The plumbing field can be a very challenging but rewarding career option to get into, however if you have a keen interest in working with your hands, enjoy the outdoors and like building things it is definitely something worth looking into.
There are many steps to becoming a fully licensed journeyman plumber, steps that are required to ensure you aren’t turning somebody’s “simple fix” into a “costly expense”.
I have compiled a list of helpful tips and information about getting started in this rewarding career:
- Get a plumbing techniques diploma
- Become familiar with local plumbing code
- Interview people already in the trades
- Take care of your body, physically and nutritionally
- Embrace getting dirty
Those are only but a few tips you can use in order to become successful in this career, if you would like to learn more, as well as get a more in depth look at the ones already listed, then you’re going to just have to keep reading!
Tip 1 – Plumbing School
No this is not a requirement for landing yourself a job in the field of plumbing, but it is definitely something that can leap frog you ahead of the competition.
There are a ton of colleges out there that will offer programs involving the trades, so your options are definitely not scarce. These programs can last anywhere from 8 weeks up to 8 months.
I personally had the option of doing a fast track program that was a straight shot 8 week curriculum and then one final test, boom, diploma. However, I opted in to the 8 month program as I was younger and wanted to gain more experience.
In my opinion, exactly what the 8 week program is for; is for those who already have a handy man skill set, but want to refine it to plumbing knowledge and techniques.
The 8 month program was a bit more of an expanded version of the same course, and is geared directly towards absolute beginners.
Some courses involved:
- Work shop – Every week we would work in the shop to learn how to measure, cut, glue, place pipe and got the chance to build a drain, waste and vent system of our own
- Code class – Taught us everything on how to read a code book, why it is important, what the legal jargon meant and a more in depth look on the codes themselves
- Safety class – Seeing the potential dangers the trades have to offer, this class discussed health concerns, hazards and how to best prevent things from happening to you
- Technical drawing class – Here we learned how to draw up a blue print for a plumbing system in a house using actual code
You have to look into the specific region you live in, but I know there is a lot of incentive for people to get into the trades. This can involve scholarships, money grants and financial assistance. I was able to get 800$ off of my tuition by simply just applying for a grant. Score!
Tip 2 – High School Diploma
Let’s face it, most jobs now of days require you to have a high school diploma in order to get hired on. If you don’t have on, it isn’t a bad idea to go for your GED and gain that credential for your resume.
You might still be able to land a job without this, but it really is tough to take a potential applicant serious if they haven’t even completed high school. You have to remember, a lot of plumbing companies are going to be small where you are working directly with the boss.
Somebody who is putting their all into running and maintaining a business is going to want employees who are as serious as possible. If there is a line up of 10 people and the deciding factor between you and the next guy is the high school diploma, guess who gets hired?
Tip 3 – Invest In Good Boots
In Canada we have something called CSA (Canadian Standards Association) and this is a requirement to look for when making purchases on boots. You’ll have to look into your local areas requirements, but it isn’t too far fetched to say you’ll have something similar.
This certification just means that the boots (or any safety wear such as hard hats) are up to par based on industry standards. It is good for you in the fact that you know that the product you’re wearing isn’t just going to be junk that will end up getting you injured.
The certification ensures that the boots have steel (or composite material) toes to protect your feet, as well as proper soles to protect against penetration and slipping. The boots are also designed to withstand a good amount of beating from long hard days.
I like to spend a bit more than the cheapest available options to ensure my feet are supported and comfortable. The really cheap ones (under 100$) will eventually start to hurt your feet after heavy use.
The medium priced ones (100-150$) can be a great option as well, but I go for the more well known brands that around closer to 200$. All prices mentioned are in Canadian Dollars.
I am not a flashy person, I just feel as though they provide much better ankle support and last me longer. Because trust me, when you’re on your feet all day long, having the right pair of boots is essential.
In the winter time, as the weather gets low, I opt in for a slightly more expensive boot that is rated for minus 100 degrees (celsisus). If you live in a colder region, these boots are great for not walking around on ice blocks all day!
Tip 4 – Start Working On Personal Presentation
This is true for life in general, but is good to have when entering the work force. Your personal presentation will say a lot about who you are as a person, and will help you become more reputable.
Your presentation can be in the form of the way you dress, your hair style, the way you speak, manners, your professionalism and your go getter attitude.
Some ways to instantly improve upon this is to learn some basic body language skills. Small adjustments in your posture, eye contact and tone of voice really go along way. There is tons of great content on YouTube that can teach you all about this.
Another way is to simply become more informed about the trade you are entering into. Going in completely green (inexperienced) can be a harsh wake up call. The more knowledge you can attain prior will help improve your appearance overall. This can come from:
- Reading more of this blog
- Studying up on code
- Going to a pre-apprenticeship program
- Studying up on school notes
When it’s time to actually start putting your foot to the pavement so-to-speak, you are going to want to make sure you are at least showered and reasonably dressed.
- Shirt tucked in
- Clean clothing
For me personally, I didn’t physically go out handing resumes to different companies, instead I got out my trusty yellow pages (phone book) and started dialing the numbers of all of the different plumbers in my area and surrounding areas.
I would start by asking to speak to the owner and began by introducing myself and clearly stating my purpose for the call off the bat. I would then ask for their name as well. “I am looking to get into the trades, I have taken an interest in plumbing”. Pro tip – Try to find out the owners name and some details about the company before hand.
Remember though, this may take some time to do as not everyone is going to be looking for someone to hire. Alternately though, you may just be the solution to some of their problems and by calling them and offering yourself up for work, they may not even have realized that they needed someone. So get digging!
If they say they are not looking for anybody at this time, simply thank them for their time and you can even ask what they personally were looking for when hiring candidates into their company. Then move onto the next company.
You could also use www.indeed.com to look for potential job opportunities as they are also a great resource. You can use the results you found on indeed to grab those numbers as well.
Remember, most people now of days are taking the e-mail approach to resumes, so by doing the bare-minimal of at least calling and wishing to speak to someone puts you ahead of the game.
Tip 5 – Sharpen Up Your Resume Skills
In addition to having a great impression from your personal presentation, it can be equally important to have a neat and structured resume.
This will show all the jobs you may have had in the past to show your work experience as well as a highlight of your specific skills as it relates to the job you’re trying to get; plumbing apprentice.
I was able to get help with this at college through a person who offered up help to anyone looking to improve their resume. This gentleman was very helpful and asked me the right type of questions that assisted me with creating a great looking resume.
There are also online resources that can help with this as well such as https://www.resumehelp.com/ that feature a live chat for any of your questions and it’s free!
A great resume can be the difference between you getting hired versus the other guy/girl who submitted one. Creating something with not an overbearing amount of text and visually appealing and primarily on one page is ideal.
You can even fancy it up by putting it in a binder with a clear face and a cover letter in front.
A ninja tip I can share with you on this as well apart from finding out the owners name, is if you really want to stand out you can place your resume in a plumbing related object and send it to your future employer with a “open me” tag or something to that effect.
I heard a story about someone who wanted to get into the wine industry, so she got an old bottle of wine, rolled up her resume really tightly and attached it to the cork screw, so when the employer opened the cork screw, her resume came up with it.
Granted, this might be a bit much for most jobs, but if you have found a company you really want to work for, and has high competition, this could work.
Tip 6 – Become A People Person
The trades is full of dealing with people of all different sorts. From homeowners, to bosses, co-workers, inspectors and other tradesman, so it is highly important to learn how to effectively communicate with them.
I have learned in my own personal life that learning how to talk to people is one of the most important skills to have.
Dealing with a boss – This is the person who’s going to be paying you and is essentially investing into you as an employee.
He or she has put everything into their business and this is their lifeline, this is single handedly the most important person you will talk to on a daily basis.
By simply having your focus on the job at hand and showing that you’re continually improving every day will be the most important thing for your success. Buy this man or woman a coffee frequently.
Coworkers – For the most part you are working one on one with another plumber or boss. These are the people you will be spending the majority of your time with for 8+ hour days.
My best advice is to learn how to work as a team, listen to their needs and what they ask of you and take that seriously as well as communicate any question you may have, problem or concern in a clear concise, to-the-point kind of way.
Be sure to not be afraid to ask too many questions, as the more that they can help you will further help them in the future as you become more experienced.
Other tradesman – On almost any new construction project and renovation you will come across other tradesman who will be working alongside of you.
Communication with them is absolutely key as you will have to figure out where each of you is going to run your services. With HVAC being physically the largest, they will be dealt with the most.
Speaking with these tradesman before any work even gets started will give you and them a clear, concise idea of what needs to happen in order for “re-do’s” to be avoided.
Re-doing a piece of the project or moving some piping can become quite costly and time consuming!
Inspectors – If you are in the trades you will come across an inspector from time to time. These are the people ensuring that projects are staying to code and are sometimes unfavorable among trades people, but not always!
In my opinion I have always thought of this as a very important role in the industry, as they help maintain standards within construction.
They are the ones that ensure that stuff that is going to be installed or constructed permanently will be done so in the correct way. Don’t argue with these fine men and women, even if it means having to redo a bit of plumbing.
Besides, these are the men and women that have ensured the place that you reside in is up to par and built fairly.
Homeowners – Lastly, my favorite people to deal with but also equally unfavored is the homeowner. When someone needs something built, installed, repaired, removed in their home this will be the person that calls you.
A lot of them like to stick around and ask a lot of questions while you work, so establishing good rapport off the bat is key.
They are also people that can potentially hire you back to do more work in the future and are the ones that will spread word of mouth on the performance and quality of your work.
Why I say equally favorite as unfavored? That is because you are dealing with money a lot of times that they do not even want to spend. Some people can be very picky, and rightfully so.
If you can sell them on the idea that what you’re doing is correct and of value (as it should be) than you can set them in the right mood.
A lot of the times they are also going to hire you because they just don’t know much about how to work with plumbing. This is where a lot of the scam artists get away with taking money from innocent homeowners.
Don’t be that way. Genuinely treating a person with some kind of respect feels a lot more rewarding.
Genuinely trying to teach others how to do something plumbing related also helps to solidify it in your brain as well. This is something that can really help in learning the trade.
Tip 7 – Start On The Construction Side Of Plumbing
This may not be ultimately where you want to end up in the trades, and you may not even like the work that is involved, but I can assure you it is the most important place to start.
I have another blog on what exactly a plumber does that goes in detail about my experiences as plumbing and all the things you can expect on the job site as well as day to day. If you would like to read more about that than click the link below!
Working on building up the plumbing in new houses and commercial buildings will help you to understand how they are installed in the house.
I recommend to avoid the companies that are just dealing with cookie cutter houses that essentially do the same exact thing for every house. Find an employer that will take on new builds from custom homes to renovations to a small portion of the cookie cutter thing.
This will force you to think about everything you are doing. When you are working with just strictly cookie cutter, than you are just working on the same thing and not actually using any brain cells to put the project together.
The cookie cutters or “production” houses also don’t give you the array of problems that may actually arise in the more custom homes. Every home is shaped differently, with different needs, so naturally there will be different challenges you will face that will ultimately expand your knowledge.
Why I say a little bit of cookie cutter style is ok? I think this can be a great way to practice your technical skills.
When you have a project that you aren’t thinking too hard about what goes where and why, you can really focus on things like measuring and cutting pipe, slope, water line assembly as well as improving your work ethic.
Just make sure you’re this isn’t the only thing the company is about, because you won’t go anywhere.
Knowing how the construction of plumbing is done will also gain you a lot of insight into the way things are installed in buildings where the drywall is already up, and nothing is visible, a very valuable skill if you are heading into service plumbing.
Essentially new construction plumbing will lay the foundation of knowledge for you so you can take your career in whatever direction you want from there.
Give it a good few years of solid construction work and then you can assess what you want to do from there.
Tip 8 – Work On Your Health & Fitness
I can attest to this being the most physically challenging job I have ever partaken in. You are constantly on your feet throughout the day, heading from the truck to site, back to truck, back to site.
You are carrying loads of pipe, fittings, tool boxes, power tools, ladders, fixtures, you name it! It is a lot of work to get the job done.
Unlike a more structured job or office job, the trades are going to be different on a day to day basis.
Whatever needs to be done to get the job done must be done. You may have to jack hammer up a floor in order to access piping, or dig up an entire trench to lay underground pipes.
You may think digging is a breeze until you realize that a lot of the time you are going to be dealing with cold hard dirt that requires a jack hammer just to loosen it enough to be able to dig.
Or a clay ground during the winter months (which by the way is damn near impossible).
You will also be drilling holes through wood framing, which can take up to 15 minutes for one hole if you:
- A – Don’t have the right bit
- B – The bit needs to be sharpened
- C – You’re using the wrong drill
Some day you may get left on a job site with a set of power tools, some bits, piping and fittings and told to finish x amount of tasks. I personally have been through days like that where I had to use a dull bit for drilling holes and it took forever! I still have nightmares about it.
All in all, keeping up on your physical health and eating the proper foods will help keep you going all day long.
Your days will be miserable if you are just consuming junk foods and “ripping tall boys with the boys”.
Tip 9 – Tools
Gather up some basic hand tools before you even start working. This will not only ensure that you come to work prepared (part of personal presentation) but that you have a chance to fiddle around with them and get comfortable with their operation.
Check out my recommended hand tools page to see what types of tools I recommend. These are the tools I purchased almost right away getting into the trades
Arriving on your first day of work you’re more than likely going to be put straight on a task, whether that be digging a trench (company will provide the shovel) or hanging pipe to measuring and cutting.
Having to not rely on others for their tools is a huge plus for work. Over time as you get more involved you’ll be purchasing more and more tools, however it’s alright to have some basic ones to start with.
I would recommend starting a tool fund. Every pay check you get, you will set aside x amount of dollars (whatever you are comfortable with in your own situation) and then have a shopping day once you reach 100$.
If you do this on a consistent basis, and are pre-setting aside the money for this fund, you will be used to living on whatever money you have left over. You won’t even notice the money you’re setting aside. Before you know it, your tool box will get really heavy.
As for power tools, that will be up to you ultimately at the beginning. My boss and I had a deal worked out where he bought me the set of tools and I paid him back with 50$ off each of my weekly pay checks until I paid it off.
You can check out the power tool set that I used and that lasted me all of these years. I highly recommend them for anyone looking to get into the trades. You can see the set by clicking here.
He was a very trustworthy guy, so I had no concerns of him taking out too much, but if you’re going this route make sure you keep an eye on your pay stubs.
This is not to say there are a lot of crooked plumbers out there, but mistakes can definitely be made and if you’re new, you just may not know the person you’re working for that well yet.
Tip 10 – Grab Coffee For Coworkers
I already mentioned the fact that you should suck up a little bit to your boss with a coffee every now and again, but this can also be true for your coworker(s).
As I mentioned in “What exactly does a plumber do?”, coffee is pretty much a daily ritual for many in the trades. It’s almost like a life line. No morning is complete without it, and no day goes well without it.
Finding out what those around you drink and offering to get them a cup of that good Joe will go along way with colleagues. You have to remember, there will be a lot of tiring and tough days ahead of you, so small things like this can really brighten up a gloomy one.
Tip 11 – Do Some Research On Jobs You Can Acquire Post Plumbing
Plumbing doesn’t have to be a life sentence for everyone, although, like me there are a lot that do enjoy the work. Do some research to find out what kind of positions are in the field that you can work in once you have gained the experience.
Here’s a quick list of things you can do:
- Plumbing inspector
- Water operator
- Plumbing foreman (larger job sites)
- Own your own company
- Pipe fitter
- Pipe layer
- Another trade – eg. electrician, carpenter, HVAC (This can really allow you to expand your job opportunities)
Having a clear idea of where you would like to be one day can really help you to aim in the right direction as far as what things to study along the way, appropriate questions to ask and gives you a goal for the future which helps give you purpose.
Tip 12 – Embrace The Dirt
If you don’t like getting dirty, the trades are probably not for you. Getting dirty is an almost daily occurrence. Your clothing, boots and hair all will feel the brunt from the day.
If you love your vehicle, consider some seat covers or purchasing a shop vac, because you’re going to need to use it frequently. You can even bring in a change of clothing and boots.
I always went to the shop first thing in the morning, so I had a place to get changed, but that may not be the case for you. In that case I have even seen people change outdoors in minus 20 degrees Celsius weather (-4 F), but I do not recommend.
Tip 13 – Get Comfortable Wearing Jeans
Where I’m from you have to wear some sort of jeans while working to protect your knees since you’ll be on them quite often. I wore them on ice cold days as well as ‘skin-melting’ hot days and everywhere in between.
I wouldn’t worry too much on having the most expensive pair either, as they all eventually begin to rip at the knee. They are subject to dirt, glue (especially glue), liquids, sweat and more.
If you’re not a fan of the uncomfort that jeans provide, they do also make a material that is a bit stretchier that have proven to be much more comfy.
Tip 14 – Begin Working On Banter Skills
A huuuge part of day to day work is your banter among your colleagues, bosses, and other tradesman. It’s just one of those things that comes with the job.
You’ll have to develop your thick skin as people can be quite brutal and open with what they say! My thoughts on why this is, is because it is sort of a way to cope with the tougher days. If you get rid of that tension of “do I worry about what to say?” it almost makes the day go by a lot smoother.
This was one of my favorite parts of the job by far even though I sucked at it at first. Over time, taking the verbal punishment I got from the guys, I just had to learn how to adapt to it, and once I did, things became a lot easier for me.
There’s a sense of respect that comes with somebody that can just speak their mind and cut down another in a way that’s not overly confrontational or serious.
I don’t want this to be a surprise to you when you enter the workforce, so I felt this was kind of an important one to mention. A little silly, but important.
Tip 15 – Try Out Different Plumbing Industries
My recommendation still sticks to begin your career on the construction side of plumbing, but I recommend that you get your feet wet in the different industries over time.
You may start out with a company that sticks to just residential plumbing, which is great! You’ll learn a lot. But wouldn’t it be cool to also step into a hospital and work with glass piping?
How about a commercial building that requires larger piping and different types of fixtures that you won’t find in a house?
There are many different options to work as a plumber, so don’t feel like you need to stick to just one.
Once you feel confident you can “rough-in” an entire project by yourself (which may take a few years) then, you can even try out the service side of things.
These are all just my recommendations, don’t feel like this is absolutely the way you’ll have to do things, you may have a strong disinterest in construction and just want to jump right into service work, great! Go for it.
Tip 16 – Become An Apprentice
This is really something you want to get signed up for right away after you get hired. Generally you will have to put in about 9000 hours to complete your apprenticeship.
This equates to about 5 years of work, so the sooner you can sign up the better. This is broken up to about 8280 hours of on the job experience and 720 hours of school experience.
Once the apprenticeship phase is over, you are eligible to write your exam to become a registered journeyman plumber. Once that happens, you should see a nice bump in your pay.
Tip 17 – Interview Some Plumbers
If you are still unsure about all that the trades have to offer, scope out a local plumber and ask them for a quick interview.
Most of them will be happy to answer any or all of your questions, and it could even potentially lead you to a job interview (no promises though).
You may have to swim through some “no” answers or “I’m too busy” but that’s something to be expected.
You have to think to yourself. If you’re going to be spending potentially the rest of your life doing a job, wouldn’t you want to know what you’re getting into in the first place? Spending a good solid day or two finding these people to talk to will be time well spent.
When you do get a chance to talk to a plumber, whether on the phone or in person, heck, even over e-mail be sure you have a list of questions already lined up, this will ensure that you can keep the conversation flowing.
Having a list will allow you to take some time before hand to prepare what exactly it is you want to know, so you’re not missing anything.
Your list could include some of the following:
- “What does a typical day at your company look like?”
- “When hiring a candidate, what are the key things you look for?”
- “Do you have any regrets about the job?”
- “What’s the best way to learn the trade?”
Tip 18 – Your Vehicle
Now, majority of the companies that you will work for, you are going to show up to work at either the shop or a designated meet up point every day, and then get in their work van and go.
However, depending on who you get hired with, there may be times when you are asked to take your person vehicle to a job site. This will entail having a place for your tools, hardhats and anything else you may need.
Using your personal vehicle is definitely not the most ideal thing to be doing, but sometimes it’s what’s called for.
I would personally invest in some blankets or tarps that your belongings can rest on. They will get dirty.
Be cautious of when you physically drive onto the jobsites as well, especially in a new construction area, there have been people known to toss screws on the ground, as well as sharp objects that were cutoffs from heating ducts for example.
I personally had to take my vehicle in twice to get the tires patched up because of this very reason.
My advice is to park just offsite, or if you can’t, then park as far from the buildings, garbage cans and storage areas as possible. A few extra steps can save you some money.
If you had the choice of vehicle to use as well, I would go with an SUV, compact SUV, mini van or truck if it fits within your means.
You likely will never have to carry piping or larger things with in your personal vehicle either, mainly just your personal belongings and yourself. In fact, many companies will call in orders from local plumbing supply shops to job sites to make things easier as well as more efficient.
Tip 19 – Invest In Some Warm Clothing
If you live in an area that never goes below freezing, than this definitely does not apply to you. However, the rest of us winter is a real factor.
Especially in the northern parts of the United States, temperatures can drop quite quickly and that magical white powder starts appearing outside.
Having a good pair of thermal long johns (link to Amazon) and a thermal under shirt are an absolute MUST.
I also have pairs of wool socks, that, paired with a second pair of regular socks underneath keep my feet warm all day long.
From there, it’s just layers upon layers of clothing to keep you warm. Thankfully, I was given quite a number of different shirts and sweaters for my uniform, so I just layered myself with those, and that way I also didn’t have to worry about getting it all dirty.
Tip 20 – Grab A Code Book
Find your local code book and get familiar with it right away. You’re not always going to be following the book to an absolute t, however it is very important to know what things you can and cannot do in plumbing.
Keep the code book open on the tank of your toilet. Every time you have to squeeze one out, just read up on a new code and try to really internalize what it means.
In no time, you’ll have countless codes memorized with relative ease. Continue this practice until you know the book inside and out.
Tip 21 – Gender
For the ladies out there who are thinking about getting into the trades but are unsure because you think it’s a “male-dominated” field – Have no fear.
In my time in the trades I met plenty of tradeswoman from all different industries. My experience is that guys aren’t gawking at them or being rude to them during their day because they are female, but in fact show them tons of respect.
The job is very tough and physically challenging, but a female can do just as good of a job in this field as a man, so please don’t be discouraged from getting into this field if you feel this is something you really want to do.
There really aren’t any extra leaps and bounds that I am aware of for a female in the trades. Many companies are making and have been making dedicated work wear for females, such as hard hats, boots, jackets, winter wear, gloves and more.
Many employers now of days are actively seeking out females to join their work force as well, as females bring a unique and different mindset to the table. So if you have had any doubts, I assure you that you’ll absolutely crush it!