On the job site, plumbers are recognized as well-paid, skilled craftsman who are essential to a smooth running project. Both the rough and finish plumbing stages are critical points in a construction project, and any project manager can confirm that a good plumber can be worth his or her weight in gold.
If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn the plumbing trade, this is a phenomenal time to enter the field. Let’s take a quick look at the reasons why:
There’s a demand for plumbers in the job force. The latest unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a jobless rate in the construction industry of 8.7%. That’s a far cry from the staggering 24.9% unemployment of 2010. This is due to the increased construction production, but also fallout from the 2008 meltdown.
A talented plumber can make a good living. The most recent BLS compensation reports show plumbers have a mean hourly pay over $26, and an annual wage of over $55k, with a high end plumbing income approaching six figures.
Job security. It’s the 21st century, and no job is guaranteed, but a hands-on trade can’t be outsourced to a remote call center. And plumbers are even more insulated against the ups and downs of the construction market than the average job-site laborer. The construction industry does better when the number of new builds is on the increase, but a skilled plumber will always be in demand on rehab projects, and can also fall back on service calls, if needed.
There is a satisfaction that comes with working with your hands. Sure, if you want to only talk paychecks, there are higher paying jobs out there. But when you sweat up an entire house’s worth of copper or make the repair that will let a mom and her kids have hot water that night, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment that an investment banker just can’t touch.
All right, so the promise of a rewarding, well-paying, and stable job sounds good to you. Now that you’re interested in becoming a plumber, what are the first steps to take?
Look at your state, county, and city regulations. The building trades are controlled on all three levels. A quick on-line search or phone call should tell you what the requirements are in your area.
Find somewhere to apprentice. In most states, to become licensed a plumber needs to demonstrate job-site (or comparable) experience for a set minimum number of years. Even if this wasn’t a requirement, a short stint hauling pipe for someone else will teach you the basics of the trade while you get paid to learn, and give you a chance to start building up your personal tool collection.
Check out governmental assistance. We already mentioned checking into the state and local requirements, but even as government agencies make you jump through hoops, they sometimes give you a hand doing so. Call up your local government and see if there’s any assistance for workers just getting into the trade. Sometimes they match up potential apprentices with master plumbers, or even just give assistance with filling out forms or working your way through the system.
Look into trade schools. If you don’t have a lead on an employment opportunity, or you just do better in a more structured learning environment, call around to local trade schools to find out how their programs work. Trade schools often charge tuition, but scholarships may be available, and they can be great for opening up doors for apprenticeships or for trying out a trade without making a major upfront investment in tools or time.
While you’re exploring the option of a career in plumbing, you can also do a little dreaming. What kind of jobs would you love to work on? Do you see yourself working set hours for a reliable employer, or would you like to be the captain of your own ship?
Union or Non? Union jobs pay better, and often come loaded down with benefits. It’s also a smaller fraternity of workers, so you’ll get to know the same crews much better than if your free-working (for better or worse). On the downside, there are far fewer jobs for union crews. For all the benefits of a union card, you do make yourself more vulnerable to the up and down trends of the broader construction market.
Employee or entrepreneur? As a plumber, you’ll have the ability to work for another plumber or company, or strike out on your own. If you choose to go it alone, you’ll have to supply all of your own tools, as well as vehicles and any required licensing fees. Even more difficult is the task of learning all the non-plumbing skills that come with owning your own business. Bookkeeping, payroll, marketing, networking… all of these skills are needed to own and operate your own business. The bar is high, but the potential reward is great; if you’re successful you have the satisfaction that comes with knowing that your hard work goes toward building your own business, rather than someone else’s.
No matter what your dreams look like, entering the plumbing trade is a great first step to accomplishing them. This is an exciting time for the industry as a whole, and a great opportunity for new plumbers just starting their professional journey.
Good luck, and I look forward to seeing you on the job site!