The question “what is a pipe fitter” probably doesn’t seem too hard to answer. You fit pipes, right?
Well, it’s a little more involved than that. And there are a LOT of different kinds of pipes that need the skill of a pipefitter.
In energy systems, gas, steam and chemicals are all transported via systems of pipes. Pipefitters — a.k.a. pipe layers — are the people who cut the pipes to size, figure out the best way to fit them together, and then install them so the joints are perfectly sealed (so the whole system is airtight!).
Here are a few situations where pipe systems are important:
- In a power plant, steam is sent through pipes to power the electricity-producing turbines
- In a factory or manufacturing plant, chemical byproducts or other waste products are removed via pipes
- On a dairy farm, pipes carry animal waste away
Pipefitters who install pipe systems specifically to transport high-pressure steam are called — wait for it — steamfitters.
Another kind of pipefitter is a gasfitter. Gasfitters install pipe systems to transport natural gas.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PIPEFITTER IN GEORGIA
You’re likely to…
- Create or consult a blueprint for how to install the pipe
- Analyze existing blueprints and follow building codes
- Measure and cut or grind the pipe to the right length
- Transport heavy pipes to the job site
- Cut holes in walls or floors to clear the way for pipes
- Install steel supports to keep the pipe secured
- Connect pieces of pipe, using different techniques depending on the material: steel, copper, etc.
- Weld pipe pieces together
- Performs tests to make sure the pipes don’t leak
WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A PIPEFITTER
Top professionals in the trade say you’ll need to be:
- Independent. Pipefitters often work without much supervision. You need to be able to exercise your best judgment and make your own decisions on the job site.
- A critical thinker. Sometimes you need to troubleshoot issues like: Where’s that leak coming from? Why is the pressure too low? Pipefitters solve and repair problems like these.
- Methodical. Pipefitters need to approach their work patiently and carefully. Because they have to get it right.
IS THIS YOU?
Here are a few pros and cons to consider as you decide whether pipefitter jobs are right for you.
- Pipefitters are often represented by unions. Their jobs frequently come with benefit packages that tend to be better than average: good health insurance, paid time off, overtime pay. Benefits are an important aspect of the compensation package and make this a good job for supporting a family.
- With 12% projected job growth by 2024, pipe fitting is an especially high-demand field. Some employers say they have trouble finding workers who are skilled in this trade. That makes it easier for you to find and keep a great job.
- The job can be physically strenuous. You climb ladders, manipulate bulky tools and squeeze yourself into tight crawlspaces. Plus, you haul around heavy sections of … pipe!
- A leaking gas pipe or steam main isn’t the kind of thing you can just worry about later! If you’re the kind of pipefitter who troubleshoots problems, you might be called into work during off-hours to fix emergencies.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
How much do pipefitters make?
The average annual pipefitter and steamfitter salary in Georgia is $44,310 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016).
How do you become a pipefitter?
You can take pipefitting courses at a technical school to learn about topics like designing a pipe system, reading blueprints, using the pipefitter’s tools and on-the-job safety. Technical schools also offer courses on welding (important for sealing the joints on some kind of pipes).
You can also enter an apprenticeship, where you’ll learn even more hands-on skills. Usually an apprenticeship lasts three to five years. You’ll get at least 1500 hours of on-the-job training per year (and earn money while you learn, which is a lot better than racking up student loan debt).
As with most apprenticeships, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, with a high school diploma or equivalent. You’ll also need to pass a drug test and a math test.
GET TRAINED AS A PIPEFITTER
And here’s a link to pipe fitter apprenticeship program in Georgia.
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to study pipefitting at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? I’m ready to start typing! Show me the application >
OUTLOOK FOR PIPEFITTERS
Employment for pipefitters and steamfitters is expected to grow by 12% from 2014 to 2024, which is definitely above average!
WHAT DO CANADIAN PIPEFITTERS DO?
Judging from this video – just about the same thing as Georgia pipefitters. Still, it’s a good look at the profession.
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Download this handy PDF for some facts on-the-go.