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FAQs about plumbing certification: Here's what you need to know

On a daily basis, most of us might not give much thought to modern plumbing. After all, the majority of people in the U.S. grow up with running water in the kitchen, and the outhouse is largely a thing of the past. However, indoor plumbing isn't as simple as it seems. Experienced workers are needed to keep water clean and running correctly. Improperly installed pipes can lead to flooded floors, mold, rust, rotting wood and a host of other problems.

While you may think plumbers only learn their trade through on-the-job training, there are actually numerous plumbing schools online and on local college campuses. These institutions offer the opportunity to learn plumbing basics from the convenience of your home before moving on to the apprenticeship needed to become a journeyman plumber. If you are interested in earning your plumbing certification, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

1. What types of plumbing certification programs are available?

Plumbing certificates typically fall into one of three categories.

  • Introductory certificates: These programs are intended for those who are new to the field of plumbing and want to learn basic skills before applying to an apprenticeship program. These may be available through on-campus technical schools or plumbing schools online. They typically have few, if any, prerequisites, though taking some technical math courses in high school may be helpful.
  • Certificates combined with apprenticeships: An option offered by some schools, such as community colleges, is a certificate combined with an apprenticeship. These programs blend classroom learning with hands-on experience. To be eligible for these certificates, students may first have to be admitted to an apprenticeship program through a local plumbing union.
  • Advanced certificates: Finally, some certificates are intended for current professionals who want to expand their knowledge or expertise in a specific area. These may be issued by either plumbing schools or professional organizations. For example, the University of California, Los Angeles, offers a certificate in advanced plumbing systems design, and United Association, a union for plumbers and HVAC professionals, has 10 certification programs across multiple trades.

2. How long does it take to earn a certificate?

It depends on whether students can attend full or part time, among other factors. But typically, introductory and advanced certificates often take only a year to finish, with some programs taking as little as six months for completion.

Fast facts about plumbing careers

*According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, plumbing jobs should increase 21 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, faster than the national average for all jobs.

*Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters in the U.S. had average annual wages of $53,820 in 2013, according to the BLS.

*Some apprentice programs not only pay students for their time on the job but also for hours in the classroom.

*Apprenticeships can be competitive. Plumbers Local 75 says applicants must pass an aptitude test and many programs require a clean driving record. Plumbing certification may be one way to prepare for testing requirements.

Certificates combined with an apprenticeship can take significantly longer — sometimes as much as four to five years — depending on state licensure requirements. However, at the completion of the program, students should be ready to immediately take their state's licensure exam and become a journeyman plumber.

3. What skills are taught by an online plumbing school?

Online plumbing certification is intended to provide a foundation of knowledge upon which students can transition into an apprenticeship. The curriculum will depend upon the school, but online certificates may cover the following topics, among others:

  • History of plumbing
  • Building and plumbing codes
  • Basic piping and applications
  • Trade calculations
  • Hydraulics and pneumatics
  • Designing and installing plumbing systems

4. How do I know whether I should study online or on campus?

The decision regarding whether to earn a plumbing certification online or on campus can depend on several factors. To determine the right choice for you, consider your answers to the following questions.

  • Do I have access to tools? Individuals who have their own tools may find earning their plumbing certification online is convenient. However, those without access to tools may want to take some on-campus classes to gain hands-on experience.
  • How do I learn best? Hands-on learners may, of course, benefit from in-person instruction. On the other hand, students who are visual learners may excel with an online plumbing school.
  • Am I sure I want to become a plumber? On-campus programs are often combined with apprenticeships and can take years to complete. For those who simply want to explore plumbing careers, enrolling in plumbing schools online can be a relaxed way to learn more about the field without committing to an extended apprenticeship.

Students who decide to study online may want to look for a program from an accredited school. In addition, students may want to inquire into whether schools direct their graduates to apprenticeship programs in their area or if other career support services are provided.

5. Are there additional apprenticeship or licensing requirements to work as a plumber?

Yes. Plumbers may not need a college degree, but they do need extensive training to work independently.

Generally speaking, potential plumbers must complete an apprenticeship and take a licensure exam before they are considered journeymen. At that point, plumbers can open their own repair shop and work without supervision.

The requirements for licensure can vary by state. For example, Louisiana requires plumbers have five years or 8,000 hours of full-time experience in the plumbing trades. In addition, the application for licensure must be signed off by three journeyman plumbers or master plumbers who can personally attest to the applicant's experience. Finally, individuals must pass a state exam before being licensed.

Online plumbing schools may be able to help you determine the requirements in your area. Otherwise, check with your state's licensing board to learn more about its apprenticeship and education requirements.

Sources:

"No 'skills gap' here: Union pipe trades program looks for 20 new apprentices; career day set for March 26," Dave Alexander, Mlive.com, March 5, 2014,
http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2014/03/no_skills_gap_here_union_pipe.html

Apprenticeship: Get Paid to Learn from the Best, Plumbers Local 75,
http://www.plumbers75.com/apprenticeship.htm

How to Become a Plumber, Plumbing Apprenticeships HQ,
http://www.plumbingapprenticeshipshq.com/how-to-become-a-plumber/

Frequently Asked Questions, State Plumbing Board of Louisiana,
http://www.spbla.com/about/faqs/

Plumbing Course Outline, Stratford Career Institute,
http://www.scitraining.com/Plumbing/Outline

Education, United Association,
http://www.ua.org/education

Advanced Plumbing Systems Design, University of California Los Angeles,
https://www.uclaextension.edu/eistm/Pages/engineering/civil_plumbing.aspx

Occupational Employment and Wages: Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes472152.htm

Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/plumbers-pipefitters-and-steamfitters.htm

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