Alternate ways to enter the plumbing trade? Seeking advice from pros
Hello everyone, this is my first post here. I hope that a thread of this nature was placed in the right forums, if not I apologize.
To introduce myself, I'm 19 and I've had a serious interest in plumbing all my life. I decided a few months back that I wanted to pursue it as a career 100%. I'm very motivated to achieve this goal. I took a distance education course, which isn't at all by any means intended to be a substitute for certification or licensing or anything like that, but it helped and I now understand the basics of how plumbing systems work, as well as basic skills such as removing/installing toilets and sinks, sweating copper lines, connecting plastic pipe, working from and interpreting codes, and so on.
I was initially wanting to seek a union apprenticeship, but I have heard that only like 1 out of every 20 applicants are selected. Also, I made some bad decisions in the past, and I dropped out of highschool. I understand that a highschool education is necessary and I've been working towards getting my GED, another goal which I intend to complete. However, I'm simply not good at math. I've tried and tried so many times, but I'm just horrible at it. I was always able to easily get straight A's in all other subjects, but not math, and unfortunately I heard that they look at your math grades the most. I'm definitely gonna get my GED, but I know that no matter how hard I try, I'm just not gonna be able to do all that great on the math section.
So because of all this, I'm very worried that if I do apply for a union apprenticeship, that my chances of being selected are slim to none. But I really want this opportunity to learn more than anything. That's why I was asking if it's possible to enter the trade in an alternative fashion. For example, is it possible for me to enter as a plumbers helper, and after working for so many hours and/or taking plumbing classes, I can try and take the licensing exam or something? I realize that laws may vary from state to state, but still. I've heard that not all plumbers became professionals by entering formal apprenticeships, and I've heard of many that started as helpers/laborers. How does this work exactly?
Or perhaps I can find an independent non-union associated contractor who would be willing to take me on as an apprentice and then after 4-6 years I can get my license or something? Furthermore, would it be appropriate to just randomly call up contractors from the phone book and ask if they're looking for helpers/apprentices? Because I was thinking of doing that. I'm definitely willing to listen, take orders, and do my utmost to try hard and learn. I have a real passion and appreciation for the trade and really want to advance and make it my profession more than anything.
I also do have basic knowledge and skills. I've heard that many helpers/apprentices enter the trade not knowing the difference between a stack vent and a soil stack. So would this, along with my passion and willingness and eagerness to learn be enough to get somebody to take me on as an apprentice? Sorry for the long post, but I just wanted to try and explain my situation completely. As stated, I'm seeking advice from pros who do all this stuff on a daily basis so that I can be pointed in the right direction. Thanks
Hello and congrats on your decision to pursure a career in the plumbing trade, Astaroth. After working in the medical field for 13 years, I got into the trade purely by coincidence and havent regretted it for a moment.
IMO your best bet will be to find a plumbing contractor who is willing to sponsor you in an apprenticeship. This may not be as difficult as some folks may think as most contractors very often have their eye out for someone who is honest and willing to not only work, but also learn. You need to figure out what area of the trade interests you the most. For me it was new commercial plumbing systems and design. You'll want to learn it all from residential and commercial service to residential new construction to commercial/industrial/institutional plumbing. This will all come in time. Find a contractor who's focus is on what interests you though. Once you're hired give that contractor 100%. It's not easy being the "grunt", but well worth it in the end. It's good that you already have a basic knowledge of some of the aspects of plumbing while knowing that there is alot more to learn. Calling contractors at random from the phone book is a start, but I'd suggest getting a list of these contractors and visiting their shops in person.
Get that foot in the door.
Most certainly get your GED and bone up on math. I use math on a daily basis in my job. This is essential! If need be, take a remedial math course at a local community college and if something isn't making sense then speak up and keep doing so until things click.
I do wish you all the luck in the world and look forward to reading a post on this board that you've made it into your apprenticeship.
I actually went through the phone book and wrote letters to a bunch of different companies. The union can always come later if you decide that's the way you want to go. Here it's a seven year apprenticeship and you can take the licensing exam. Some places may be a year or two shorter.
Another place to try to "get a start in the business" is to go to local parts houses and suppliers for the trade and ask if there are any contractors looking for people. Also many times if you go to the construction site during the pluming phase of the project, they may be short people and will hire you on the spot. Don't tell anyone that you are so bad with math, it is a tool that you will need daily on the job. Good luck.
Astaroth, where are you located? Have you spoken to a union recruiter? Have you looked into your state's requirement for becoming a plumber?
In Arkansas, a GED or high school diploma are required to become an apprentice. A sponsoring master plumber can't sign you on as an apprentice without one here.
Have you gotten tutoring for your math? Sometimes the right teacher makes all the difference in the world.
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