All it takes is one lousy morning with no running water (or a clogged sink or phantom-flushing toilet) to remind us how dependent we are on the expertise of plumbers. But troubleshooting is just a sliver of their responsibilities. The men and women working in this profession develop blueprints to plan where pipes and fixtures should be plotted in a structure. They also install and connect the piping and fixtures, either working individually or with a team of apprentices and pipefitters. In addition to facilitating water supply from pipes and large fixtures, such as bathtubs, showers, sinks and toilets, plumbers ensure that water reaches appliances like dishwashers and water heaters. The best in the occupation are strong problem-solvers who have mastered customer service and can meet the physical and mechanical demands of the job.
General employment within the construction sector took a nosedive during the recession, but hiring should pick up for plumbers. New buildings and residences are being built to comply with stricter water efficiency standards, and companies housed in older structures are hoping to retrofit to use more energy-efficient systems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there should be a hiring spurt of 12 percent for plumbers by the year 2024, which translates to about 49,100 new jobs.
$50,660 Median Salary
6.3% Unemployment Rate
49,100 Number of Jobs
Plumbers are ranked:
#2 in Best Construction Jobs
Work Life Balance8
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The median salary for a plumber was $50,660 in 2014, the BLS reports. The best-paid pulled in about $88,160, while those in the bottom 10 percent earned $29,470 a year. The metropolitan areas that pay particularly well include Yakima, Washington; Trenton, New Jersey; and San Francisco. Apprentices who are just starting out could make 30 to 50 percent less than a fully trained plumber.
75th Percentile $68,160
25th Percentile $37,790
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Becoming a plumber is a two-pronged process that includes practical training and study. Traditionally, a hopeful plumber begins a four- or five-year apprenticeship program to receive technical education and complete the required hours of on-the-job training under a licensed professional. Plumbers who have successfully completed their apprenticeship are known as journeymen.
An apprenticeship is the most common pathway to becoming a plumber. Many unions and businesses mandate that an apprentice receive a minimum of 246 hours of technical education, which could include instruction in math, applied physics and chemistry, and up to 2,000 hours of paid, practical training working with an experienced plumber. Safety training is also an important component of the process, since injuries are common in this line of work. “We have many hours worth of [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] training before we go on to a job site,” says Patrick Kellett, the administrative assistant to the general president for the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States, Canada and Australia. “We’re very conscious of the dangers that come with working in construction.”
To work independently, a plumber is required to receive a license. In most states, the prerequisite for earning this license is two to five years of practical experience. There’s also an exam to test technical know-how and understanding of plumbing codes. The United Association’s website offers extensive information on licensing requirements by state.
Average Americans work well into their 60s, so workers might as well have a job that’s enjoyable and a career that’s fulfilling. A job with a low stress level, good work-life balance and solid prospects to improve, get promoted and earn a higher salary would make many employees happy. Here’s how this job’s satisfaction is rated in terms of upward mobility, stress level and flexibility.