As a current (or potential) plumber, the events of the past couple of years have probably made you ask yourself some questions. Like what does the future hold for plumbers in Minnesota? Is becoming a plumber worth the hours (or years) of training and experience? If you have a plumbing business, should you hunker down and hope for the best? Or is it time to add an apprentice or two and try to grow?
My crystal ball’s in the shop right now, so if I want to see the future, I’ll check the next best source: labor statistics.
Job security can be a big concern for plumbers. As a plumber, you know that your work usually isn’t like a typical office job. You don’t have the luxury of punching in at 8:00, eating lunch at noon, clocking out at 4:30, and knowing exactly what your weekly paycheck will be. That’s not your life. When construction projects boom, so do the work opportunities. When a customer calls, you know you have a job. Otherwise, who knows?
Thankfully, things are still looking good. Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says to expect an average of 48,600 new openings for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters each year from 2021 to 2031.
Why the need for more people with wrenches and knee pads? Here’s what the Bureau says: “Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.” The Bureau says the rising demand for plumbers will come from new construction projects but also from maintaining and repairing plumbing systems in existing buildings.
No one can know for sure what the next few years have in store. But, thankfully for plumbers, if a toilet doesn’t flush, you’ll get called no matter how the Dow Jones average did that week.
Now, it’s true that some of the work may be tough. When pipes freeze, it’s a plumber lying in the snow, making the pipes flow again. Sewage is piped away from our homes for a good reason, and working with sewage piping isn’t everyone’s first choice. And if the water’s still not flowing at 5 p.m. on a Friday, plumbers can’t tell the homeowner, “Sorry, my shift’s over. We’ll get you water first thing Monday morning.”
And the training can take a long time. To become a plumber in Minnesota, you need at least four years (7,000 hours) of experience as a Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI)-registered unlicensed plumber. Alternately, you can hold an active restricted plumbing license for at least two years, or you can complete a DLI-registered apprenticeship program. Plus, you need to pass an exam.
Being a plumber isn’t for everyone. You need to be motivated to work and have to be good with your hands and your head.
What about income? It’s nice knowing that jobs will be there, but what’s the pay? That’s where the good news continues. ZipRecruiter says that in Minnesota, the average journeyworker plumber makes about $62,268 a year, with lows and highs in the $30,000 to $100,000 range.
Nationally, the Bureau found that the median wage of plumbers was $59,880 in May 2021. Compare that to the national average of $45,760 a year for all occupations. The lowest 10 percent of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters made less than $36,700. The top 10 percent made more than $99,920.
If you’re thinking of becoming a plumber, this is a great time. Go for it! You won’t get automated out of a job (plumbing robots are at least a century away) and outsourcing just won’t work for this type of career.
If you’re already a plumber, think about going green to pick up the extra work for high-efficiency fixtures and solar systems. And definitely think about growing the business or starting your own if you currently work for someone else. Add an apprentice or journeyworker — especially a woman, if you can. As of now, ‘round about 97% of plumbers are men, so it’s time to make some changes there.
And if you haven’t already, try finishing your continuing ed online. Why waste time sitting in a classroom when these days you can do it on your phone or computer. Check out TradesmanCE’s variety of course options for Minnesota when it’s time to finish your courses before renewing your license.
What’s the bottom line for all this? Where’s the plumbing industry heading? Nothing is certain, but the way things look now, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that choosing to be a plumber or to grow your plumbing business is a good idea.