Becoming a plumber in California is one of the most rewarding and lucrative careers one can have without a college degree. However, the road to becoming a fully licensed plumber in the state can be challenging to navigate.
Not only does it start with the best plumbing trade schools in California, but it continues through apprenticeships and continuing education classes. This article will help you understand what it takes, what you can expect, and how to navigate the training required to start your new career as a plumber.
In California, you must register as a plumber when you first start your official apprenticeship training.
This does not grant you a license or a certification; it simply means the state knows of your intent to become a plumber.
Once you start your training you are an apprentice, whether you are officially in an apprenticeship yet or not.
From there, you must complete training hours through an apprenticeship or trade school (or a combination of the two).
Once initial training is complete, you can then register as a journeyman. This entails changing your status from apprentice to journeyman and passing the Business & Trade exam as well as the plumbing license exam.
Once you have board approval to sit for the exams and pass them, you will be a journeyman plumber. This allows you to work on non-bid plumbing jobs (value of labor and materials less than $500) and gain the needed experience and training to become a master plumber.
How To Become A Master Plumber in California
The next step after journeyman is to become a licensed master plumber. In California, a master plumber is known as a plumbing contractor. To become a master plumber, you must pass the exams. However, before you are qualified to even sit for the exams, you must meet the minimum criteria.
The journeyman experience can also be as a contractor, owner-builder, or job foreman. Once this criteria is met, you can then sit for the plumbing C-36 exams. After passing the exams (70% or higher), you will be licensed as a plumbing contractor and can begin working on biddable jobs over $500 in value.
Quick Guide in Choosing Your Plumbing Trade School
Before you can become a master plumber, you must start at the bottom. That means getting the education you need to start your new career. Choosing the best plumbing trade school, though, can be more of a challenge than it seems. To help, the following factors should be thoroughly considered and figured out.
The school’s location should be the right distance from either your home or current job place. Keep in mind the time of day or night when classes start, distance to travel, and traffic when you will be on the road.
However, just because a school is close to you doesn't mean it is the best overall option. There may be a better school that meets more of your needs a few extra miles up the road.
Every higher education institution needs to apply for accreditation. This process proves to the accrediting bodies they offer a minimum level of education and meet certain expectations regarding staffing, tuition, class sizes, and other things.
Without accreditation, your certificate, training or diploma may not mean anything. For example, most colleges won't accept credits for transition if the school they come from isn't accredited. If you plan to find a decent job or further your education towards a degree, school accreditation is a must.
Offers Quality Education
Beyond the minimum education standards set for accreditation, you need to make sure the education quality is something that suits your needs, specifically. The best method is to visit the campus in person and talk to current students and staff.
Figuring out how current persons feel about the school, what texts or computer software is being used to teach, and how the labs are handled, will go a long way to helping you make your final decision.
Offers Hands-on Training
As with all trades, plumbing education must have lab time or hands-on training. Some schools will limit the lab hours when you are also in an active apprenticeship, as the job will give you hands-on training.
However, as a minimum standard, your school should offer at least 50% of the course as lab hours. If you find a school that offers less than half of the course to the lab, you may want to find a different school.
Connects you to an Apprenticeship/Internship Program
Part of your journey to master plumber requires going through an apprenticeship. Many schools offer post-graduation programs that help you find jobs and apprenticeships.
This free service will help you gather needed forms and paperwork, fill out applications, and get ready for interviews. It is an invaluable service that you should take full advantage of.
Offers Customer Service Skills Training
As a plumber, you will work closely with customers on a daily basis. It is important to know how to communicate effectively and handle adverse situations. If you don’t have any prior customer service experience or training, ensure the school you choose offers at least one class on the subject.
The cost of tuition is only going to rise. You want to ensure you can afford the school. This may entail the use of scholarships, grants, or even financial aid. Before you can use these programs, though, you need to make sure the school accepts them.
Some schools may not accept outside forms of payment, though. This is usually because the courses or classes are shorter and cost much less than a full-tuition course.
16 Best Plumbing Trade Schools in California
Below we offer the best plumbing trade schools in California, reviewed and compared for you. Each school is separated by region or location so you can find the best school closest to your home or work.
Address: 1313 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA
1801 Panorama Dr, Bakersfield, CA
321 Golf Club Rd, Pleasant Hill, CA
915 S. Mooney Blvd, Visalia, CA
California Community College System is a college that spreads throughout local areas. Covering 116 campuses, this college is the top plumbing trade school in California. Four campuses offer plumbing and pipefitting training.
This course is dedicated, fast-paced, and very hands-on. Taught by industry professionals from all over the country, you will learn first-hand with some of the most modern labs, high-quality tools, and the most current codebooks and software available.
The four campuses located in San Diego, Bakersfield, Pleasant Hill, and Visalia, CA all stand out among the crowd as the best plumb trade education in their respective areas. Other schools listed below are also prominent in their cities as among the top trade schools in California.
Best Choice For: Complete plumbing apprenticeship training
San Diego, CA
Address: 1313 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
San Diego City College offers a lot of different classes in the plumbing trade. If you are interested in your associate’s degree in the plumbing or pipefitting industry, this is your best chance. Not only are the classes a part of the AA/AS degree program at SDCC, but they are also individual classes you can take for continuing education.
The 300-series courses are separate and only offered to those students actively enrolled in an apprenticeship. They meet all state requirements for classroom training for the apprenticeship and count towards the continuing education yearly credits needed for maintaining your license.
Best Choice For: Associate’s degree training in plumbing and pipefitting
Address: 6225 Federal Blvd, San Diego, CA 92114
The UA is known for its training excellence across the country, producing some of the best and finest plumbers and pipefitters from all walks of life. The Local 230 is no exception and continues this excellence in their apprentice and journeyman training center.
You must be an active apprenticeship member, of course, but when you enroll, you are open to a world of training, hands-on, real-world, and classroom training like nothing else. The local 230 also sponsors the VIP program (Veterans in Training), which gives free training (Camp Pendleton, CA) to all vets looking for a new career outside the military.
Best Choice For: Complete apprenticeship training, exams, and licensing
Address: 1801 Panorama Dr, Bakersfield, CA 93305
Most colleges will follow the Shelley-Maloney California Apprenticeship Standards Act, giving students in active apprenticeships the classroom tools they need to complete their training and become licensed plumbers. Bakersfield College goes above and beyond.
Not only can you take the classes and maintain your apprenticeship status, but you can also join an apprenticeship if you aren't already in one. Further, upon completion of the course and other required classes, you will also be award an associate's degree for plumbers and steamfitters from the college.
Best Choice For: All-inclusive apprenticeship program
Pleasant Hill, CA
Address: 321 Golf Club Rd, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523
At Diablo Valley College, you will find an apprenticeship approved course that can turn into a whole lot more. Working in conjunction with the Local 159 Union, the course meets all requirements and expectations for the apprenticeship learning curriculum.
On top of that, you can still work through the apprenticeship, get paid while you learn, and even transition to full-time status upon completion of the apprenticeship, where you can go on to get your AA degree or complete the COA for your resume.
Best Choice For: Small class sizes and one-on-one training
Address: 915 S Mooney Blvd, Visalia, CA 93277
At the College of the Sequoias Visalia campus, you can access the plumbing and pipefitters program through the Construction Trades courses. Here you will get hands-on training, small class sizes, and apprenticeship education all in one.
The courses are short, allowing you to work while you attend, so you can get paid doing the very job you are training for while still learning. Most classroom sessions can also be taken online, while the labs require in-person appearances to complete.
Best Choice For: Distance learning with apprenticeship approval
Los Angeles, CA
Address: 400 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
LATTC offers both degree and certificate courses in the plumbing trade. These courses get you ready for apprenticeship-level jobs, giving you the knowledge and understanding of the plumbing and pipefitter trade. Everything you need to know is taught in these classes, including customer service, theory, drainage, construction, replacement, and blueprints.
The best part is that, unlike most other degree courses, you don’t need to be actively enrolled in an apprenticeship to attend. You can get your degree in plumbing (AA or AS) and use the post-grad programs to find a job or find an apprenticeship.
Best Choice For: Non-apprenticeship degree
San Francisco, CA
Address: 50 Frida Kahlo Way, San Francisco, CA 94112
Combined with the Local 38 Union, the City College of San Francisco gives you the 60-month apprenticeship education where you can attend the classes and get paid through job assignments.
Completion of this course enables you to meet all requirements, including exam preparation for the journeyman license. Each apprentice is required to attend Related and Supplemental Instruction Classes, which are taught 2 nights per week, every week.
Best Choice For: Complete plumbing training through apprenticeship
Los Altos Hills, CA
Address: 12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
The plumbing technology degree or certificate programs through Foothill College are some of the most intensive and thorough courses around. Not only do you get a lot of lab time, but you also find yourself learning more in the classroom thanks to modern teaching technologies.
Working with some of the best instructors and getting dirty with hands-on lab hours is the name of the game. Each class gives you credits towards your degree and works with local unions for apprenticeship required learning.
Best Choice For: Modern technology learning
Santa Clarita, CA
Address: 26455 Rockwell Canyon Rd, Santa Clarita, CA 91355
College of the Canyons offers two certification courses. The first, the Certification of Specialization, gives you the basics of plumbing. You will learn everything you need to know for entry-level employment, including theory and technology.
The Certification of Achievement is more in-depth and covers more advanced training, building off of the basics of the CoS. Here you get more hands-on and learn blueprints, measurements, and construction techniques to further your understanding of the field.
Best Choice For: Beginner basics and understanding of plumbing
San Mateo, CA
Address: 1700 W Hillsdale Blvd, San Mateo, CA 94402
If you are looking to build your career with more than just plumbing, The College of San Mateo can help. They offer a course designed to get you certified and ready as a building inspector. These important roles must know all of the codes and construction trades to certify and protect construction sites and building codes.
Plumbing is a crucial part of the process, and all building inspectors must know proper drainage, measurements, and blueprint reading. If you are more interested in the inspection and certification side of construction, this is the course for you.
Best Choice For: Building inspection certification
Address: 1158 N. Gilbert St. Anaheim, CA 92801
Education isn't cheap, and PHCC understands that. Not only do they offer an intensive and complete plumbing trade course, but they also are fully accredited and accept scholarships and student loans. You can apply in-person or online to make things easy.
The course itself is a 42-week program (10 weeks per year) with an extra 2 weeks for journeyman exam prep and testing. Completing the course (all night classes) meets all apprenticeship requirements for the state and passing the final exam grants you the journeyman license.
Best Choice For: Apprenticeship quality training with on-the-job experience
Address: 18349 S Figueroa St, Gardena, CA 90248
A&J training is a trust fund set up for Local union members to get the required courses and classes needed to acquire a license and continue education throughout their career. Members receive the training and must complete the classes to stay current in their apprenticeship requirements.
You must be a Local member and will apply for the training through the union delegates. Once you become an A&J member, you can access the training and labs as they are available through the curriculum.
Best Choice For: Local UA member training
San Jose, CA
Address: 780 Commercial St, San Jose, CA 95112
Members of the Local 393, UA, or South Bay Piping Industry will find all the training they can handle at the Pipe Trade Training Center. Much like the A&J training in Gardena, the PTTC offers complete apprentice and journeyman training to its members.
Required classes, continuing education, and full apprenticeship labs are available for sign up when they are needed. The hands-on training is among the best in the state and uses the most modern tools, equipment and techniques, so you stay up on the latest advancements in the industry.
Best Choice For: Union affiliated member training
Address: 4842 Nutcracker Ln, Modesto, CA 95356
Local 442 in Modesto gives you the full apprenticeship experience. Not only do you get all of the book, computer, and classroom learning that is required by the state, but you have access to all the resources to stay current in the trade.
The hands-on training comes from being assigned to a plumber and working on real-world plumbing issues, and getting paid for your efforts. On-the-Job-Training is crucial to the plumbing apprenticeship, and each hour counts towards your exam requirements for licensing.
Best Choice For: Advanced training through apprenticeship level courses
Address: 1820 Tribute Rd A, Sacramento, CA 95815
PHCC of California is a growing group of training centers that keep you up to date in the piping trades. You will work while learning, meaning you can be a plumber while learning how to be a plumber. It doesn’t get more hands-on than that.
Each chapter has a training center devoted mainly to classroom education, testing, and book learning required for the apprenticeships. The lab hours are there, but minimal since you get the hands-on experience in the field. Upon completion of the program, you will not only have your license but be fast-tracked (or already) fully employed.
Best Choice For: Transition from apprentice to full-time plumber
Plumbing Training School Costs in California
School in California isn’t the cheapest thing, but it won’t be the most expensive investment you make either. California is above average in terms of school costs, though, and matches other high-profile states like New York and Massachusetts in that regard.
For a less expensive option, trade schools offering shorter termed courses will be the best bet. Those that average about 4 to 6 months in duration will cost you about $2500.
Full course-load classes, though, will last at least 12 months and can cost up to $8000. You also have the option to attend a college course through a community or state college. Those fees will depend on the type of course and if it is a certification course or a degree-granting curriculum.
Inn-state students will pay lower fees, but it will still be the same as all other credit-hour classes based on semester and availability. These courses range from about $6000 to $9000 for a certification course, through $30,000 for a degree in the construction trades.
Is Plumbing a Good Career Choice in California?
Plumbing is a good career choice anywhere in the United States. Rising demand and livable wages are found from coast to coast. In California, this is no exception. Wages, earnings, bonuses, and benefits will vary based on the hiring company and experience level, though.
California Entry Level Plumber Salary
Entry-level plumbers are apprentices and journeymen with less than 2-years of experience. Most plumbers will find their first job or two in this pay scale range, and it can last a few years before you start seeing wage increases.
According to Indeed.com, entry level plumbers in the state of California earn about $30.05 per hour. This doesn't include any bonuses, benefits, or annual overtime (averaging about $11,000).
California Plumber Salary
As a journeyman plumber with more than 4 years of experience and master plumbers will see increased wages and overtime bonuses. The average range in California for this level of experience is $56,000 to $74,000 per year, according to Salary.com.
The top 25% of master plumbers also report annual bonuses between $13,000 and $15,000 per year, along with wages that can exceed $82,000 per year.
Return on Investment
Besides being a contractor plumber in California, the return on your career investment can be quite high. You can start your own business and hire other journeymen or apprentices, and even start bidding on high-paying jobs.
With the higher than average wages, you will also be able to pay off any school or tuition debt faster than in most other states.
Demand for Plumbing Jobs in California
The demand for qualified plumbers in the state of California recently saw a huge dive, dropping from 12% expected growth (2016 - 2026) to 4% (2019 - 2029). However, it is expected to rise again, nearing 9 to 12% in the next couple of years.
As technology advances, the construction trades industry is expected to see more remodeling and new construction work requiring licensed plumbers. If you are planning or even thinking about becoming a plumber, right now is the time to start your training.
By the time training is completed and you have your journeyman license, the market will be well primed for you to enter the workforce full time.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
How much is a plumbing permit in California?
Plumbing permits will vary in cost depending on the location of the project, type of work to be done, and zoning section included in the permit. There isn't a base start to permit costs like some states have, but any work over $500 in value must have a permit.
How do I renew my California plumbing apprentice license?
Every 2 years, you will need to renew the license, which can be done online or through your union delegate. If the license lapses, you will be required to pay for and retake the exam.
Does my California plumbing license work in any other state?
No, the California plumber license doesn’t allow you to work in any other state (or vice-versa). However, if you are assisting on a job over the state line, working as an emergency crew, or have other extenuating and temporary circumstances, you can apply for reciprocity licenses in the other states.
How do I stay up to date with plumbing codes?
You are required to maintain current knowledge of the trade throughout your career. This is accomplished by taking an annual continuing education course. Most of these classes are offered through the union if you are a member or through some colleges or trade schools sprinkled across the state.
Can I do my own plumbing in California?
If the project's total cost, including materials and labor, does not exceed $500, plus it does not move, alter or replace any safety valves, water cut-off valves, or re-route existing water lines, then yes, you can. However, this limits you to replacing fixtures, repairing a small leak, or installing a new toilet. Most other projects will require a licensed plumber.
Finding the best plumbing trade school in California is only difficult because of the vast number of them. California has some of the most challenging education standards, and almost any school you attend will meet more than the minimum requirements.
However, there is a lot more to choosing the best school for you than the education it offers. Location, post-grad programs, and other factors covered in this article will all play a role. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand what it takes to become a plumber in California and showed you the best schools in your area to enroll in.
Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.