Plumbing Trade School: A Built-In Apprenticeship

A close-up of a person holding a pipe

Finding a job you love may include some detours and dead ends. The road you take may be different from someone else, but still land you at the same destination. Talking with men and women who have pursued a career in skilled trades will yield a variety of rich stories.

They are sure to include some form of education (like attending a plumbing trade school, for example), physical and mental challenges, days when everything was going their way, days when they thought they made a bad decision, and times they wanted to give up, but toughed it out finding their way to a satisfying career. Since most of these stories begin with some type of training, let’s talk about how it works and choosing the right journey for you.

Apprenticeships Defined

Many skilled trades, including plumbing, follow some sort of apprenticeship program. Traditionally, an apprentice is someone who learns a skill set by working side by side with someone who has mastered the trade. Painters, scientists, sculptors and famous chefs all have apprentices. The value of the apprenticeship is based on the skills and reputation of the teacher, and great teachers always seek out worthy apprentices to continue their work.

Throughout history, artisans were required to pass on their craft to the next generation. They formed guilds that were run by the master craftsmen of each trade. They would train recruits to become acquainted with the materials, tools and methods required to produce work of enduring quality. After several years of training, the apprentice would be permitted to join the guild. They would continue in their chosen craft for the rest of their working lives, ever-improving, and perhaps, someday, become masters themselves.

The Link Between Plumbing Trade Schools and Apprenticeships

Plumbing trade schools today are not unlike the guilds of old. Many eager apprentices start by learning from master craftsmen. These formal apprenticeship programs are supported by labor unions and trade associations that are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. They typically take 4-to-5 years and are funded by the employer.

Apprenticeships Lead to Journeyman Plumber Status

Completing an apprenticeship allows you to become a journeyman plumber, but only if you pass a test. Most states require a journeyman’s license to legally perform the work and a master’s license to operate a business in that trade. Licensing is intended to uphold the standard of workmanship and to honor those who have put in their time to be properly trained. However, there are some alternative paths that one can follow to be successful in the industry.

How Community College Differs

Community colleges offer training options in many of the skilled trades. These programs differ from traditional apprenticeships since they do not require students to be working in the field. However, they do offer plenty of hands-on opportunities for students to practice what they are learning along the way.

The cost of these programs is relatively low, and based on your income, could be funded through Federal Financial Aid. These one-year or two-year programs can earn certificates and even Associate’s degrees. They prepare students for jobs in the industry or they can serve as a stepping stone toward higher learning.

Students that participate in these programs can enter into the industry immediately, to begin logging hours toward apprenticeship and licensing, or they may choose to further their education, moving into areas such as:

  • Sales
  • Estimating
  • Project management
  • System design
  • Start a business

Many of these schools carry accreditations that allow their coursework to be transferred to four-year colleges and universities and can be applied to a Bachelor’s degree.

A Less Formal Path

If you wish to go into the field of facilities maintenance, you may not need a license or a college degree. These technicians apply skills from several disciplines, repairing and maintaining various building systems. Because their services are not offered to the public, they are not required to be licensed.

Skilled maintenance technicians provide tremendous value to the facility owners that employ them. They learn the ropes by working side by side with a more experienced technician or as part of a maintenance crew on their shift. They are sometimes needed around the clock to keep systems running in schools, hospitals, large residential or manufacturing facilities.

On-the-Job Training

The training they undergo is typically related to the specific equipment and systems on-site. Over the years, they may collect many different types of industry certifications that they can take with them, even if they change jobs.

Learning more about plumbing trade school and how it works is a useful investment of time. Because there are so many options and paths to take, the effort would not be wasted. With that said, online training is finding its place in both formal and informal apprenticeship programs. Whether trade school is right for you, or if you’d like to take a different path, Interplay Learning’s SkillMill™ is at the forefront with expert-led, online plumbing training courses that you can take anytime, anywhere.


Frank Garro

Interplay Learning Plumbing & HVAC Expert

Frank is Interplay’s resident plumbing and HVAC expert. While he began his career in the plumbing trade, his passion for HVAC led him to become an Associate Professor and HVAC Program Chair, at Ivy Tech Community College. Frank is a Licensed Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical Contractor, and owns his own mechanical services company. As an educator, Frank is a firm believer in teaching the fundamentals and has a gift for simplifying complex concepts.