How to Become a Plumber, Pipefitter, or Steamfitter
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their jobs through an apprenticeship.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn on the job through an apprenticeship. Some also attend vocational-technical school. Most states and some localities require plumbers to be licensed.
A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to become a plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter. Vocational-technical schools offer courses in pipe system design, safety, and tool use. They also offer welding courses that are required by some pipefitter and steamfitter apprenticeship training programs.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters learn their trade through a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training, as well as some technical instruction, each year. Technical instruction includes safety, local plumbing codes and regulations, and blueprint reading. Apprentices also study mathematics, applied physics, and chemistry. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by unions, trade associations, and businesses. Most apprentices enter a program directly, but some start out as helpers or complete a pre-apprenticeship training programs in plumbing and other trades.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters complete an apprenticeship program and pass the required licensing exam to become journey-level workers. Journey-level plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are qualified to perform tasks independently. Plumbers with several years of plumbing experience who pass another exam earn master status. Some states require master plumber status in order to obtain a plumbing contractor’s license.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most states and some localities require plumbers to be licensed. Although licensing requirements vary, states and localities often require workers to have 2 to 5 years of experience and to pass an exam that shows their knowledge of the trade before allowing plumbers to work independently.
Plumbers may also obtain optional certification, such as in plumbing design, to broaden career opportunities. In addition, most employers require plumbers to have a driver’s license.
Some states require pipefitters and steamfitters to be licensed; they may also require a special license to work on gas lines. Licensing typically requires an exam or work experience or both. Contact your state’s licensing board for more information.
After completing an apprenticeship and becoming licensed at the journey level, plumbers may advance to become a master plumber, supervisor, or project manager. Some plumbers choose to start their own business as an independent contractor, which may require additional licensing.
Communication skills. Plumbers must be able to direct workers, bid on jobs, and plan work schedules. Plumbers also talk to customers regularly.
Dexterity. Plumbers must be able to maneuver parts and tools precisely, often in tight spaces.
Mechanical skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters choose from a variety of tools to assemble, maintain, and repair pipe systems.
Physical strength. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters must be able to lift and move heavy tools and materials.
Troubleshooting skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters find, diagnose, and repair problems. They also help with setting up and testing new plumbing and piping systems.