Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters held about 500,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters were as follows:
|Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors||64%|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||4|
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work in factories, homes, businesses, and other places where there are pipes and related systems. Plumbers and fitters lift heavy materials, climb ladders, and work in tight spaces. Some plumbers travel to worksites every day. Outdoor work, in all types of weather, may be required.
Injuries and Illnesses
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters sometimes get injured on the job. Common injuries include cuts from sharp tools, burns from hot pipes and soldering equipment, and falls from ladders.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work full time, including nights and weekends. They are often on call to handle emergencies. Self-employed plumbers may be able to set their own schedules.
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.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a plumber, pipefitter, and steamfitter, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters should also possess the following specific qualities:
Business skills. Plumbers who own their own business must be able to direct workers, bid on jobs, and plan work schedules.
Customer-service skills. Plumbers work with customers on a regular basis, so they should be polite and courteous.
Mechanical skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters use a variety of tools to assemble and repair pipe systems. Choosing the right tool and successfully installing, repairing, or maintaining a system is crucial to their work.
Physical strength. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters must be strong enough to lift and move heavy pipe.
Troubleshooting skills. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters find, diagnose, and repair problems. For example, pipefitters must be able to perform pressure tests to pinpoint the location of a leak.
The median annual wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters was $55,160 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,170.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors||54,760|
|Heavy and civil engineering construction||52,820|
Apprentices earn less than fully trained plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. However, their pay increases as they learn to do more.
Most plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work full time, including nights and weekends. Plumbers are often on call to handle emergencies. Self-employed plumbers may be able to set their own schedules.
Employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Most demand for plumbers will stem from new construction and the need to maintain and repair plumbing systems in existing residences and other buildings. Employment of sprinklerfitters is expected to increase as states continue to adopt changes to building codes that require the use of fire suppression systems.
About 66,100 openings for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are projected each year, on average, over the decade.
Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who exit the labor force, such as to retire, and from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations.
Workers with knowledge of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software should have the best opportunities.
As with other construction workers, employment of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.
However, maintenance and repair of plumbing and pipe systems must continue even during economic downturns, so plumbers and fitters outside of construction often have more stable employment.
For more information about plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, including apprenticeship opportunities, visit
For more information about apprenticeship or other opportunities, contact the offices of the state employment service; the state apprenticeship agency; local plumbing, heating, and cooling contractors or firms that employ fitters; or local union–management apprenticeship committees.
For more information about pre-apprenticeship training, visit
For a career video on plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, visit