Home Plumbing How to Become a Plumber

How to Become a Plumber

by Michael Blount

Have you ever wondered who is responsible for installing and maintaining the complex labyrinth of pipes running through homes and buildings? Plumbers handle this important job, ensuring that water and gas systems operate safely and efficiently. Becoming a licensed plumber takes dedication and hard work, but offers the reward of stable employment and the satisfaction of providing an essential service. If you’re considering a career in plumbing, read on to learn more about the education, training, and skills required.


In today’s society, we rely on plumbers for far more than just fixing the occasional leak. Skilled plumbers install, repair, and maintain the complex systems that supply fresh water to homes and businesses, as well as removing wastewater through sewer and drain lines. They ensure that gas lines operate properly to provide fuel for appliances and heating systems. Plumbers play an integral role in constructing new buildings, installing the internal pipe systems that make them functional. Their expertise is essential for maintaining public health and safety standards.

As infrastructure ages across cities and towns, the services of qualified plumbers will continue to be in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for plumbers will grow 4 percent through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. Many experienced plumbers eventually go on to start their own contracting businesses. With hard work and determination, there are opportunities for plumbers to have rewarding, long-term careers and advance to senior positions.

Education and Training

The first step to becoming a plumber is getting a solid educational foundation. Earning a high school diploma or GED certificate is required at minimum. Coursework in math, science, electronics, and computer technology will be particularly helpful. Many plumbers get started right after high school through an apprenticeship program that combines paid on-the-job training with technical classroom instruction. Others choose to first complete plumbing courses at a vocational school or community college. Here are some typical educational paths:

Apprenticeship Programs

Apprenticeship programs allow you to earn while you learn. Many plumbers start out working for an established licensed contractor as an apprentice. This involves three to five years of full-time paid employment where you receive technical training and direct supervision from experienced plumbers on job sites. Classroom instruction is provided in plumbing theory, blueprint reading, safety practices, and building codes. Apprenticeships commonly involve a progressive wage scale. Successfully completing an apprenticeship program can put you in a good position to pass the licensing exam.

Vocational Schools and Community Colleges

Another option is completing plumbing technology courses at a vocational school or community college. Programs usually last one to two years and lead to a certificate or associate’s degree. Coursework covers topics like pipe system design, plumbing tools, water supply and drainage, fixture installation, pumps and pumping systems, and plumbing codes. Hands-on lab work is emphasized to develop practical skills. An internship may also be incorporated. This educational background can prepare you well for starting an apprenticeship.

4- or 5-Year Plumbing Apprenticeship Programs

Some trade unions and large plumbing contractors offer more extensive 4- to 5-year plumbing apprenticeship programs. In addition to on-site work experience, these programs provide classroom education at a college level leading to an associate’s degree or college credits. Graduates can qualify to take the journeyman and master plumber exams.

“Becoming a plumber grants you the opportunity to find a job today. The demand for skilled tradespeople continues to grow.”

Licensing and Certification

To work independently, plumbers are required to obtain a license in all states except Michigan. Licensing ensures plumbers meet skill-level and industry standards. Requirements vary, but typically involve two to five years of paid practical experience followed by passing one or more exams. Here are some common license types:

Apprentice License

An apprentice license allows you to work under the supervision of a journeyman or master plumber to gain hands-on training and experience. Some states require an apprentice license for anyone learning the trade on the job. Passing a basic exam may be required. An apprentice license must be renewed annually.

Journeyman Plumber License

A journeyman license qualifies you to work independently. To qualify, you must complete a state-approved apprenticeship program and pass a technical exam. In some states, two to five years of documented field experience can substitute for the apprenticeship. Journeyman licenses must be renewed every one to three years.

Master Plumber License

A master plumber license allows you to operate your own plumbing business and hire and supervise others. Eligibility requirements are more extensive than for a journeyman license. You must have additional work experience, usually at least two years as a licensed journeyman. Passing a master plumber exam is also required. These licenses are renewed every one to three years.

Getting licensed is mandatory for those seeking plumbing careers. It shows you have the skills, training, and knowledge to provide quality work in compliance with all codes and regulations. Licensed master plumbers enjoy advantages like having authority to pull building permits. Project owners and general contractors often specifically seek out licensed professionals.

Career Path and Opportunities

The typical career path for a plumber begins with becoming an apprentice after high school. An apprenticeship provides the hands-on training and industry knowledge needed to qualify for licensure. Once a journeyman license is obtained, plumbers can work independently on residential and commercial projects of all sizes. With sufficient experience, plumbers can pursue master licensure and the ability to start their own contracting business.

Job opportunities for plumbers are expected to grow over the next decade. New building construction and building renovations will continue to drive demand. As systems age in existing homes and businesses, routine maintenance, repairs, and replacements will also be required. Some key areas that may see greater need for plumbers include:

New Green Technology – Alternative water and drainage systems, such as graywater and rainwater capture systems, require specialty plumbing expertise to install and integrate with existing infrastructure.

Disaster Response – Damaged plumbing systems in disaster areas require qualified professionals to assist with emergency repairs and rebuilding efforts.

Aging Infrastructure – Outdated pipe systems in cities and towns nationwide necessitate major overhauls and upgrades.

Rural and Remote Areas – Rural communities often have aging plumbing or lack qualified plumbers, creating job openings.

Opportunities exist for plumbers to specialize in certain industry segments like residential new construction, commercial plumbing, or service and repairs. Experienced plumbers may advance to become supervisors, estimators, inspectors, or instructors. Starting a plumbing contracting business is another possibility. With sound business knowledge and master licensure, owning a plumbing company can be rewarding.

Earning Potential and Job Outlook

Skilled plumbers can earn a good living and expect steady work. According to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for plumbers nationwide was $56,330. Those working for plumbing or HVAC contractors averaged higher earnings of $61,100 per year. Plumbers in major metro areas and those who own their own businesses can earn over $80,000 annually.

Employment for plumbers is projected to grow 4 percent over the 2021-2031 period, faster than the 3 percent average projected across all occupations. Approximately 25,000 openings for plumbers are expected each year over the next decade. Demand should remain strong, fueled by factors like aging infrastructure, population growth, and construction of new households. Foremen and self-employed master plumbers who run their own businesses may see better job prospects.

Skills and Qualities

To achieve success as a plumber, certain essential skills and personal traits are important:

Mechanical aptitude – The ability to understand mechanical systems allows plumbers to install, troubleshoot, and repair complex plumbing equipment and infrastructure. Spatial skills help visualize pipe layouts.

Problem-solving – Identifying complex plumbing issues and creatively resolving them is central to a plumber’s work. Critical thinking enables evaluating the best solutions.

Physical strength and stamina – Plumbing often involves demanding physical labor like lifting heavy pipes and equipment and working in cramped positions. Endurance to complete strenuous tasks is required.

Technical skills – Plumbers must master specialized techniques like pipe welding and fitting, valve and fixture installation, drainage configuration, pump maintenance, and more.

Business skills – Self-employed master plumbers need business savvy to succeed when running their companies, including customer service, accounting, and project management abilities.

Teamwork – Plumbers must collaborate effectively with apprentices, helpers, other tradespeople, and supervisors on the job site.

A responsible, detail-oriented work ethic and a commitment to always adherence to building codes and safety standards are also vital. Ongoing learning is required to stay current with changing technologies, products, and regulations in the plumbing field.


Choosing to become a plumber opens up solid employment opportunities, good earning potential, and the chance to launch your own company down the road. While the work is physically demanding, it provides the satisfaction of mastering a skilled trade and seeing the tangible results of your labor. If you are willing to put in the time completing job training, maintain a relentless work ethic, and develop your problem-solving and mechanical skills, a rewarding career in plumbing can be yours.


What education do I need to become a plumber?

Most plumbers have a high school diploma or equivalent and complete a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship program combining on-the-job training with classroom technical education. Some complete plumbing technology programs at trade schools or community colleges before entering an apprenticeship.

How long does it take to become a licensed plumber?

It usually takes 2-5 years of paid on-the-job training as an apprentice before qualifying to take the licensing exam to become a journeyman plumber. Several more years of work experience are required before being able to sit for a master plumber license exam.

What does a plumber apprenticeship involve?

A plumbing apprenticeship entails working full-time under the supervision of experienced plumbers while also completing related technical education. Apprentices start with basic tasks and progress to more complex work. The training develops hands-on plumbing skills.

How much do plumbers make?

The average annual wage for plumbers is over $56,000. Those working for plumbing contractors earn upwards of $61,000. Licensed master plumbers who own their own businesses can make over $80,000 annually.

What are the most important plumbing skills I need?

Key skills include mechanical aptitude, spatial visualization, physical strength, stamina, troubleshooting, attention to detail, familiarity with technical tools and techniques, and ability to follow safety procedures.

Do I need a license to work as a plumber?

Most states require plumbers to be licensed to work independently. A license signifies meeting experience requirements and passing an exam. Common licenses include apprentice, journeyman plumber, and master plumber.

How stable is plumbing as a career?

Employment for plumbers is projected to grow 4 percent through 2031, faster than average. Demand is driven by new building construction, infrastructure upgrades, and routine maintenance and repairs. Plumbing provides stable work across economic conditions.

What qualities make a successful plumber?

Important qualities include problem-solving skills, teamwork, business management abilities for master plumbers, excellent customer service, ethics, punctuality, and a dedication to safety. Willingness to continually learn new technology is also beneficial.

Can I specialize within plumbing?

Some common plumbing specialties include residential new construction, commercial projects, service and repairs, drainage systems, water supply networks, green plumbing for sustainable buildings, and medical gas installation.

Is there room for advancement in plumbing?

With experience, plumbers can advance to roles like foreman, supervisor, inspector, instructor, or master plumber. Many experienced plumbers start their own contracting businesses. Hard work and perseverance can open doors.

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