When it comes to trades like plumbing, hiring, training, and retention can be worse than a clogged toilet. That’s probably why you’re considering providing a plumbing apprenticeship. And good news—that’s what this article is all about. 

The number of apprenticeship programs and graduates in the U.S. has steadily increased in the last decade. The number of apprentice plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow much faster than the average between now and 2028. That’s good news for you, as you’ll likely have a good pool of candidates from which to choose.

In addition to the positive outlook for the industry as a whole, plumbing apprenticeships provide benefits to both apprentices and employers. The U.S. Department of Labor points out several benefits of apprenticeships for employers, including developing highly skilled employees, reducing turnover rates, increasing productivity, and lowering recruitment costs. Additionally, employers often gain a safer workplace, a more stable pipeline of qualified workers, and a systematic approach to training that produces more reliable skill levels. 

In this article, we’ll explain what a plumbing apprenticeship is, how to start a plumbing apprenticeship, what to look for in applicants, what to expect as the owner of a plumbing business, and how much you should pay a plumbing apprentice. 

What is a plumbing apprenticeship?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an apprenticeship is “a proven approach for preparing workers for jobs while meeting the needs of business for a highly-skilled workforce.” In other words, a plumbing apprenticeship is a way for plumbing businesses to hire people with little skills or knowledge of the trade and give them on-the-job training while gradually increasing their compensation as they increase their skill level. 

How do I start a plumbing apprenticeship?

Before starting a plumbing apprenticeship, it’s essential to understand some of the key differences between a plumbing apprentice and a journeyman. While a journeyman has more experience and is authorized by the state to take on their plumbing work, plumbing apprentices must work under direct supervision. When hiring a plumbing apprentice, you’ll need to consider supervision and training requirements, which vary by state. 

Once you understand your specific state’s legal requirements, the best place to start is to connect with local trade unions, trade schools, and private training institutions. While it is most common for plumbing apprenticeships to be governed by trade unions and public schools, they can also be managed by private institutions. To start a plumbing apprenticeship program, you’ll need to get connected with plumbing trade schools in your area.  

What to look for in plumbing apprenticeship applicants. 

Before turning to any of the hiring websites, or creating and running an ad, put some thought into the qualities you’re looking for in a plumbing apprentice. Sure, you want people who are hardworking and reliable, but what employer doesn’t? Think even deeper about what you’re looking for. What type of person will fit your business’s specific mission, values, brand, and culture? If one of your values is “friendliness,” that will impact the type of people you’re looking for. 

older experienced worker talking to young man at restaurant table

Next, think about where you’ll most likely find the types of applicants you’re looking for. Of course, the best way to find quality applicants is the old fashion way: through word of mouth. However, you’ll likely need to put some ads out there as well. Once you’ve figured out how to find applicants, focus on how you’ll conduct interviews. While it may seem simple, don’t underestimate the importance of asking the right interview questions. After the interview, make sure to do some of your own research on each interviewee. In today’s connected, online world, it is fairly easy to do some basic research on applicants. Once you’ve done all of the necessary research and it comes down to making a final decision, go with your gut. 

What should a plumber expect from an apprenticeship? 

Finding the right candidates for your plumbing apprenticeship is in part driven by the structure of your apprenticeship. How will you plan out and build your plumbing apprenticeship so that it is attractive to potential candidates? 

The U.S. Department of Labor notes five components of typical apprenticeship programs to consider: (1) business involvement, (2) structured on-the-job training, (3) related instruction, (4) rewards for skill improvements, and (5) nationally-recognized credentials. Think about how you might be able to use some of these components to attract candidates. For example, how much management and oversight will you provide to your plumbing apprentice? Most employees want hands-on training, but they also worry about being micromanaged. How will you approach on-the-job training and rewards for skill improvement? Maybe one of the benefits you offer is an attractive pay scale with other rewards for skill improvement like bonuses or profit-sharing. 

How long should an apprenticeship last? 

While the length of a plumbing apprenticeship varies between one and six years, the most common plumbing apprenticeships span four to five years of paid on-the-job training. Remember, however, that hours requirements differ by state. Ensure that your plumbing apprentices are aware of the state requirements and what they can expect from your business in terms of the length of the contract. 

How much should you pay your plumbing apprentice? 

Compensation can be one of the most stressful aspects of building a plumbing apprenticeship. You want to pay competitively to attract the right candidates, but you don’t want to pay so much that it negatively impacts your business. The first step is to get a sense for the average apprentice plumber salary in your area. That number can vary greatly state by state and city by city. The average compensation in Denver, Colorado, is about $20 per hour, while the average in Boise, Idaho, is only $16.57. The nationwide average for an apprentice plumber salary is anywhere between $25k-$44k per year. The top 10% highest paid apprentice plumbers can make more than $20 per hour. 

two 20 dollar bills in a toilet bowl

Remember, however, that compensation is only one aspect of attracting and retaining the right talent. You likely already have a good idea of how much a plumbing apprentice makes in your area. In addition to pay, you can attract and retain talent by making your business a fun place to work, offering a healthy work-life balance, providing quality training and mentoring, and many other ways. Be creative and don’t let compensation become your only focus. 

Conclusion: Getting started today with a plumbing apprenticeship.

Enough reading already—you can now start building out your own plumbing apprenticeship. Before you know it, you’ll be hiring quality apprentices who will help you continue growing your plumbing business. Not only that, but you’ll be teaching the plumbing trade to a new generation of plumbers—and giving them an opportunity to level up while earning a decent living. 

Now that you’re ready to hire the ideal plumbing apprentice, make sure you’re giving your team not only the hardware they need to do their job but also the software. With Podium, plumbers can more easily communicate with customers, send review invites, schedule appointments, and collect payments—all via text. 

Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson Strategic Home Services Account Executive

Jennifer Wilson is a home services professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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