Professional plumbers are trained to inspect, troubleshoot and repair the systems of pipework, drains and valves that keep our faucets and drains working. Depending on their specialties, plumbers are in high demand to work on plumbing projects in private homes, commercial buildings or large factories all over the country. In 2010, nearly 420,000 people were employed as plumbers, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field is expected to grow by 12% through 2024.
Training to become a certified plumber has been historically hands-on. And while vocational schools still prize the value of experience an in-training plumber learns on-the-job with a plumbing apprentice and assistantship, an increasing number of training courses and certifications can be completed just as successfully online.
Those who do opt to pursue a plumbing certificate online can expect to spend about one year obtaining the certificate. Like other certificate programs, few if any classes will be taken outside of the plumbing field. Students should expect to take online plumbing classes that cover the basics, as well as brazing, welding, and reading diagrams and blueprints. Those who earn a certificate will be rewarded for their efforts once they enter a job market that is hungry for their skills and expertise.
Those who receive online plumbing training can choose from a variety of work environments, and at the entry level, plumbers usually work with common repair and replacement of rusting underground pipework, leaking bathroom and kitchen valves, or clogged sewer and septic drains. Master plumbers, those who have developed their expertise over the years, help develop blueprints and ensure that these repairs are done strategically in a way that avoids long-term system failures and ultimately meets modern safe building codes. Many specialties fall between this range of expertise. Pipefitters, for example, work primarily in commercial and industrial settings to install and maintain critical pipelines that carry potentially harmful or corrosive gases, acids, or chemicals. Steamfitters, on the other hand, are experts certified in working with high-temperature, high-pressure pipes and equipment.
Regardless of the specialty you’re pursuing, most vocational plumbing certificate programs will require a high school diploma or GED and a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher.
Although certificate programs vary in length, the typical vocational certificate in plumbing lasts for two semesters. Most schools thoroughly cover all of the basics installing and repairing water lines, sewer lines, valve assemblies and kitchen and bath fixtures. The best online programs provide instruction on basic electrical installation and safety, as well as covering the most common safety and building codes. Certificate holders are usually qualified to work for private companies, residential homeowners or for public utilities.
What's Next for Plumbing Certificate Holders?
In most communities, certified plumbers enjoy a higher-than-average salary and relatively high job security. According to BLS data, in 2014, the median annual salary for a plumber was $50,660. Qualified plumbers will remain in high demand for the near future, with 12% total growth from 2014 to 2024. The BLS anticipates baby boomer retirements between now and 2024 will open up an additional 50,000 new plumbing positions in the U.S.
A plumbing certificate is also enhanced with an associate degree in electronics engineering, or another related field. According to the BLS, associate degree holders are nearly 20% more likely to be employed over someone with a vocational certificate. On average, associate degree holders also earn more than certificate holders, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The Center projects that people with an associate degree will make about $180,000 more over a lifetime, when compared with their certificate holding neighbors.
Some certified plumbers even choose to pursue a bachelor’s. According to the Georgetown University report, a person with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn over $2.2 million over the course of his or her career.