Electrician vs. Plumber – Which Trade Should You Choose?
If you’re at the start of your professional career, you may be torn between two or more trade careers. After all, there are a lot of trades out there: from construction to oil and gas professionals to HVAC techs, there’s a broad range of jobs you can get into.
Two of the most common trades—and important, in our estimation!—is the electrician trade and the plumbing trade. Every state in our nation has a great need for electricians and plumbers, and there’s a lot of overlap between the two careers—but also some factors that make them very different (aside from the obvious, of course!).
So on this page, we'll dive into the "electrician vs. plumber" debate, and look at the positives and negatives of each career. Hopefully we’ll tackle all the questions you have, but if you have any other concerns, please feel free to jump over to our “Contact” page and drop us a line.(By the way, if you'd like to go over the "HVAC vs. Electrician" debate, check out our post about HVAC careers vs. electrician careers.)
Electrician Job Tasks
Our entire site is basically one big description of an electrician's job responsibilities (and we go into great detail on the homepage), so poke around a little and you'll learn a thing or two.
If we had to sum it up, we'd say: electricians are in charge of putting in the wires and equipment that move electricity into and around a structure. After electrical equipment has been set up in a safe and efficient way, they use a variety of measurement tools to be sure that it's safe and "up to code."
Electricians work in a variety of different settings, from private homes, which can vary greatly in size and layout, to commercial structures, which can vary GREATLY in size and layout. Commercial buildings can be anything from a store in a strip mall to a stadium to a skyscraper. They can even do outdoor work, like the work linemen do—they connect and maintain electrical circuity that connects power plants to businesses and homes throughout the area.
We’ve written about the different types of electricians here.
Plumber Job Tasks
Contrary to public opinion, there is a great deal of variety in the plumbing occupation. People tend to think of plumbers of doing one thing and one thing only—fixing toilets—and that’s absurd (and a shame, really). And while that’s a really important job, plumbers (along with pipefitters and steamfitters) install the pipes that transport materials, liquids, and gases into and out of a building. They also do a lot of maintenance work after pipes have been installed.
Similar to electricians, they work on a wide variety of buildings, including industrial buildings (such as factories and power plants), commercial buildings (such as sports arenas, malls, office buildings, restaurants, and shops), and residential homes and apartment complexes. If it's a building of any kind, it's got pipes, and it needs plumbers.
What Are The Training Periods Like?
In order for someone to be a licensed electrician (aka a "journeyman electrician"), he or she needs to complete an electrical apprenticeship that lasts two to five years (and in most states, the apprenticeship is four to five years). That sounds like a long time, but there’s a lot to know!
The apprenticeship takes place during normal work hours (usually 40 hours a week), where the apprentice has "hands on" learning at each job site. Apprentices are paid for their work, and they typically receive pay raises at specific points during the program. Apprenticeships can be difficult to attain–there's an entrance exam and a round of interviews–-so people who don't have any experience or who need help preparing for the apprenticeship exam can take classes at a local community college or vocational / technical school. If you can find an apprenticeship, however, school isn’t necessary, and if you can find an apprenticeship, we’d urge you to take it! Check out our map here to find apprenticeships and schools in your state.
For plumbers, the apprenticeship is very similar. It takes about the same amount of time–four or five years, depending on the area you live in–and plumber apprentices are paid for the work they do, usually with pay raises worked into the training schedule. There are different rules and regulations in each state, so you'll have to find out about the specific requirements where you live/want to work. You can take a look on our state pages for information about the requirements in the state you live in.
So which of the two professions comes out on top?
Verdict: Tie. The training periods are very similar for electricians and plumbers. They're long, but they're a fantastic opportunity to learn a trade, get paid, and NOT incur any student loan debt.
Electrician Salary vs. Plumber Salary
This is an interesting one. According to the latest data released by the government, the median pay for electricians is a bit more per year than it is for plumbers. Here's how it breaks down:
- The median pay for plumbers in the United States is $53,910 per year
- The median pay for electricians in the United States is $55,190 per year.
If you forget your high school math, the median is "the number in the middle." In the stats above, it means that half of the plumbers make more than $53,910 in a given year, and half of the plumbers interviewed make less than $53,910 in a given year.
Verdict: Tie. Pretty close. Keep in mind, too, that wages vary from state to state.
How Many Jobs Are There Currently In The United States?
This is an interesting statistic: there are currently 500,300 plumbers in the United States, whereas there are almost a quarter-million (715,400) electricians in the United States. Becoming an electrician is a much more popular choice. That shouldn't affect your decision at all, but it's interesting to note.
If you decide to become an electrician or a plumber, can you count on there being jobs when you finish your apprenticeship? Regardless of which career you choose, forecasts say you may be in good shape. The expected growth for all occupations in the U.S. is 5% between the years of 2018 and 2028, and for electricians, the expected growth is 10%, and for plumbers, the expected growth is 14%.
Verdict: Tie. The figures above can be perceived as positive—especially as many other jobs are off-shored or eased out completely. It’s impossible to predict exactly what jobs will be around and what the exact career outlook will be, but the expected growth rate definitely looks positive.
I've Heard Plumbing Can Be A Little Gross
We should talk about this, and any real discussion of these two trades should touch upon it. So let's get to it: let's talk about feces.
Every time you've ever seen a plumber on television, he's up to his elbows in it. Is that how it is in real life?
No. Of course not. Sometimes, yes. But not all the time—and it depends on what kind of plumbing work you do.
Just like electricians, plumbers do a lot of installation work on new buildings, and those pipes are clean as can be. There are, of course, plenty of situations where plumbers DO have to work around human waste, but you already knew that.
But there's something else that's very important to keep in mind, too–it's not uncommon for electricians to encounter work situations that are absolutely disgusting. They work in cellars (both residential and industrial) where small animals have died many years previous. They work in restaurants where there's rotting food all over the place and/or tons of grease build-up from deep fryers. They work in industrial plants–including sewage treatment plants–where there's, well, feces. And, don't forget–electricians just get plain dirty a lot of the time. Before you get home and take a shower, electricians are pretty grimy.
Verdict: The electricians win this one… but not by much! Electricians do, in fact, get dirty, and there are a lot of electrician jobs that can get pretty gross. But plumbers also deal with a lot grimy stuff, and in certain situations, have to deal with human waste.
Which Career Are You More Interested In?
In reality, both options are solid choices. Both types of professionals earn livings that are above the national average, both enjoy expectations of solid job growth, and both take about the same amount of time when it comes to apprenticeships.
Basically, it comes down to your interest! Which will you find more satisfying as a career? Talk with people in both trades, and try to get a feel for which career path will match with your personality.
The more research you do, the better idea you’ll have, and if you *really* want to make an informed decision, try to tag along a professional for a day or two. Utilize your personal network through family and friends, and see if you can accompany them for a little while. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll have a clearer idea of the day-to-day activities involved.
Regardless of what you choose, we wish you all the best in your career. Good luck, work as hard as you can, and all the best to you!