how to become a plumber

How to Become a Plumber – Step-by-Step Guide

This guide will walk you through the basic steps required to become a plumber and help you decide whether or not a career in plumbing is right for you. While it is possible to secure employment in some states without following all of the steps outlined here, the approach shown below should help you become a licensed, practicing professional regardless of your location.

How to Become a Plumber in Four Steps

There are four steps required to become a licensed plumber. Each of these steps has multiple parts to it, and require varying amounts of time to complete.

1. Finish a Formal Training Program2. Complete an Apprenticeship3. Pass Your State License Exam4. Earn a Specialized Certification

First Step – Finish a Formal Training Program

Although formal training through a trade school, community college or other vocational program is not mandatory, it is highly recommended. Courses typically last between a few months and a year and cover the fundamentals of plumbing technology. These include:

  • Installing and repairing piping systems
  • Proper, safe usage of the appropriate tools
  • How to read blueprints and schematics
  • Types of heating, waste and water systems
  • Foundations of chemistry
While it is possible to go straight into an apprenticeship (see the next step), completing a formal training program first will provide you with a good starting point. There is also a growing number of employers who only take on apprentices who have previously completed a training program.

Second Step – Complete an Apprenticeship

In order to become eligible to take your state’s plumbing license exam, you’ll first be required to complete an apprenticeship. The typical apprenticeship program lasts between four and five years and gives the trainee on-the-job exposure to every facet of the profession.

Where to Find an Apprenticeship Program

Programs are offered by independent contractors and, in all likelihood, your local plumbers union. Prerequisites usually consist of:

  • Being a minimum of 18 years old
  • Holding a high school diploma or GED
  • Being able to pass a drug screening test
  • A passing score on a basic math exam
While the time commitment as an apprentice is undoubtedly significant, it is worth pointing out that apprentice plumbers are paid a living wage while they learn their trade. It’s also important to note that this step is absolutely mandatory if you plan on working legally as a licensed plumber.

Third Step – Pass Your State License Exam

As of early 2015, it is mandatory for plumbers to hold a license in 44 states. The only U.S. states that do not require a license are Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Becoming licensed requires the applicant to pass the licensing exam for the state in which he or she intends to work. Eligibility to sit for the exam requires you to meet the following prerequisites:

  • Proof of a completed apprenticeship program under a licensed master plumber. This will include verification of hours worked.
  • Proof of classroom study hours completed. This will usually take into account hours logged during your formal training program at a trade school or community college.
Once you’ve satisfied the eligibility requirements, you’ll be assigned an exam date and provided with practice test materials.

Final Step – Earn a Specialized Certification

Although this final step is certainly not required, it is a good idea to earn a certification as a specialist in a specific field of plumbing technology. Not only will this open up more employment opportunities for you, but it will also often secure better pay.

Skills Needed for Plumbing Work

To be successful, a plumbing professional needs to have the right combination of skills, knowledge and abilities. So, before you being any of the actual steps required to become a plumber, let’s first take a look at the qualities required for the job.

The graphic below shows the five qualities generally considered to be essential to success as a plumber. Explanations of each follow.

Skills Needed to be a Plumber

Skills for a Plumber

Business ManagementCustomer ServiceTechnical SkillsPhysical SkillsTroubleshooting & Analytical

Business Management Skills

Because most plumbers are responsible for managing their own work, and many also supervise others, it is essential to possess basic business management skills. These typically include:

  • Planning, and adhering to work schedules
  • Establishing and working within a budget that supports overall business goals
  • Managing and directing workers in order to maintain costs and schedules

Customer Service Skills

Daily interaction with clients, coworkers and other businesses requires a plumber to possess a well-rounded set of customer service skills. The most-important of these are:

  • The ability to communicate clearly in both written and verbal form
  • Good social etiquette (e.g. being polite, considerate and courteous in your interactions)
  • Patience and the ability to interact well with different personality types

Technical Skills

The most-obvious group of skills required to be successful in this trade are the technical skills involved. These are acquired through a combination of formal training (e.g. a plumbing school) and serving as an apprentice. A brief list of the most-common ones follows:

  • Familiarity and proficiency with all tools of the trade
  • Knowledge of construction techniques used in different structures containing plumbing
  • Understanding of processes for installation and repair of systems

Physical Skills

Physical labor is a major part of the job description for most plumbers. With that being the case, the following qualities may be considered essential:

  • Possess sufficient physical strength to lift heavy pipes, tools, etc.
  • Be flexible enough to work in tight, awkward spaces
  • Have good enough eye-hand coordination to manipulate, assemble and repair small objects

Troubleshooting & Analytical Skills

Most plumbing jobs require some degree of analysis and troubleshooting in order to complete. For this reason, it is important that the plumber possess the following skills:

  • Ability to read and follow blueprints
  • Good basic math skills and understanding of measurements
  • Enough knowledge of chemistry and physics to understand fluid movements in a closed system
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