A career in the trades has long been a reliable path to pursue, and it offers a range of different specialisms no matter your interest or talent focus. While plumbers are continuously in need, they also remain one of the most popular career paths for anyone in the field. This is because plumbers combine experience, technical knowledge how, and continual maintenance need to offer a vast array of desired skills every year.

But how long does it take to become a qualified plumber? This post will explore the typical journey and timeline you can expect.

The Apprenticeship Path

For many aspiring plumbers, the path begins with an apprenticeship program. These intensive training programs will most often combine classroom instruction on plumbing theory while learning regulations, codes, and principles with thorough on-the-job training under experienced plumbers’ supervision. These can last for a varied amount of time, but will usually be no less than one year.

During an apprenticeship, you also can expect to learn reading blueprints and technical drawings, installing, repairing, and maintaining plumbing systems and fixtures, understand local codes and regulations as they relate to you proper safety procedures, and customer service skills too. 

Depending on where you start your training, apprenticeships will generally pay, but it may be less than minimum wage as some of that value is considered to subsidize your education.

Trade School Programs

An alternative pathway is enrolling in a plumbing program at a trade or technical school such as NTIT Training.

These excellent programs can last 1 to 2 years and provide helpful education on plumbing theory and principles, code requirements, site drawings, and hands-on skills training in the previously discussed environments. However, some of the best options can be even quicker thanks to the density of material covered, even lasting roughly 12 to16 weeks and giving you a great foundation to learn from.

Many choose trade school because it’s somewhat of a fast-track into a capable position, though that doesn’t permit you to skip any of the necessary modules and your learning will be tested. Some states still require plumbers to complete an apprenticeship or accumulate work experience under a licensed plumber before obtaining their own license, which will allow them to trade as a plumber, run their own plumbing business, and open up for trading.

Licensing Requirements

Of course, almost all states (and countries for that matter) will require plumbers to be licensed, though it’s important to check the specific laws where you intend to ply your trade. Common licensing requirements will include completing an approved apprenticeship or training program as we discussed above, and sometimes passing a comprehensive written exam on plumbing theory. That will also involve demonstrating practical skills through a hands-on exam. 

It’s not just a “one and done” event either, depending on where you train and license you may need to update your knowledge and become tested on that to ply your trade over the years. After all, plumbing standards change with time and it’s important to practice such an essential component of any construction site correctly, to standards, and with ongoing maintenance norms as expected.

Depending on the state you live in, there may also be additional certifications required for specialized areas such as gas fitting, medical gas systems, and residential or commercial plumbing.

A General Timeline

So, just how long does it take to become a fully licensed and qualified plumber ready to get out there and work for a business? Here’s a general overview you can expect:

  • 4-5 years for completing an apprenticeship program in full to become a “journeyman” plumber.
  • 1-2 years for attending a trade school plumbing program, unless opting for an excellent course that can be completed in 12-16 weeks.
  • 6 months to 1 year for preparing for and obtaining plumbing licenses and certifications, not including time in the future spent learning new systems or specializing further.

While this isn’t an easy career path it’s absolutely worth it, and go work in tandem with other construction site education that may be appropriate to you.

Continuing Education

Plumbing is much more than just connecting pipes together and fixing leaks. As we mentioned above, the learning doesn’t stop once you achieve your plumbing license. Most states require continuing education and examinations in order to maintain an active license. 

For this reason, it’s not uncommon for plumbers to attend night classes or to book time out of their year to study new standards or principles, or just to reconfirm what they already know. These inspections are mandatory and are generally considered just part of working life as a plumber. Other specialisms, like electricians, will perform in the exact same way.

As plumbers gain more of that necessary experience and expertise on the job over the years, many choose to pursue additional specialized qualifications to increase their earning potential. 

Some of the specialty areas plumbers often get certified in include residential plumbing, commercial plumbing, plumbing inspection, plumbing system design, and green/sustainable plumbing practices, which is becoming more and more popular.

While it’s not always required, obtaining these advanced qualifications can open up your career opportunities that may not be available otherwise. They also allow plumbers to expand into niche plumbing areas, make themselves stand out on the market, and keep the trade exciting and fresh to enjoy as a working professional.

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