Pipefitters, or steamfitters as they’re commonly known in many parts of the country, are responsible for installing and maintaining high-pressure pipe systems. These pipe systems can involve anything from HVAC to pressurized water, fuel, or hydraulic components.
People often confuse the work of a pipefitter with a plumber since both spend much of their day working with pipe systems. The key difference is plumbers operate with low-pressure systems, which steamfitters work with high-pressure ones. Most pipefitters work in commercial buildings or construction sites.
Today, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about how to become a pipefitter. Is a career as a fitter a smart choice for you?
Read on to find out more about this exciting and lucrative career path.
Pipefitter Career Trajectory
If you’re unsure if learning how to become a pipefitter is a wise career choice for you, you can be certain that it is. Compared to other career paths, the field of steamfitting and plumbing is projected to grow steadily through 2029. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests a 4% growth in the field between 2019-2029.
Not only are pipefitters in demand, but this vocation pays quite well, and experienced fitters can earn an excellent living in the field. Vocations like pipefitting are also a wise choice for anyone considering relocation.
The skills you learn as a pipefitter can apply anywhere in the world. Wherever there are new construction or pipe systems that require maintenance, there will be steamfitters earning a solid living.
Another benefit of trade work like sweating pipes is earning a paycheck while you learn the trade. Most beginner pipefitters make a livable wage for years before developing and refining all the skills required of an experienced fitter.
Keep in mind that while plenty of characteristics make fitting pipes an excellent career choice, you’re going to work hard for your check. Pipefitters are regularly confined to tight spaces and uncomfortable temperatures while they work for as long as 12 hours at a time. There are also some occupational hazards that aren’t for the faint of heart.
Steamfitters are at risk of falling from ladders, injuring themselves while using tools and equipment, or receiving steam burns from pipes. An experienced fitter will be able to mitigate these risks with ease.
While there are present dangers, if you work safely and smartly, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the risks associated with pipefitting.
How Do I Become a Pipefitter?
Like many trades, becoming a pipefitter requires several years of on-the-job training. Aspiring pipefitters will need a high school diploma or GED and reliable transportation. The additional skills that pipefitting requires are refined on the job or in the classroom as part of the certification process.
Some people looking for a career in the industry pursue training at a vocational school or college after attaining their diploma. Most certification programs run for about a year, and they offer a blend of classroom training in areas like blueprint reading and math and technical instruction from professionals.
College is another route for an aspiring pipefitter, and many colleges offer degree programs in plumbing or pipefitting. These programs usually end with an associate’s degree in applied science.
Whether or not you choose to pursue a degree or vocational training, once you find a job in the industry, you’ll be required to complete an extensive apprenticeship that blends on-the-job learning with classroom instruction.
While requirements vary between states, most programs require at least 2,000 hours of training between the classroom and job site before they’re complete.
These apprenticeship programs culminate in an exam covering aspects like blueprint reading, safety regulations, codes, and applied knowledge. When you pass the exam, you become a journeyman pipefitter.
After thousands of hours of experience on the job, you’ll be able to take the master pipefitter exam. Passing the exam entitles you to additional benefits and the ability to start your own business as a pipefitter.
How Much Does a Pipefitter Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pipefitters earn a solid living, and the average in the country is just north of $56,000 per year or $27.08 per hour.
If you belong to a trade union, the wage you earn can vary significantly. Union steamfitters typically earn higher wages than their trade union has negotiated.
Are Requirements Different from State to State?
The requirements to become a pipefitter can vary widely from state to state. Requirements can also vary within the same state depending on whether you’re a trade union member.
Resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or various trade school websites can help steer you in the right direction regarding the specific requirements in your area.
Skills Required of a Steamfitter
When it comes to how to become a pipefitter, most of the skills you’ll need are developed on the job. But, there are a few skills you’ll want to develop to ensure success as a pipefitter.
For pipefitters in maintenance roles, quickly and accurately diagnosing and troubleshooting issues is a critical component of the job. Strong troubleshooting skills will put you ahead of the game as you become a steamfitter.
Strong communication skills are essential for breaking down the complex world of pipefitting in layman’s terms for other tradespeople, end-users, and clients who are unfamiliar with the world you operate in. If you can communicate effectively, you’ll be a better pipefitter for it.
Steamfitters regularly work in confined spaces and around obstructions such as pipes, framing, and other structures. If you have excellent dexterity, you’re already on your way to becoming an effective steamfitter.
Beyond the basics above, an effective steamfitter will need a wealth of technical knowledge in applied science, blueprint reading, and more. These skills are something you’ll continue to refine throughout your career as a steamfitter.
What is the Career Progression for a Steamfitter?
If you’re wondering how to become a pipefitter but you’re unsure of the career outlook, the good news is that the future can be bright.
As steamfitters progress from apprentices to journeymen to master pipefitters, new opportunities will open up. Master pipefitters can form their own companies or choose to work for someone else. Those in trade unions can pursue different avenues within the union, becoming business agents or union representatives.
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