Steamfitters and pipe fitters typically work on new building sites laying out, assembling, and installing piping systems. They also can work on existing commercial and public buildings by maintaining and repairing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. To become a steamfitter, you typically will need to graduate high school, be at least 18 years old, and complete an apprenticeship.
A steamfitter's job typically is physically demanding and often requires climbing, heavy lifting, and working in confined spaces. Many times, working on a construction site involves long hours to keep up with construction schedules. Also, if you become a steamfitter, there is a risk to this job since you could be working on scaffolding and close to heavy machinery.
In general, to become a steamfitter you will need to be a high school graduate, or equivalent, with credits in math, science, and English. You also will need to be at least 18 years old and it could be beneficial for you to have some understanding of blueprint reading, drafting, and welding as well. In addition to these basic requirements, to become a steamfitter requires completing an apprenticeship through unions or apprenticeship programs at community colleges or technical schools. Alternatively, military training in steamfitting and pipe fitting could be a good option; people with military training are often given credit for previous experience when they enroll in civilian apprenticeship programs.
Apprenticeship programs are usually jointly administered by unions, licensing bodies, and schools and consist of four or five year of paid on-the-job training along with at least 144 hours per year of classroom training. While working on the job, apprentices learn skills such as identifying types and grades of pipes, how to use specialized tools, and safe work habits. In class, an apprentice typically will learn blueprint reading, drafting, math, physics, and chemistry, as well as local building codes and building regulations.
Following an apprenticeship, licensing is the next requirement to become a steamfitter. Specifics vary by region but in general, licensing requires at least two to five years of practical experience and the passage of a written test to demonstrate a person's knowledge. In addition, steamfitters that want to work on gas pipes usually must pass a second test that covers gas-specific knowledge.