Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Career Q&A

Common questions about a career in the plumbing-heating-cooling trades

Why should I learn a skilled trade?

A worker with skills has many advantages over those without skills. An unskilled worker is easily replaceable and paid less than one with training and skills. Having a background in a skilled trade provides knowledge and confidence that can be transferred among different fields, should you decide to switch careers.

Why choose the plumbing-heating-cooling industry?

The plumbing, heating and cooling (p-h-c) industry is very large and therefore has many opportunities, employing more than 1.5 million people in the United States.

The industry has become part of every home, place of business, factory, and school. There are constant demands for new systems as well as for maintenance of older ones. The need for proper water and waste facilities and environmental systems grows daily, and sustainability efforts are increasing as well. These facilities and systems must be maintained to ensure public health and to maintain high standards of living.

What is the demand and job security for workers like me?

This is a prime time to enter the p-h-c industry. With millions of Baby Boomers retiring, there is a huge shortage of skilled workers to fill the positions, creating a wealth of opportunity for those entering the field. While technology certainly is advancing this field, it can never replace the need for installation, replacement and repair of plumbing and HVACR systems.

How long will it take me to make a good income in the trades? Will I be able to provide for a family on my salary?

It will take approximately four years for a person to attain a journeyman’s position, that is, a position that enables one to take the full responsibility of a skilled craftsman. Contractors who participate in a registered apprentice program typically earn almost a quarter-million dollars more than nonparticipants over the course of their careers (source: U.S. Department of Labor, August 2012).

Most qualified workers find that they can earn a comfortable living. With the rapid advancements in technology, workers familiar with computers and electronics will have the best job opportunities, as demand increases for qualified technicians to work on complex systems.

How reputable is this career choice in plumbing-heating-cooling?

Not only are workers in the p-h-c industry in high demand, but they are becoming increasingly respected as technology requires enhanced knowledge and skills. More importantly, customers are demanding considerations not only to health and safety issues but to environmental ones when installing or repairing plumbing and HVACR systems.

Can I become an employer myself?

The p-h-c industry is composed of many small shops as well as larger ones owned and operated by men and women who came up from the ranks through apprenticeship. In many states and municipalities, it is necessary for a journeyman plumber to pass a master plumber examination before entering the business as a contractor. After you have worked as a journeyman and applied yourself in learning a craft, you will have a solid background for the master’s examination.

What special abilities should I have?

  • Intelligence and adaptability to new conditions or unusual situations as they occur
  • Workers who are good at using their hands
  • Average strength and coordination, and general good health

Plumbing and pipefitting are creative work. When you have become a skilled craftsman and are handed a set of architectural drawings, you must be able to lay out the job and determine that it will perform the best service and, at the same time, conform to state and municipal ordinances.

How do I get started in plumbing-heating-cooling?

You should complete your high school education. You may find it helpful to emphasize certain courses of study in your junior and senior years. These courses are algebra, plane geometry, chemistry, English and speech.

Contact local contractors for more detailed information about the trade in your specific geographic location. Talk with as many people in the contracting trade as possible. The more information you obtain, the better equipped you will be to form realistic plans for your career. Contact information for p-h-c contractors can be found online (including PHCC’s Find a Contractor page at You may also find more information from your local Board of Education or your State Department of Labor. For more focused assistance, contact a state chapter of PHCC (

What will I learn in apprenticeship school?

During your apprenticeship period, in addition to on-the-job training, you will spend part of your time in the classroom. All classroom work deals with subjects needed to learn the trade:

  • Mathematics applicable to pipe work
  • Physics with emphasis on liquids and gases
  • Elements of hydraulics and heat
  • Mechanical drawing
  • Plumbing theory, including materials, sanitation, elements of bacteriology, and piping systems

These classroom courses, in conjunction with supervised on-the-job instruction, help to ensure the highest possible caliber mechanics for the p-h-c industry.