Becoming a Plumber – Careers & Salary Outlook

Search Programs

Plumbers are some of our most important workers. After all, without them we might not have running water, including functioning wastewater systems. Their work is part of our daily lives and we come into contact with plumbing on a near-hourly basis. Becoming a plumber can be difficult and it's a profession that is regulated by state agencies nationwide. There are also loads of educational outlets that fuel the profession and associations that help develop plumbers in their practice.

To become a plumber you do not need to get a bachelor's degree (you do need a high school diploma), yet continuing education can help them develop and maintain their licensure. They can also benefit from academic instruction when they venture out to start their own plumbing enterprise, no matter how big or small. Finally, the plumbing field is one of few professions left that builds from an apprentice system. Plumbers are nothing if not a profession of workers who help to life one another up rather than trying to tear one another down.


Search Programs

Steps to Become a Plumber


  • Step 1: Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Internship or Apprenticeship

  • Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

  • Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

steps-to-take-plumber-careers

Step 1: Education Requirements

There are no specific educational requirements to become a journeyman plumber. Although you will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Many plumbing companies offer and provide hands on training, but you will need to be 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or GED. In fact, many people land their first plumbing apprenticeship job by walking onto a job site and asking if they need help. This is a terrific way to start gaining on the job training and experience, building a toolkit, and learning various tricks of the trade from a master plumber. Another way to get started in a plumbing career path is to complete a certificate course through trade schools or a plumbing apprenticeship program. Trade school courses and classes provide a structured learning environment that can quickly deliver the requisite information needed to pursue a career path as a master plumber.

The notable exception to this is for plumbers who wish to specialize in medical gas piping installation. These technicians may need to complete a formal plumbing training course that has been approved by their state's regulatory body. For example, Washington State requires a 32-hour, approved training course for this career path. All aspiring apprenticeship plumbers should check with their state's licensing agency to make sure they stay on track.

Step 2: Internship or Apprenticeship

Plumbers must complete an apprenticeship training period in order to earn a license or certification in their state. Some of these apprenticeship programs might integrate classroom work, but most simply require supervised work over the course of 4 years or so. Each state has different apprenticeship requirements, but in general plumbing technicians must complete four years with two of those years (or 4,000 hours) spent working on industrial or commercial installations. Aspiring licensed plumbers should make sure that they keep track of their hours and seek out only licensed supervisors who can validate their hours with the state.

Check with state authorities or a licensed supervisor for state-specific apprenticeship guidelines. Once you complete an apprenticeship and begin working, it is a good idea to keep accurate records of any and all completed jobs. If nothing else, this will help when creating a resume. It’s also helpful to maintain a folder of photos that documents every project for the same reason.

Step 3: Licensing & Certifications

To become a licensed journeyman-level plumber, most states require a four-year period working as an apprentice or trainee. Washington State, for example, requires 8,000 hours working under a certified journeyman plumber. Four thousand of those hours should be on commercial or industrial installation projects. Residential projects and jobs may have separate requirements to obtain a plumbing license. Washington State for example only requires 3 years or 6,000 hours of supervised work.

After a plumber has completed the trainee period, they need to pass a certifying licensing exam. The test covers the current Uniform Plumbing Code in order to become a licensed plumber. To prepare for the licensing exam, candidates may want to take a course at a trade school or otherwise implement structured study methods. All plumbers should check their state's specific license requirements.

Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance

Be sure to also review state requirements for renewing and maintaining your plumbing license. Many require continuing education for all licensed or certified plumbers. You will also need to keep track of the dates when the state requires renewal materials including all fees, proof of continuing education, and applicable plumber's license renewal paperwork.

What is a Plumber and What do They Do?


A master plumber is a building trades professional whose job is to install, repair, and maintain residential and commercial plumbing systems. This career is always in high demand since everyone in the United States relies on their indoor plumbing for waste removal, cleaning, drinking water, and cooking. There are many positive and negative aspects to this career and the master plumbers status is when you reach the highest pay grade available as a plumbing professional.

On the positive side, it's easy to enter the plumbing trade. There is no formal education required and plumbing companies of all size are often hiring entry-level workers. If the trade is a good fit for a person, they can stay on with their company and become a journeyman plumber. This is essentially a skilled worker who can soon work as a supervisor or a master plumber. With this level of experience, the plumber might consider branching off and working independently or starting their own business. Otherwise, skilled plumbers have a wide range of opportunities.

Large commercial plumbing companies might hire technicians of all levels to install plumbing systems in huge apartment or office buildings. Others might find work as an apprentice to a plumbing company that consists of a single person whose primary work involves unclogging drains and installing simple plumbing system fixtures for homeowners.

As for the negatives, these are rather subjective. However, most will likely agree that plumbers often have to deal with unpleasant material found in drains. They also have to work in very tight quarters, both under kitchen sinks and even in the crawlspaces of homes. Some also find that their place of work is in constant flux. While on some days they might report to a central office or shop, on most days they need to travel to find the client's home, development, or skyscraper.

Where Do Plumbers Work?


A licensed plumber can find employment in many different places. Some simply have a friend who is a plumber in need of an assistant. Others find work via Craigslist or other ad platforms. Those in technical schools will often find job opportunities posted in the halls of their school or announced by their instructors who may still be actively working in the trade.

As for the work itself, the workplace can vary from day to day or week to week. Most independent contractors spend their days in people's homes, installing plumbing fixtures and/or repairing a wide range of problems. Thus, a plumber might work in two or more places in a single day. However, when a plumber works on a larger job, such as a home construction or full remodel, they might return to the same site multiple times over the course of that project. That's because they need to coordinate with the other tradespeople and complete the plumbing in stages.

Why Become a Plumber?


There are many reasons to become a plumber. For one thing, there is no strict education requirement for an entry-level plumber. While a college degree will help with some aspects of the trade, it is a rarity in this profession. In fact, any hard-working and eager person can start as an apprentice and work up the ladder during their plumbing career. Though the entry-level pay is on the lower end, once a plumber has good experience and is a trusted journeyman, their earnings increase dramatically.

For the entrepreneurial-minded worker, becoming a plumber is a terrific idea. With about five years of experience, they can become a licensed plumber, buy a work van, and go into business for themselves. Licensed plumbing contractors can earn a high wage and may even be subcontracted for large commercial jobs, since their credentials will be accepted by insurance companies. Note that licensed plumbers (also known as master plumbers) must pass an exam that demonstrates full working knowledge of plumbing codes.

Professional Organizations


Professional organizations are a vital part of any trade. While the plumbing industry may not seem like an organized profession, they certainly are. In fact, there are a number of national and local professional associations to choose from. Plumbers who join a professional organization will have many opportunities to learn and grow in their trade. Associations like these offer educational and professional resources that they might not otherwise have access to. They even offer special certifications that can lead to new and varied projects. The fellowship opportunities likewise enable these contractors the opportunity to collaborate and compare notes. Even apprentices may find and association's resources invaluable.

One key advantage to joining a professional association is the opportunity to easily access continuing education resources that include webinars. After all, after a busy day it's helpful to have a well-organized repository of educational resources that help maintain one's license.

  • American Society of Plumbing Engineers
    The ASPE offers its members opportunities to grow within their profession. The society offers opportunities for professional growth and development, networking, publishing, events, and even scholarships. Their educational programs are helpful for techs who need continuing education opportunities as well as those who seek a new certification.
  • Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association
    The PHCCA offers its members loads of opportunities to grow through educational resources, meetings, and conferences, and loads of other professional resources. For instance, their website offers the National Standard Plumbing Code for sale. PHCCA also supports apprentices and students with special materials.
  • United Association: Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, & Service Techs
    Plumbers who join the United Association find that they are supported in their profession by like-minded plumbing techs who are intent on continually improving the profession. Membership provides leadership opportunities, advanced training, and a peek into what other technicians are working on.
  • Plumbing Contractors of America
    The PCA represents union plumbers and contractors. Specifically, they represent the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. This group is a lobbying effort that helps protect the interests of their members.
  • National Kitchen and Bath Association
    This association forms a bond between all kitchen and bath professionals. Considering that the bulk of all plumbing work occurs in a kitchen or bathroom, this is a vital organization for the trade. The organization offers members the opportunity to develop professionally, conduct research and gain new insights, as well as meet other like-minded professionals.
  • Water Quality Association
    This association is geared towards a special group of water workers – those in the industrial water treatment industry. The association invites anyone who is interested in improving water quality to join their association. The WQA hosts conferences, supports a certification program, and offers a bevy of educational resources to its members.

Plumber Career and Salary


There seems to be a nearly endless need for plumbers and other tradespeople. After all, it's not yet possible to automate the work they do. Thus, skilled tradespeople will likely enjoy a long career installing new kitchens, bathrooms, and repairing everything when pipes and fixtures break down. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the employment sector that includes pipefitters, and steamfitters will grow by 4% through 2029. This growth represents a projected increase of over 20,000 jobs. Further, the BLS shows that the median salary for these workers is over $56,000.

On the other hand, Payscale.com's research indicates that journeymen plumbers earn a median salary of just under $60,000 with the upper end earning nearly $100,000. They also show that entry-level contractors earn over $17/hour, which increased to over $20 within four years. These figures are based on jobs advertised over their system and likely don't account for independent contractors and others who find jobs via word of mouth or through their association's jobs board.

Ultimately the outlook for the plumbing profession is increasing. There seems to be no slowdown in job growth and their salaries remain strong and steady.

Trade Career Paths


Search Programs