Plumbing Schools and Career Choices
Water, waste and energy professionals
Ever heard the saying it's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it? Plumbing trades might be what that's referring to. Not everything about plumbing is messy though - especially not the tidy sum most professional plumbers can expect to put in the bank each week.
As part of the largest group of construction occupations, plumbing tradespeople often find that the lengthy training and licensing process pays off with a very encouraging career outlook.
How long will it take?
Apprenticeships programs (the route most plumbing students choose) can take up to five years to complete. They involve a mixture of classroom instruction and training in the field.
Trade school courses without the work placement portion (or with a much shorter one) can last as short as four months, but students may be able to apply for an apprenticeship after completion and have some of their credits transferred. Keep in mind most graduates or non-apprenticeship programs will still have to qualify for licensing in their state by working a specified number of years or hours on the job.
Residential and industrial plumbers can easily receive their training through technical schools and career colleges. Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters who work in the commercial sector more often receive training through formal apprenticeships. Some still choose to learn plumbing trades informally, but that can add years to the time it takes to become licensed.
Skills and requirements
While on the job, students learn to use hand tools, differentiate between grades and types of pipe and follow supervisor instruction. Classroom learning includes blueprint reading, math, applied physics and chemistry and plumbing codes and regulations. There are strict codes that must be followed in the plumbing industry because of potential health and safety issues caused by poor water supply or improper sewage removal.
Plumbing tradespeople work with materials including copper, steel and plastic - laying out the job, bending or cutting pipes and fitting them together with adhesives or solder. After the job is done workers check to ensure everything operates the way it's supposed to.
What workers may experience on the job
- Heavy lifting
- Working in cramped or uncomfortable spaces
- Potential for minor injuries and burns
- Working in severe weather conditions (mainly applies to pipelayers)
Typical plumbing school programs:
- Plumbers - Plumbers do a variety of jobs, from unclogging drains to installing fixtures and appliances such as sinks, bathtubs, toilets and dishwashers. During construction of new homes or buildings they lay out piping in the best locations, avoiding obstructions and cutting holes where needed. They also repair water and waste disposal systems and equipment, including water heaters.
- Pipefitter/Steamfitter - These professionals install and repair high and low-pressure pipe systems. They use a variety of tools and connection methods including welding and soldering. They may also install controls for automatic system regulation. The pipes can be used for manufacturing or as part of building heating and cooling or electrical generation systems. They transfer gases and liquids such as water, steam, chemicals or fuels. In some locations, piping for HVAC systems is installed by pipefitters or steamfitters.
- Sprinklerfitters - Automatic fire sprinkler systems in buildings are installed and maintained by sprinklerfitters. Most of these installations take place in multi-story structures such as office buildings.
- Pipelayers - These workers set up mass water, sewage and gas delivery systems using concrete, plastic or cast-iron pipes. After digging trenches they lay pipes and weld, glue or cement the pieces together.