Plumbers and pipe fitters play a critical role in all aspects of business and industry - from healthcare to manufacturing.
Most people can recall when their household had to call in a plumber to unclog pipes or repair appliances. Every building has a network of pipes that carries water.
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the pipe trades profession.
Professionals in the pipe trades build and repair all of the complex systems that rely on the circulation of liquid, steam or gas. Plumbers and steamfitters are involved in a variety of high-tech construction projects from nuclear power plants to energy refineries to manufacturing facilities. Plumbers are even an integral part of the nation's space program.
They assemble and maintain industrial refrigeration and climate control systems. They even install the sophisticated sprinkler systems that extinguish fires in buildings and factories.
The range of options for pipe trades professionals is vast and the opportunities continue to grow with each technological advance.
The genus of this profession was not with water, as some may assume, but rather with gas. In the days before electricity, homes were lit by gas lamps. When the lights went out, people called a pipe fitter. With the advent of indoor water, waste and climate control systems, the trade expanded to what it is today.
As a pipe trade professional you would work on a host of different projects including schools, hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, oil refineries and chemical plants.
Tools of the trade include wrenches, soldering and welding equipment, and heavy cutting equipment.
Pipe trades professionals are required to interpret plans and blueprints, measure and cut sections of piping to exact specifications and install the system of pipes, valves, pumps and backflow prevention equipment. They connect sections of pipe by welding, soldering or brazing them together. They often must cut sections of pipe using a variety of techniques - from simple manual pipe cutters to heavy saws or oxy-acetylene for the thickest materials.
The trade involves more than simply connecting pipes and valves. Pipe trade professionals must understand the physics of how liquids and gases flow and they often use computer assisted design (CAD) software to create intricate systems for highly sophisticated industrial and commercial projects.
When the project is finished, they must check to make sure every section is leak free - particularly critical for systems that carry toxic materials.
Though professionals in both branches of the trade focus on assembling and maintaining systems that rely on pipes to transport materials, plumbers and pipe fitters differ in the type of systems on which they can work.
Plumbers work with pipes that carry water and gas. They are separated into two categories: commercial plumbers and residential plumbers. Residential plumbers, as you would expect, work on the indoor plumbing in homes, apartments and small commercial properties.
Commercial plumbers work on commercial and industrial buildings larger than three stories, and they install the water and gas systems in large multipurpose dwellings such as apartment buildings or major nursing and assisted living homes.
Their work in hospitals is particularly important, as they install the systems that distribute oxygen and other essential medical gases to operating, recovery and patient rooms.
Pipe fitters are commonly known as steamfitters, as they install and maintain the pipes that carry hot water, steam, air or other liquids or gases needed for manufacturing or other industrial purposes.
Steamfitters work only on commercial and industrial projects. For example, they install ammonia carrying pipelines in refrigeration plants; complex pipe systems in oil refineries and chemical and food processing plants; and pipelines for carrying compressed air and industrial gases in many types of industrial establishments.
Steamfitters also work in the defense and aerospace industries, assembling and maintaining the pipes that are essential components of missile launching and testing sites.
Steamfitters do not work with pipes that carry potable water or natural gas.
For more careers in pipe trades, take a look at the sprinkler fitters section.
Aside from choosing a career that best suits a student's skills and will allow him/her to perform work they truly enjoy, compensation potential is the most important factor for young people thinking about their future livelihoods.
The following is a range of current salary schedules for commercial plumbers and pipe fitters. Specific wages depend on the location of the local union out of which the plumber or pipefitter works. Wages are periodically adjusted upwards to reflect increases in cost of living.
Even without overtime, a typical journeyman can earn $1475 per week and a foreman as much as $1578.40.
Asst. General (Area) Foreman
|$39.38 to $40.33 per hour
$42.05 to $43.22 per hour
$42.61 to $44.04 per hour
$44.72 to $46.12 per hour
Residential journeymen earn $21 to $22.90 per hour and foremen earn $22.47 to $24.50 per hour.
The benefit package is generous as well:
• Surety Fund, which is self-directed with 17 investment options.
• Disability Insurance
Plumbers and pipe fitters work both inside and out on new construction and also on maintenance projects. They must lift heavy pipes and equipment, and work in small areas at a variety of heights. Strenuous activity, including climbing, is part of an average workday.
Because their work is highly sophisticated, plumbers and pipe fitters receive some of the most intensive training of any trade. The apprenticeship lasts five years, and consists of both classroom and on the job training.
Though this may appear to be a long training process, plumber apprentices are paid and receive health benefits while in training.
Apprentices attend class for eight hours every two weeks, which amounts to 240 hours of classroom time per year. Classes are taught by skilled journeymen at one of several training centers in New Jersey. Which training center an apprentice attends depends on where they reside.
The great majority of the apprentice's training occurs on actual job sites under the supervision of professional journeymen and foremen. Apprentices must complete at least 1,500 hours in the field each year.
After the apprentice's five years of training are completed, they have spent 1,200 hours in the classroom and 7,000 to 10,000 hours on the job.
In the central and southern sections of the State, plumbers and steamfitters are trained at the same facility, and even attend the same classes for the first two years of their apprenticeship. In northern New Jersey, plumbers and steamfitters training is separate.
Apprentices in their first year learn the basics of the trade -- basic safety methods, advanced math skills, how to use the tools of the trade and basic soldering skills. As the apprentice progresses, the curriculum becomes more advanced.
In their second year, both plumber and pipe fitter apprentices learn basic welding and torch cutting skills, how to interpret plans and drawings, the basics of HVAC control and other more sophisticated skills. They also are taught first aid and CPR.
In the third year, the training of plumbers and pipe fitters diverge.
Plumbers, in their third year, learn drain systems interpretation, national standard plumbing codes, basic brazing and welding. Fourth year plumbing apprentices study mathematics necessary to use instruments for pipe laying, hydronics, plumbing design, more advanced welding methods and the installation of plumbing fixtures and appliances. In their final year, plumbing apprentices learn about gas installations, backflow prevention, valve repair and other skills.
Third year pipe fitters learn the science of liquids, gases and hydraulics, welding and the use of oxyacetylene torches to cut bevels in pipes and other bevel cutting machines. In their fourth year pipe fitters learn how to use a builder's level, hydronics, more advanced welding and drafting. In their fifth year, pipe fitter apprentices learn steam theory and black seal preparation, layout and fabrication of welding projects from drawing to completion, brazing and soldering, and how to work with low pressure steam.
Apprentices begin earning a wage immediately. First year apprentices earn 45 percent of the journeyman rate; second year apprentices earn 50 percent; third year apprentices earn 60 percent; fourth year apprentices earn 70 percent and fifth year apprentices earn 80 percent.
Under the current wage package, the per hour rate for apprentices would escalate from $16.60 in their first year to $29.50 in their final year before attaining journeyman status.
In addition, apprentices receive health and pension benefits from the beginning.
Applicants will take the Work Keys standardized aptitude test. Upon successful completion of the written exam, applicants will be interviewed.
||• At least 18 years of age at start of apprenticeship (can apply at age 17)
• High school diploma or GED (official transcripts required)
• Valid drivers license
• Social Security Card
• Pass physical examination and drug test
In order to succeed on the written exam, students should strive for proficiency in the following areas:
||• Applied Math
• Reading comprehension
||• Proficient at Algebra, science and mechanical drawing
• Computer skills
• Desire to work outside under all weather conditions
• Ability to follow instruction
• Willingness to work daily
In some areas of the state, plumber and pipe fitter apprentices attend the same training facility, and in other cases they are separated.
Mercer, Monmouth, Middlesex, Ocean, and Hunterdon counties
Local 9 Training Center (Plumbers and Pipe Fitters)
450 Route 33 and Iron Ore Rd.
Englishtown, NJ 07726
Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem Counties
Local 322 Training Center (Plumbers and Pipe Fitters)
534 S. State Hwy No. 73
Winslow Township, NJ 08095
(609) 567-3322 x4
Bergen, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties
Local 14 (Plumbers)
150 Main Street
Lodi, NJ 07644
Local 274 (Pipe Fitters)
1000 Hendricks Causeway
Ridgefield, NJ 07657
Essex, Union, Somerset, parts of Middlesex, Morris, Warren and Hunterdon
Local 24 (Plumbers)
986 S. Springfield Avenue
Springfield, NJ 07081
(973) 912-0092 x17
Local 475 (Pipe Fitters)
136 Mt. Bethel Rd.
Warren, NJ 07059