October 20, 2021 • Working in the Trades
What Is It Like to Work as a Plumber?
Ask any homeowner or renter what they dread the most about home care, they will likely bring up plumbing. While some of us pick up a few skills over the years, such as unclogging a drain or replacing an old showerhead, the ins and outs of more complicated plumbing problems are often left to professionals. As a result, plumbers will always be in demand, making it a lucrative career for those looking to add to their blue-collar services or are just starting out in blue-collar work. And as aging plumbers begin to retire, this career choice will become even more financially rewarding in the coming years.
How Hard Is It to Be a Plumber?
Plumbing, like many jobs that you work with your hands, is a physically demanding job that can put a lot of strain on the shoulders and back. There may even be times that you need to work in cramped, wet, and cold environments to tackle a handful of different tasks, but experience, training, and protective equipment can keep you safe. But this is also what makes the financial reward so great, as the greatest compensation can usually come from things others aren’t willing to do. As a side benefit, the physical demands of plumbing can also help you on your fitness journey, especially if you are younger and looking to grow some muscle or lose weight.
As always, If you have serious health conditions or a disability, not to worry, as there are many other high-paying trade jobs that are in demand. But it is important to consult with your doctor on your physical fitness and receive proper training to mitigate any potential injuries.
What Are the Hours Like?
Plumbing projects can occur at any hour, and no two projects are the same. Some plumbers may work consistent eight to 10 hour days on construction sites installing pipes, fixtures, and tubs in new homes. Others may tackle a variety of projects every day, from snaking drains to identifying leaks and repairing burst pipes. If your employer offers flexible hours, you may be on-call all hours of the day. However, a typical plumber works 35-40 hours per week, according to the State of California Employment Development Department. And yet you can control your own input, your own output and in most cases, your financial rewards.
How Do I Become a Plumber?
Any professional career takes training, experience, and good mentorship. Plumbing is no different, but there are few barriers to entry. Each state has its own laws on certification, but most only require a high-school diploma or GED – you do not need a college degree to become a plumber. The general process includes:
- Formal Training: At the start of your training, you will need to take formal classes with a technical school or become an apprentice under a certified plumber, often through a union or trade school. These programs typically take four to five years, and most apprenticeships involve paid, on-the-job training. You may be asked to complete an exam to demonstrate the basic skills and knowledge to enter a program and meet certain requirements to show that you can physically perform the job.
- Journeyman Certification: By the end of your apprenticeship, you can become a journeyman plumber by applying for certification and licensing. The certification process will vary depending on your state, with some requiring a minimum number of on-the-job hours or a formal exam. As a journeyman, you can work independently of your mentor for commercial or public business or bid for contracts on your own.
- Becoming a Contractor: Master plumbers, or plumbing contractors, are more experienced journeymen who have achieved certification from their state. Master plumbers must have experience with multiple types of plumbing projects and typically require two to five years of work as journeymen to build up their skills. Master plumbers can take on supervisor roles for private businesses or start their own plumbing companies.
It is important to remember that not everyone follows the same career path. Plumbers come from all walks of life, all age groups, and there is no right or wrong way to get into the industry. What takes one plumber four year of training to achieve may take another plumber six years, but it’s not a competition. Rather than stressing over how fast other apprentices are learning, focus on what you want out of your career and how you can be successful. And it should be noted that with such high demand for this type of service and the employees needed to handle the workload, chances are you’ll rise quickly in the company you choose to work for.
Is Being a Plumber Fulfilling?
As I said, no job is ever the same, and one of the best advantages of being a plumber is the chance to tackle a variety of different jobs every day. Almost every building in the country utilizes plumbing, from packed office buildings to high-end mansions, and you may be asked to tackle new projects every day. While some employers and industries may offer more routine work, plumbers who are open to creative challenges are never bored. This does mean you will need to think on your feet and be prepared to get your hands dirty.
For your wallet, plumbing can be a lucrative career. Compared to pursuing a college degree, trade schools are more affordable and apprentices are paid for their services, meaning you do not have to go into debt to start your career. Each certification you receive increases your salary range and allows you to take on more profitable jobs. In my book Blue Collar Cash, I share the story of a large plumbing contractor in Atlanta hiring new plumbers at $90k per year! Even with the cost of purchasing your own equipment or starting your own business, you can enjoy a steady income to offset the costs. And that is pretty good money to build the life you want for yourself.
Any career requires dedication, hard work, and passion. I know firsthand the sweat and tears that go into blue-collar work and have mentored many workers as they started down the path of making their dreams a reality. If you are looking to start a career in a blue-collar industry such as plumbing, welding, or electrical work, I encourage you to read my book Blue Collar Cash and keep an eye on our blog for more detailed guides.