How to Become a Plumber in Canada
Get a great career in a booming industry, work with your hands, and bring clean water to people who need it! Here's how you can start your career as a plumber.
Canada's in desperate need for more skilled tradespeople — and this includes plumbers. Plumbers and pipefitters "install, repair, and maintain pipes, plumbing fixtures, and other plumbing equipment for water distribution and waste water disposal" in buildings of all kinds. Some specialize in systems like medical gas, fuel piping, compressed air, and so on.
These tradespeople are an essential part of modern life — "plumber's crack" jokes notwithstanding.
So how can you become a plumber and start a great career, earning as much as $87,000 per year (or even more)? Here's your quick guide to getting into the trades and becoming a plumber:
Step 1: Pre-apprenticeship training
If you're new to the profession, without much in the way of know-how or skills, you may want to consider pre-apprenticeship training. Students can pursue this training straight out of high school in most cases!
Pre-apprenticeship training is a hands-on program from that gives you the basic education you need to eventually sign on as an apprentice. You'll learn about safety, plumbing theory, building codes, reading blueprints, and of course, get practical experience with pipefitting and plumbing essentials.
Pre-apprenticeship training is typically only a few months, with small classes, and plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty — most of the education you'll receive is hands-on. You'll typically need to pay for these courses out of pocket. You probably won't be able to get student loans for this kind of training.
Here's one example from Thompson Rivers University; you may find others at colleges or universities near you.
Step 2: Become an apprentice
Apprenticeship is where you'll learn the core of your trade. To become an apprentice, you need to find a working plumber to take you under their wing. As an apprentice plumber, you'll be paid for your labour: the average wage for an apprentice plumber in Canada is around $26 per hour, depending on your location and skill level.
As an apprentice plumber, you'll split your time between on-the-job learning, and in-classroom learning. Together, you'll get a well-rounded education, coupled with plenty of practical experience. Here's an example of in-class training from Algonquin College; to enrol, you must already be employed in the trade.
How to find a professional plumber to take you on as an apprentice
If you're not acquainted with a working plumber who will take you on as an apprentice, you'll have to do some digging. Start with Canada's Job Bank, which has a special tag for Apprenticeships.You can also try your province or territory's apprenticeship website; here's the full list, Canada-wide. These sites often have listings and advice to help you find an apprenticeship placement.
Other job boards, like Zip Recruiter or Indeed may have listings as well.
Logging in-class and on-the-job training hours
The amount of classroom and on-the-job hours you need to log depends on your province or territory. In most cases, you'll need roughly 30 weeks of "technical training" — that is, in-class instruction — which comes out to around 1,000 hours. In Ontario, that figure is as low as 720 hours, while Quebec requires as much as 1,680.
The bulk of your training comes from working on real jobs with real plumbers. You'll earn at least 5,000 hours of on-the-job experience — in Ontario, that figure goes up to 8,280! This comes out to around four or five years of full-time work as a plumber's apprentice.
Rising through the ranks: training levels
Most provinces and territories divide classroom time into four levels — Ontario's an exception with only three, and Quebec doesn't use the level system at all. These levels represent different aspects of plumber training, and take place at different times. Basically, you'll bounce back and forth between job site training with your employer and classroom training at school.
The more training levels you complete, the more advanced, complex plumbing techniques you'll learn. Once you've completed your in-class and on-the-job training, you'll receive a Certificate of Apprenticeship from your employer, and you'll be ready to get certified.
Step 3: Get certified by completing an exam
Depending on your location, getting certified as a plumber may be optional for you. Many of Canada's provinces and territories require certification — meaning that plumbing work can only be done by certified tradespeople. The following jurisdictions require certification; if they're not on this list, you don't need to write a certification exam:
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
- New Brunswick
You may still want to get certified, especially if you're pursuing your Red Seal (more on that below), but to work in places like British Columbia or Manitoba, you don't need to!
Don't stress about the need to write an exam, though. By the time you've completed your in-class technical training, and your on-the-job apprenticeship, you'll be well-equipped to complete your certification exam. Plus, the exams are usually open-book, meaning you can consult your notes as needed! Exams are in-person or virtual, and typically cost around $150.
(Ontario is the only province with a "practical" component, which means you'll have to demonstrate your skills in action. Other jurisdictions only require a written exam!)
If you're stressed, you can get help. Some schools, like George Brown College, offer a pre-exam course to shore up your skills. This one's online, takes about 60 hours, and costs around $500.
Once you're certified, you're free to work as a plumber in your province or territory. You can join a company, or even start your own! And if you're in a province that doesn't require certification, you can skip this exam altogether.
Step 4: Earning your Red Seal (optional!)
If you're super ambitious, or just like to keep your options open, you can work towards earning your Red Seal — the "final exam" of the skilled trades in Canada.
Having a Red Seal means you're licensed to work as a plumber anywhere in Canada — not just the province or territory where you trained as an apprentice. Your Red Seal exam is offered by your local apprenticeship organization.
By the time you get to this point, earning your Red Seal should be pretty easy. You'll take an exam of 125 questions, focused on topics like:
- Preparing and assembling pipes
- Installing, testing, and servicing water distribution systems
- Installing, testing, and servicing hydronic heating and cooling systems
If this sounds like Greek to you, no worries. When you take the exam, you'll have a good grasp on these subjects. You can even take a practice test to get a sense of what to expect on your Red Seal exam.
Congrats! You've worked your way to the top of the ladder and you're now a fully licensed plumber. You'll be earning a solid wage before you know it: expert plumbers can earn $87,000 per year or more! The more experience you gain, the more you'll earn in your career as a plumber.
Thanks for taking up the mantle of a skilled trade: Canada needs more people like you ready to build the future!
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