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Should I Be a Plumber or an Electrician?

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The vocations of plumber and electrician are both reputable trade professions. While average pay is very similar for these two careers, some differences may impact which job makes the most sense for you.

Training and Education Requirements

Education and apprenticeship requirements are similar for these careers, but plumbers often need more in-class education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that plumbers need at least 246 hours of technical education and 1,700 hours of hands-on training for each year of a four- to five-year apprenticeship. An electrician needs 144 hours of technical education and 2,000 hours of hands-on training, and an apprenticeship the same length as a plumber's. Neither career requires more than a high school diploma. Some aspiring trade professionals, however, earn an associates degree while meeting the classroom requirements. Most states require that you get a license to practice, which includes completing the necessary apprenticeship.

Working Conditions

Electricians and plumbers typically work full-time, possibly with the occasional requirement of some evening and weekend work. Overtime is common in both positions, but plumbers have a higher propensity for handling emergency calls during off-hours. The BLS indicates that 11 percent of plumbers are self-employed, compared to 9 percent of electricians. Both jobs carry certain safety hazards. Plumbers face burn risks when soldering pipes and fixtures, and falls from ladders or stairs also occur. Sometimes, they also work in cramped conditions. Electricians face the possibility of electric shock and falls. They also work on more projects outdoors, such as running wires between electrical poles and into buildings, a task that may come with extremely hot or cold weather.

Nature of the Work

Given their similarities, the best choice often comes down to your preferred work activities. On a new construction project, plumbers install all pipes and fixtures that create a complete working system: shower, sinks, drainage systems. Repair work includes repairing and cleaning fixtures, pipes and drains. Electricians install and repair electrical systems, components and wires. They read blueprints, cut wires to the right lengths and also attach outlet boxes and components to walls. Residential electricians climb up towers and repair outdoor electrical wires as well.

Compensation and Benefits

The average annual salary for plumbers was $53,820 as of May 2013, according to the BLS. Electricians made slightly less on average at $53,560. The top 10 percent of plumbers made $86,120 or more. Electricians in the 90th percentile made at least $83,860. Most employed plumbers and electricians belong to trade labor unions, and union representatives negotiate wages and benefits for members and represent them in resolving disputes. Unions also work with employers to establish fair working conditions and production standards. Self-employed professionals may join unions or purchase benefits for themselves.


Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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