last from about 2- 5 years. Plumbers develop their skills fully through this apprenticeship as well as technical instructions on safety, local plumbing codes and regulations and blueprint reading. Technical training received while working alongside an experienced plumber is immensely valuable. In addition to 246 hours of classroom training, plumber apprentices also receive 2000 hours of on-the-job training. These programs are usually sponsored by local unions, businesses and trade associations and furnish the apprentices with the required knowledge of math, applied physics and chemistry. Legitimate and routine apprenticeships are offered by The United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and HVAC Service Techs. Coursework in these training programs covers a vast range of topics: plumbing theory, pipe cutting and soldering, water hydraulics, water heating systems, draining and venting systems, distribution systems, electrical basics, local plumbing codes and advanced plumbing. During their apprenticeship, the procedures associated with installation, repair and maintenance is learned by apprentices. The apprentices also learn to read blueprints, interpret plumbing codes, identify the appropriate fittings, recognize the grades and types of pipes and eventually master the usage of the various tools involved in their trade. Also, a number of online plumbing courses have also come up.

Welding

 HOW TO BECOME A LICENSED PLUMBER:

How to become journeyman and master plumbers-

After the completion of apprenticeship programs, plumbers are required to pass the licensing exam (The Journeyman Plumber Exam) in order to become journey-level workers who are then legally allowed to practice the plumbing trade independently. After having gained several years of experience, plumbers can take another exam and move further up to earn a master status. (In some states, acquiring a master status is mandatory to obtain a plumbing contractor’s license). It is considered vital for plumbers to be licensed. Although the licensing requirements vary from state to state and even city to city, most states require plumbers to pass an exam and possess a minimum of 2-5 years of experience for them to acquire a license and be qualified to perform their tasks independently. Different states have different criteria, and therefore those who are interested in pursuing a career in plumbing must thoroughly read the requirements of their area and abide by the guidelines. Some states do not have adequate online resources and licenses are mandated at the city or country level. 

Once plumbers earn their license, some of them are hired as full-time employees, while others work independently as freelancers or contractors. Becoming licensed at the journey-level, allows plumbers to advance up to the positions of master plumbers, supervisors, or project managers. Some plumbers also opt to start their own business which requires additional licensing. As of July 2020, the average annual salary of a master plumber was $62,553.

The plumbing industry is marked by the continuous evolution of new methods and technologies. Plumbers may also attain supplementary certification to widen their career opportunities. Most North American jurisdictions have made it mandatory for plumbers to fulfill continuing education if they wish to maintain their license. Keeping with the variance from region to region, completion of educational credits and license renewal may be mandatory annually or every three to five years. 

Specific educational opportunities or voluntary certification can be found through these organisations; Green Plumbers USA, National Inspection Testing Certification and PHCC Educational Foundation.

However, keeping in mind the different situations in different states, it can be said that changes in the licensing legislation may keep occurring from time to time.  Most states also require plumbers to carry a Plumber’s Liability Insurance or a Worker’s Compensation Insurance if they wish to acquire a license and be certified.

A good plumber must therefore be:

  • Certified
  • Experienced 
  • Competent, reliable and reputable
  • Mechanically inclined
  • Punctual 
  • Dedicated 
  • Dexterous, physically strong and in good shape
  • In possession of effective coordination, communication skills and problem-solving skills
  • Able to prioritize safety 

Plumbers must possess dexterity

However, one must note that it is very important to make sure that the person concerned is actually willing to take up plumbing as a career. It requires passion to pursue any profession and one must therefore be completely confident about their choices. 

Plumbing has historically been considered to be a more male dominated profession that is unsuited to women. But just like any other walk of life, women have been showing their mettle in plumbing too. In 2017, there was a growing awareness of women plumbers. Women have displayed a strong sense of determination to override obstacles and the desired physical strength that the profession demands. They also possess the necessary tenderness that is required while dealing with customers.  Today, women have also emerged as leaders, founded their own plumbing organisations and changed the plumbing industry. We are gradually breaking conventions and moving towards establishing plumbing as a gender-neutral profession.

A female plumber at work

 Job Market:

The plumbing profession is expected to provide good employment opportunities in the foreseeable future. A growth in the renovation and construction business faced with a shortage of qualified, licensed plumbers could create demand in the field. Followed by the inevitable retirement of many tradesmen, or transfer to other professions, a considerable number of openings are likely to spring up in the field of plumbing. 

With the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, we stand today at a crucial juncture with the world having to combat one of the toughest challenges in history. The health and economic impact will have huge repercussions even in the years to come. The immense importance of plumbing can be gauged in such a situation where one of the easiest yet effective ways to control this dreadful disease is by washing our hands. With the shortage of clean water and the necessity of ensuring proper sanitation, our plumbing systems are being tested to their ultimate potential. The slogan adopted by American plumbers in the early 20th Century, “The plumbers protect the health of the nation”, stands truer than ever today. On March 19, 2020 President Donald Trump and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Corona virus Guidance for America whereby plumbers were identified as one of the “essential critical infrastructure workers” of the nation. This placed the plumbing professionals in the heart of America’s response to the threat of the pandemic. They have been at a greater risk of being exposed to the virus, but they have taken the challenge head-on and have been on the frontline of this battle to safeguard the health of the world. 

A career in the plumbing sector is likely to pose exciting challenges every day. It offers a diverse range of opportunities and has emerged as a respectable profession that has been attracting young people all over the world. 

Pluming services

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