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More than Mario: A Discussion of the Plumbing Industry

Bethany Skidmore on Jun 8, 2016 9:00:00 AM

If you’re like me, the only plumber you know is Mario. Or maybe you have some vague image in your head of a plumber with a messy toolbox and jeans that hang too low. But that can’t be the whole story. So let’s get real about plumbing and talk about it as it actually is: the job that no one wants that everyone should.

Is Plumbing Right for You?

There are many benefits to working in the plumbing industry. The first is job security. Plumbing can never be outsourced or replaced by technology. Then there’s variety on the job. The hours a plumber works and what he does in those hours varies from day-to-day with the calls he receives. A plumber is also mobile. While transferring a license can be a hassle, there is work everywhere. Plumbing is also obviously advantageous. In many fields, employees feel that they’re not necessary. That’s not the case in the plumbing industry. With every successful call, a plumber gets to see that they’ve made a difference (however small) in someone’s life. Finally, there’s financial motivation. Plumbers make good money (on average $50,000/year, $14,000 higher than the national average)— because it’s a job that no one wants to do. It’s also secure, growing at 12% per year, 5% faster than the national average. Economies are stronger when they are diverse, and diversity requires people take different paths. Choosing a trade like plumbing is not accepting mediocrity; it’s simply choosing to walk a different path.

Women in the Industry

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 1.1% of plumbers are women. That’s a small number, and many women who want to be plumbers feel pushed out. Kristi Hansen, the owner of Pretty Plumbing in Vancouver, spoke about being a woman in the industry on her blog.  She noted that there is a huge market for female plumbers, especially in single women living alone.  These women are often afraid to let someone into their homes, and they feel a huge amount of relief to find a female plumber. There's definitely room in the industry for women.

Are You Right for Plumbing?

Plumbing is a humbling job. There are going to be days that are, quite literally, full of crap. Plumbers begin as underpaid apprentices and work that way for several years before they are able to take the exam for their license. Aspiring plumbers must be willing to start at the bottom and work their way up—and for that, they must have determination.

Plumbing is hard labor, but it’s also mentally taxing. Plumbers must possess the ability to think on their feet. Often a customer doesn’t understand what the problem really is. Plumbers must be able to diagnose problems and find their root causes. They must also have customer service skills, as they will be dealing directly with customers in the field. And nowadays, with stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s selling home improvement products at near wholesale value, a plumber also has to have the ability to justify himself and his job. When a customer asks why the work is so expensive, the plumber must be able to explain what he is doing and why it’s worth the cost.

The Pathway to Plumbing

A plumber’s training generally begins with apprenticeship. In Idaho, that apprenticeship lasts four years. During this time, an apprentice is employed by a plumbing contractor and under the supervision of a journeyman plumber. There are also a number of classroom hours. After his apprenticeship, in order to be approved for a journeyman license afterward, a prospective worker must show documentation of 8000 hours of work experience, complete the application, and pass the exam.

At Idaho State University Department of Continuing Education and Workforce Training, we offer pathways to licensing through apprenticeships. Call us at (208) 282-3372, visit our website at certain.isu.edu/app, or visit us in person at 1001 N 7th Ave., Pocatello, ID, to learn more.

“If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.”

– Albert Einstein to The Reporter, November 18th, 1954

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