Becoming a Plumber in NYC
November 6, 2012 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in becoming a plumber. The local union has told me that its doors are closed for the next two years, so I'm looking for workarounds...

Currently I'm a project manager at an architecture firm in New York CIty. Though I like my current position just fine, my opportunities for advancement are nonexistent, and my continued employment is dependent on a shaky economy. The dream is to be self-employed, doing something that will give me a nice living, which is also relatively recession-proof. Plumbing seems like an obvious thing to fit these criteria (and it otherwise appeals to me for a variety of reasons).

My obvious first step was to contact the local union to see about acquiring an apprentice position, but I was informed (politely) that they allow 1000 applicants to apply for 100 apprenticeship positions just once every two years, and when that time comes, people line up for weeks just to apply. (The person I spoke to described it as "like American Idol auditions, but for plumbin', instead of singin' or whatever," a comparison that I found funny enough to share.)

So, I'm considering the union a no-go. And now, I turn to you: Outside of the local union, what are other possible ways to enter the profession, ideally while also maintaining a living wage? (I know I could ask any of the plumbers who work on my job sites, but as my boss has a close relationship with all of them, it's likely that he would hear of my desire to leave my job.)

The obvious solution seems to start educating myself outside of a formal apprenticeship, and then trying to acquire a position in a non-union shop that will get me the experience to eventually apply to become a licensed master plumber... As my first priority is to be self-employed, this actually seems to be a better solution than going through the union, but I honestly don't know if this is feasible. I would love to hear the hive mind's thoughts on this, as well as any other suggestions.
posted by incomple to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about being a building superintendant? Nickyskye did that (by chance) and wrote about it on the blue a while back. You'd probably get a good amount of different experience and have a leg up in two years if you wanted to apply to be an apprentice plumber.

That, or have you considered changing locals?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:33 PM on November 6, 2012

Could you leave NYC for a more hospitable union local?
posted by zvs at 1:45 PM on November 6, 2012

I've definitely thought about being a building superintendent, but I don't have the know-how for that -- Some very basic carpentry skills, but not much else. Though given the incompetent (if well-meaning) supers I've had since moving to New York, perhaps I shouldn't consider my lack of ability or experience an obstacle.

Still, I would consider training as a plumber to be a step on the way to that, rather than the other way around. (All that said, I'll definitely look for nickyskye's remarks about it. Though unless I also owned the building, it would be still pretty far short of self-employment.)

As far as leaving NYC goes, I'm not really considering it an option. And the rep I spoke with really didn't come out and say it directly, but I wasn't given the impression that other area unions would be more hospitable.
posted by incomple at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2012

My (non-union) heating/plumbing guy has always had an apprentice with him. I'm pretty sure that apprentice isn't paid, or is paid very low wages, but he's also always made sure that the guy is not just a gopher - he explains his reasoning to the apprentice when things get gnarly and allows the apprentice to at least do some of the work.

So maybe seek an apprenticeship in a non-union shop?
posted by ldthomps at 2:01 PM on November 6, 2012

That was my initial impression of how going about this work would go, idthomps, before investigating the union route. Thanks for the reassurance.
posted by incomple at 2:05 PM on November 6, 2012

Are you prepared to work for peanuts? Because if you end up becoming an apprentice in an open shop, that's what you're going to make for quite some time. Even in a union shop, it looks like first year apprentices are making $14 an hour in NYC.
posted by crankylex at 3:40 PM on November 6, 2012

Yeah, I've considered the initial step down in wage, and I could get by on $14 an hour (assuming a 40 hour week). I know I'd be years away from making a good wage, but since earning potential is enormous down the road, it's a sacrifice I'll be happy to make.
posted by incomple at 7:34 PM on November 6, 2012

Have you considered other trades? Maybe the electricians union isn't so tight? Pipefitters? Low-voltage/telco/AV? HVAC of one flavor or another? Refrigeration?
posted by werkzeuger at 3:51 PM on November 7, 2012

Local 3 (electricians) is NYC is also very tight. I don't think they accepted any apprentices this year. Part of the problem is there are a ton of journeymen who are sitting on the bench due to the economy.
posted by crankylex at 4:23 PM on November 7, 2012

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