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Plumbers_ Pipefitters_ and Steamfitters

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					      Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
          SOC 472152: Assemble, install, alter, and repair pipelines or pipe systems that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids
          or gases. May install heating and cooling equipment and mechanical control systems.


      Introduction                                                       soldering, along with brazing and welding equip-
                                                                         ment, depending on the fluids or gases carried
      Plumbing professionals have a unique knowledge
                                                                         through the pathways. They attach pipes to walls,
      of pipe systems, waste disposal, drainage, and gas
                                                                         structures, and fixtures, such as radiators or tanks.
      systems in residential, commercial, and industrial
                                                                         Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters also cut,
      buildings. Pipefitters and steamfitters also share
                                                                         thread, and hammer pipe to specifications, using
      distinct abilities in regards to pipe systems, keep-
                                                                         tools such as saws, cutting torches, pipe-threading
      ing structures functional and safe for use.
                                                                         machines, and pipe-bending machines. It is often
      Different pipe systems are utilized in residential
                                                                         necessary to cut openings in walls to accommo-
      housing, commercial buildings, power plants,
                                                                         date pipes and their fittings. In new construction,
      municipal water treatment and manufacturing
                                                                         these professionals connect pipe systems to out-
      plants, and in specialized areas, such as pharma-
                                                                         side gas, water, or sewer lines. They also install
      ceuticals, medical gas installation and computer-
                                                                         fixtures such as bathtubs, showers, sinks, toilets,
      chip manufacturing. All of these systems are high-
                                                                         and appliances, such as water heaters, gas stoves
      ly complex and require specialized techniques for
                                                                         and ovens, and dishwashers. The final step in
      installation, repair, and design.
                                                                         their installation work is to use pressure gauges to
      Nature of Work                                                     ensure that there are no leaks.
      Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters all work                   Commercial work includes construction, service
      with pipes, but have different specializations and                 and repair, routine inspections, and maintenance.
      techniques. Plumbers install and repair waste dis-                 Specialized services might include building and
      posal, drainage, and gas piping systems.                           design; temperature controls; heating, ventilation,
      Pipefitters install and repair both high- and low-                 and air conditioning systems; energy manage-
      pressure pipe systems used in manufacturing, the                   ment; air-water balance; field calibration; biologi-
      generation of electricity, and heating and cooling                 cal safety and cleanroom testing; process and con-
      systems. Another element of this work is pipelay-                  trol system engineering; repiping; and renova-
      ing, done by those who lay pipes made of clay,                     tions. For residential repair needs, plumbers
      copper, concrete, plastic, or cast iron for drains,                might repair or maintain plumbing systems,
      sewers, water mains, and oil or gas lines.                         replacing or mending broken pipes or opening
      Steamfitters install and repair complex heating                    clogged drains. Each of these professionals may, at
      and cooling systems, industrial piping for power                   times, work in a coordinated effort with municipal
      generation, and semiconductor use. Because                         agencies, such as the local water district or gas
      steamfitters deal with gases under pressure, they                  and electric company.
      have the responsibility of installing and welding
                                                                         Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters generally
      pipes in a highly skilled manner that will prevent
                                                                         work a standard 40-hour week, but their hours
      explosions or injuries. Each of these occupations
                                                                         can vary widely to include daytime, evening,
      has a role in preventing contamination of fluids
                                                                         weekend, or on call shifts in order to perform rou-
      and gases that could pass through the pipes by
                                                                         tine or emergency maintenance and repair work.
      properly performing welding and installation.
                                                                         Those who work in construction may be laid off
      Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters must be                    each time they complete a new structure, and may
      able to follow building plans, blueprints, and lay-                have multiple employers so that they have more
      outs. They assemble pipes, tubes, and fittings                     work opportunities.
      according to specifications and building codes. In
                                                                         Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters work
      order to do this, they use couplings, clamps,
                                                                         indoors, outdoors, or in partially covered work-
      screws, bolts, cement, plastic solvent, calking, or

105   Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
                                                                                   Knowledge, Skills & Abilities

                                                                                                Knowledge
                                                                                                  Mechanical
                                                                                        Customer and personal services
                                                                                                    Design
                                                                                           Building and construction
sites, sometimes in all-weather conditions or in cramped quarters.                        Engineering and technology
They may climb ladders to work on rooftops, crawl beneath build-                               English language
ings, or work in trenches on outside pipelines. Residential work is
usually performed by one or two individuals if the work is not too
complex. Due to the breadth of the work at construction sites,
                                                                                                   Skills
                                                                                                 Installation
these professionals work in larger crews.                                                      Active listening
                                                                                                 Instructing
The majority of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters perform                                 Mathematics
commercial or specialty work, while a smaller percentage work in                             Equipment selection
residential plumbing. Commercial and specialty work tends to be                                Active learning
unionized, whereas there are fewer union jobs in residential work.
Those who are in apprenticeships may work with several different                                  Abilities
employers during their training stage, until they become journey-                           Information ordering
men.                                                                                        Arm-hand steadiness
                                                                                              Manual dexterity
Job Requirements                                                                                 Near vision
                                                                                               Extent flexibility
Skills/Characteristics                                                                       Problem sensitivity

For plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, working on a job site
is something akin to assembling a puzzle—a complex array of
pipes, electrical conduits, duct work, and fire sprinklers all have
to be fitted into a space with accuracy and precision. These pro-                Top Employing Industries (California)
fessionals need physical strength and stamina since pipes can be
heavy and may have to be held in place for long periods of time
until they are secured. Other essential skills for these profession-       75%
als include manual dexterity and mechanical ability, in order to
work with small components and effectively use hand and power
                                                                           60%
tools to braze, solder, or weld metal parts.
This is not simply a physical job—these occupations require a              45%
great deal of intelligence, and the critical-thinking, problem-solv-
ing, and decision-making elements of the work are all based upon
a thorough understanding of piping and plumbing principles and             30%

the ability to draw upon this knowledge at any moment. Spatial
skills and the ability to follow exact instructions are necessary to       15%
be able to take blueprints from paper to a seamless finished prod-
uct. As with most occupations, communication skills and English
language knowledge and usage are critical. Teamwork is essential            0%

in this work, as is the ability to take constructive criticism in order
to improve performance. Having a strong work ethic is also
important, because colleagues rely upon the work of these profes-
sionals in order to successfully perform their own work.
For those who work in the service sector of the industry, such as
residential plumbing repair and maintenance, customer service
skills and the ability to explain concepts to customers are very


                                                                          Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters        106
      important. These individuals must also write           Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters must
      clearly and have the mathematical skills to create     engage in ongoing training to upgrade their skills,
      invoices and bill correctly for services rendered.     particularly as technology, materials, and tech-
                                                             niques continue to change and improve.
      Training/Experience
                                                             According to Carl Cimino, director of San Jose’s
      Comprehensive training in the pipe trades is best      Pipe Trades Training Center, “Today there are
      acquired through an apprenticeship, which pro-         [applications in] nuclear power, biotechnology,
      vides the most opportunities for learning.             medical gas installations, chip manufacturing, oil
      However, it is possible to become skilled through      refineries, and power plants—whatever is needed,
      initiative and on-the-job training.                    we can train for it.”
      In this region there are three apprenticeship pro-     Those in this profession working in specialty areas
      grams for plumbing. Two are union-operated             must have proper certification, such as plumbing
      apprenticeships: Pipe Trades Joint Apprentice          contractor; air and water balancing specialty con-
      Training Council (JATC) of Santa Clara and San         tractor; hot water heating and steam fitting con-
      Benito Counties, and the JATC of the Plumbing,         tractor; and water conditioning contractor.
      Pipe Fitting and Refrigeration Industry of San         County governments license plumbers and others
      Mateo County. One program is sponsored by the          in the pipe trades, testing knowledge of plumbing
      Associated Builders & Contractors Golden Gate          and plumbing codes with a written exam, a
      Chapter Plumbing UAC and is conducted at the           requirement that is waived if the plumber is an
      Construction Craft Training Center in San Jose         apprentice, works for a utility, is licensed by
      and other regional locations.                          another jurisdiction, or is a contractor.
      Entering an apprenticeship requires a commit-          Employment
      ment that can last from four to five years, depend-
                                                             Recruitment/Hiring
      ing on the program. Apprentices are paid for their
      hands-on work, and they also attend approxi-           If entrants to these professions do not seek
      mately two evening classes per week to acquire         apprenticeships, any experience in the trades can
      comprehensive skills. In many programs, training       likely be put to use in a residential plumbing com-
      is free. Hands-on learning takes place under the       pany, particularly with skills in carpentry, dry
      direct supervision of a journeyperson. A field         wall, and tile. Another way to acquire construc-
      coordinator makes routine visits to job sites to       tion skills is through volunteer experience with
      make sure apprentices’ work activities are suffi-      organizations like Habitat for Humanity, which
      cient and comprehensive, so that when they grad-       constructs low-cost housing for individuals and
      uate or are “turned out” from their apprentice-        families in need.
      ship, they can apply their knowledge to anything
                                                             Having a clean driving record and a good work
      they might encounter in their work.
                                                             record are important to gaining paid work.
      To be accepted into an apprenticeship program, an      Without a clean driving record, it is difficult to
      applicant must have a high school diploma or its       insure the driver of the company vehicle.
      equivalent, possess a valid driver license, and sub-
                                                             Benefits & Challenges
      mit three personal references. After passing the
      initial screening process, an applicant must pass      As a career, the pipe trades offer the benefit of hav-
      entry-level examinations in reading, mathematics,      ing a well-paid occupation as well as intangible
      and spatial reasoning. The final step in the process   benefits. As one plumber who was interviewed for
      is an oral interview with representatives of the       the purpose of this study said, “Nothing is more
      Joint Apprentice Training Council to assess the        rewarding than to drive your kids by a building
      applicant’s interest, ambition, attitude, and alert-   and say, ‘I piped that building.’” This is not only a
      ness. The JATC’s apprenticeship in residential         male profession—women who like to work with
      plumbing utilizes a comprehensive upgraded cur-        their hands do enter pipe trades apprenticeship
      riculum that has been adopted at the national          programs and thrive, moving up in the field fol-
      level because of its breadth.                          lowing their apprenticeships.

107   Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
The best-paid opportunities are in construction and specialty                       Education Distribution
areas. However, at construction sites, journeypersons are working
themselves out of a job because once the job is over, the workers
are laid off. Due to this instability, companies and the union pay
benefits and pensions.
As with any occupations that require physical labor, there are safe-
ty concerns that pipe trades personnel must take into considera-
tion. Because of the use of power tools for soldering, brazing, and
welding, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters can easily become
burned. Lifting heavy pipes and crouching in small spaces can
cause strain and physical injury over time. Safety regulations at
construction sites prevent most harm, and the Federal
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates
safety through its enforcement of standards to keep working con-
ditions safe. Similarly, the California Division of Occupational
Safety and Health performs inspections of boilers and other pres-
surized vessels to protect those in the pipe trades.                                 Occupational Wages
                                                                          $60
Career Ladders & Lattices
The pipe trades offer many opportunities with experience and              $50

continued training. With quite a bit of experience, plumbers, pip-
                                                                          $40
efitters, and steamfitters may move forward and become a foreman
or a general foreman. Other career paths include estimators,
                                                                          $30
building inspectors, or becoming certified in various specialties.
Some professionals in the pipe trades start their own companies
                                                                          $20
after many years of experience.
                                                                          $10


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                                                                          $60


                                                                          $50


                                                                          $40


                                                                          $30


                                                                          $20


                                                                          $10


                                                                           $0




                                                                       Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters   108
                                                                       Wayne Laliberte
                                                                    Plumbing Contractor
                                    1. Please tell us about     used to interview people for my small business, I
                                    your current position       would ask if they worked on cars. If they told me
                                    and how you arrived         they could do a brake job or change a water pump,
                                    there.                      I knew they could become a plumber. If they had
                                                                the basics—taking things off, cleaning things up,
                                 I became a plumber acci-
                                                                putting a new part on, aligning belts and hoses—it
                                 dentally. There’s a wide
                                                                seemed to me that they had the fundamentals and
                                 range of things that I’ve
                                                                common knowledge.
                                 done. I used to be a
                                 welder, and I worked on        2. Please describe your typical workday so that a
                                 cars. I was kind of lost,      job seeker might get a sense of what you actually
                                 trying to figure out what      do.
                                 I really wanted to do in
                                                                I always show up a half hour early—I like to have
      life. At one point I was living next door to my
                                                                my coffee and chit-chat with the guys. When 6:00
      grandmother and the bathroom sink clogged up. I
                                                                a.m. rolls around, I start my paperwork and find
      asked her what to do, and she said, “Call a
                                                                out which direction the day or the week is going in.
      plumber.” The plumber who came out was the
                                                                Then I go to my van, head to my job site, and check
      owner of his company, and he basically interviewed
                                                                in with my customer, letting them know what the
      me, explaining that he trains guys to do this kind
                                                                project is going to be and if they are going to be
      of work. By the time he left, he had offered me a job
                                                                inconvenienced at all. Even though they are my
      as a plumber. Initially, it was drain cleaning and
                                                                jobs, all the people I’m working around are my cus-
      light plumbing as they trained me for three or four
                                                                tomers. I wish a lot of guys here had the same men-
      years. Then I moved on to a new construction out-
                                                                tality, because they would have a lot fewer dissatis-
      fit for better pay.
                                                                fied people. For example, letting customers know
      When the economy began to fall apart, I got my            that in an hour I’ll have to shut off the water for a
      contractor’s license and became self-employed. I          half hour.
      was self-employed for 11 years, but was frustrated
                                                                I try to do my job and then clean up as I go. The
      because the small shops have trouble getting the
                                                                guys around here are adamant about their lunches,
      really good guys because they’re all working for the
                                                                but I often eat mine in the truck on the way back
      big shops. My wife actually applied on my behalf
                                                                from a job. I just try to schedule my day and get my
      for this job with local government. Because I was in
                                                                material for the next day, that way I can go to my
      my 40s, I was looking for benefits and a stable job.
                                                                next job bright and early in the morning. I also try
      Most of the guys here had gone through an appren-
                                                                to keep my van washed and maintained. Every
      ticeship and frowned on me because I hadn’t. But
                                                                other Monday I try to wash it first and gas up—it’s
      my knowledge comes from a different direction
                                                                a little routine of mine. I used to be in the service
      than theirs. There are a lot of things that I know
                                                                department, which was a lot of toilet and quickie
      that they don’t, because I have had to learn and do
                                                                emergency calls. The shop over here has a lot of
      them hands on, such as drain cleaning and steam
                                                                scheduled calls—you’re going to tear out this bath-
      traps. But plumbing is plumbing. Different systems
                                                                room, they’re going to remodel, and when it’s
      still have water, waste, and gas, whether it’s a big or
                                                                remodeled, we come back and put in the new sinks
      little plumbing job.
                                                                and toilets.
      I am very hungry for knowledge, very eager to
      learn, and I like working with my hands. When I


109 Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
3. Which aspects of your education and/or train-        the mechanical part, taking things apart, putting
ing made you more capable and marketable in this        things back together. Sometimes you have to fol-
field?                                                  low a sequence. For example, you have to be able
                                                        to read a blueprint and visualize where things go—
Even though I didn’t do the trade school, I did a lot
                                                        doors, windows, and toilets.
of my own schooling: I worked on cars, became a
welder, and installed carpeting for a while. I’m a      Eighty percent of what I do here now is take things
homeowner and I have had to repair my own stuff.        apart and put them back together new. However, I
When I came here, it gave them a good picture of        do design things when we build a new system; for
the variety of things I could do, not just the actual   example, you might have to put an intersection
trade.                                                  into the water or waste and then branch off and
                                                        build your own design, which might be a bath-
4. What are the most exciting aspects of your job?
                                                        room. Sometimes the blueprints only show where
What do you like most about your job?
                                                        the toilet goes or doesn’t spell out the sizes of the
I think I like the mechanical part most—taking          pipes or their locations.
something apart, fixing the problem, and putting it
                                                        7. What qualities would make someone a star per-
back together—either making it better than it was
                                                        former in this occupation?
or putting it back together so it’s no longer broken
or leaking. I love building brand new things, some-     They have to show up on time; that’s really impor-
thing that wasn’t there, and I love being part of a     tant. They must be able to do everything that I
group of people in the trades and creating a new        would or could do. They’d have to be pretty knowl-
house, bathroom, or anything new. I really enjoy        edgeable in the plumbing field, knowing all the
seeing the results, making the whole system better      fundamentals of plumbing. I’d like my fellow
for the users and those who will have to maintain       worker to be able to share his knowledge with me
the system, even though I will never get a chance       and vice versa. We are part of team; the nine of us
to use it myself. I’m updating stuff from the 1950s     here are really tight-every few weeks we get togeth-
with new technology.                                    er for lunch. Any one of them would really help
                                                        out. I enjoy getting up and going to work. My day
5. What do you dislike or find challenging about
                                                        goes fast … I love my job.
your job?
I dislike the amount of paperwork and the politics
you have to go through to do the smallest little
job—probably because it’s government and people
want to know where their money is going. To buy
anything, you have to do a lot of paperwork.
Sometimes having to work around tradespeople
can be challenging.
6. What advice would you give to a person seeking
a job in your field?
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and be a
hard worker, because the work does get physical.
It’s strenuous tightening pipes, getting up in tight
areas, working on your back, under a sink, for
example. You get cramped up. You have to enjoy

                                                                            Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters 110
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