Journeyman, or apprentice, pipefitters, install the low- and high-pressure pipe systems that heat and cool buildings and generate electricity. They also install the controls used to operate the systems. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about one-third of pipefitters are union members. Unions oversee the training programs where journeyman pipefitters learn the trade.
An aspiring pipefitter will need a high school diploma or GED to enter an apprenticeship program and become a journeyman. Applicants to apprenticeship programs should be at least 18 years old and in good health. Unions may require drug testing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics advises prospective pipefitters to take courses in mathematics, computers, physics, and shop while in high school. Knowledge of Spanish is helpful, because Spanish-speakers comprise a large section of construction workers.
Training for a journeyman pipefitter lasts for five years, notes the United Association trade union. After taking core courses in science, drafting, welding and math, apprentices take courses specific to the pipefitting trade. During each year of training, an apprentice completes at least 1,700 hours of on-the-job training and 246 hours of classroom instruction. Apprentices are paid while they learn and are protected by a union contract.
Licensure and Advancement
In most states, pipefitters do not need to be licensed, according to the bureau. Journeymen pipefitters should contact their state’s licensing board to find out if they will need a license, which is typically granted to candidates who pass an exam and meet work experience requirements. With experience and further training, a journeyman pipefitter may be promoted into a supervisory position. Others may find employment in related fields such as building inspection or construction management.
The bureau estimates that employment for pipefitters is expected to grow by 15 percent through the year 2018. This job growth will be spurred by factors including the need to retrofit existing plumbing systems in commercial and residential buildings, as well as new construction. Job openings will also be created as currently employed pipefitters retire from the occupations during the next decade. Employment opportunities will be best for pipefitters who are trained in green technologies. As of May 2010, pipefitters earned an annual mean wage of $50,360, according to the bureau. Apprentices usually start at a lower wage and receive periodic raises as their skill level increases.