What is the better trade - Plumber or Electrician

If you are at the start of your professional career, you may be torn between two or more trade professions. Two of the most common trade professions are electrician and plumber. There is one thing that electricians and plumbers have in common. They are both skilled trades that are in high demand.

An electrician is a tradesman specialising in electrical wiring of buildings, transmission lines, stationary machines, and related equipment. Electricians may be employed in the installation of new electrical components or the maintenance and repair of existing electrical infrastructure. Electricians may also specialise in wiring ships, airplanes, and other mobile platforms, as well as data and cable lines.

Most people think all plumbers do all day is unblock toilets and fix leaking taps and sinks. But there is so much more to plumbing than unblock toilets and fix leaking taps and sinks. To gain some insight into the world of plumbing, it is imperative to understand what plumbing is as a system of pipes, tanks, fittings, and other apparatus required for the water supply, heating, and sanitation in a building, in comparison to the work of installing and maintaining a plumbing system.

There is no doubt that both trades will continue to be in high demand for a long time, so the choice might be personal for many. You might be faced with the question – plumber vs. electrician – which job is better? However, if you are having a hard time deciding, here are some of the most important aspects about plumbers and electricians that you should know.

How Can You Become an Electrician?

Depending on the state you live in, you will either require a year 10 or year 12 level qualification as a minimum to pursue an electrician apprenticeship. Searching for an employer to take you on as an apprentice can be challenging, which is why some students opt to enrol in an electrician training program to ensure they have an adequate level of industry understanding and practical experience. This will also give them the opportunity to plan out their career in advance and take steps to choosing a specialty they would like to work towards.

Apprenticeship programs

Serving as the foundations for your career pathway, an apprenticeship program will typically span four years and be split between working for an experienced electrician and attending weekly classes. Each year of the apprenticeship equates to roughly 2,000 hours of work experience and 144 hours of classroom-based instruction. Once this program is completed, the electrician will be designated a ‘journeyman’ – in other words, a skilled worker who has completed an official apprenticeship trade qualification and is authorised to work without supervision.

Why you need to become a licensed electrician

Obtaining a licence is a must for any newly minted electrician hoping to launch a successful career in the industry. Not only does it make you more appealing to prospective clients, but it also makes it easier to join electrician associations and organisations to help network with like-minded individuals. No matter what state you are in, you must be licensed to carry out electrical work without supervision.

Career pathways for a licensed electrician

Once you have obtained your licence, there are many career streams you can take, depending on your interests and particular qualifications. A Certificate III will open up pathways to becoming a telecommunications technician, general electrician, or machine repairer. Other qualifications such as a Diploma, or Advanced Diploma in Electrotechnology will allow you to become an electrical engineer and work on exciting projects such as renewable energy. There are many study opportunities available for electricians to pursue a wide range of immensely rewarding careers. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, further specialised studies open up opportunities in other branches of electrical engineering include power engineering, control engineering, electronic engineering, microelectronics, signal processing, telecommunications engineering, instrumentation engineering, computer engineering, electro-optical engineering, and distribution engineering.

How Can You Become a Plumber?

Only licensed plumbers can do plumbing work in Australia. Most employers will only hire apprentice plumbers who have completed a TAFE or similar course in plumbing. Courses go up to Level IV in plumbing services, but you may be able to get an apprenticeship with Level II qualifications. TAFE calls these "pre-apprenticeship" courses. However, in order to receive a plumber's licence, you may have to complete training to Level IV.

Different states have different requirements for plumbing licences. You will have to work under supervision before you become fully qualified and can apply for an unrestricted plumber's licence and work independently. Usually, the apprentice period is the same as an electrical apprenticeship. You will need to work under supervision for four years. To obtain a plumbing contractor's licence, you will also need to take business courses to prepare you for operating a business.

What does plumbing involve

While the above describes plumbing as a system of pipes, tanks, fittings, and other apparatus required for the water supply, heating, and sanitation in buildings, the below describes what plumbing involves in terms of the work of installing and maintaining a plumbing system. That is, a brief description of what plumbing involves and a list of plumbing services.

In new constructions, plumbers are an essential part of the site. For some large projects (particularly multi-dwelling buildings), the plumber may be supplied with a design that has been produced by a plumbing consultant, a person who documents a suitable design for the project’s needs. If no plan is supplied though, the plumber’s job is to determine where pipes should be laid, and then to install the piping systems.

If you are building a new home, it is important for your builder to liaise with your plumber before the work commences so that everyone is clear about where pipes will be fitted. Once the plumbing design is complete and the pipes are all in place, the plumber will connect the plumbing to fixtures like sinks, showers, and washing machines. A plumber may also handle gas lines for heating and cooking, and some plumbers also pursue certification in heating and cooling systems as well - although these jobs are also done by licensed gasfitters or HVAC specialists. In some cases, your plumber will work together with your electrician on these parts of your home.

Plumbing work falls under eight different areas as described below:

  • Water supply plumbing - this is the service we are all familiar with - leaking taps, broken toilets and leaking pipes are all water related problems. Plumbing as it relates to water supply refers to the construction, installation, replacement, repair, alteration, maintenance, testing or commissioning of any water supply service.
  • Gasfitting - similar to water supply, gasfitting refers to any work done on any pipe, appliance, flue, fitting, apparatus, control, or other item that is involved with the supply or use of gas. Gas plumbing is a specialised field, so ensure that your plumber is appropriately licenced to undertake gas repair or maintenance. Further qualifications are required to work with LPG.
  • Sanitary plumbing - this work relates to any part of an above-ground sanitary plumbing system that connects sanitary fixtures (toilets, basins, taps, sinks, showers) and appliances (dishwashers, washing machines) to a disposal system or below-ground sanitary drainage system.
  • Roof plumbing (stormwater plumbing) - stormwater plumbing is a field that involves any roof covering or roof flashing and any part of a roof drainage system involved in the collection or disposal of stormwater and includes the connection of any stormwater piping to a drain or tank.
  • Drainage plumbing - work involving any part of a below-ground sanitary drainage system from the above-ground sewage or waste pipes to the disposal system; and any design work that is incidental to or associated with it. Similarly, stormwater drainage connects the roof water downpipes to the disposal point of the drainage.
  • Mechanical services plumbing - plumbing work involving mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in a building, which is associated with the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of that building. This includes work on any flues, pipes, boilers, air conditioners, associated roofing, or venting work, etc.
  • Fire protection plumbing - plumbing work that involves any part of a water service used for firefighting, from the point of connection to the water supply to any firefighting device or equipment forming part of that service. This includes things like fire hydrants, hose reels, domestic fire sprinkler systems and so forth.
  • Irrigation plumbing - work involving irrigation systems, from the water supply in the system to the last valve or control to any pressurised zone in the system.

How Much Do Electricians and Plumbers Make?

If you choose to become an electrician or plumber, you might be surprised to learn that you can make more money than many lawyers make. On average, plumbers make $78.40 per hour. Electricians make a little less. Their average hourly wage is $74.61. However, the electrician's rate went up by 4 percent in 2015-2016 while the plumber's rate went up by only 1.9 percent. That may signal more equal rates for plumbers and electricians in the future. In contrast, lawyers make an average of $37 per hour.

The hourly rates above are average wages throughout Australia. You also have to consider demand for your services. For example, in Western Australia, plumbers made an average hourly rate of $87.67 in 2015-2016. This rate was down 9.5 percent from the previous financial year because of a downturn in mining in WA. Electricians in WA earned $87.33 per hour and were not as affected by the mining downturn.

That is not to say that becoming an electrician or plumber is not a lucrative career move. As mentioned above, most electricians and plumbers earn far more than lawyers. If you look at other trades and services, they are amongst the highest paid tradies in Australia. On average, tradies in Australia make $60.88 per hour, which is less than electricians and plumbers make. Builders in New South Wales averaged $77.85 per hour in 2015-2016 and that was a 27.7 percent increase on the previous financial year.

Average wages can be deceiving. Some electricians and plumbers make less than the average and some make far more. Many report making around $65 per hour for domestic work and $75 per hour for commercial work. Even those rates are good compared to other trades and services.

If you made $75 per hour for a 40-hour work week, you would make $3000 per week or around $12,000 per month. However, many electricians and plumbers do not get 40 hours of work per week. Some may only get 5-10 hours per week in slow months. That is still decent pay compared to other jobs.

A look at annual wages can give a more accurate picture of comparative incomes. According to statistics, electricians make $85,000 per year while plumbers make $79,000 per year. This may be because electricians are in greater demand. Electrical systems need more maintenance than plumbing systems and homeowners and commercial enterprises often need to upgrade their systems.

The secret to success in electrical work is staying abreast of developments in technology and being able to do more types of work. Plumbing technology is less complicated because technology has not changed as it has in electrical work. For example, an electrician today may need to know how to install "smart" electrical technology and be able to install digital equipment.

Electrician vs Plumber: What's the Better Job?

As the pay rates above indicate, plumbers make a little more per hour than electricians, but less per year. Electricians must stay on top of new technologies to earn more and attract customers. That does not necessarily mean becoming an electrician is a better idea than becoming a plumber. It really depends on your personal preference.

What are the differences between electrical work and plumbing work?

  • Plumbing can involve more manual labour than electrical work
  • Electricians need manual dexterity to install electrical systems
  • Plumbing work can be repetitive
  • Electricians need to stay abreast of technology

Choosing the right career depends on your strengths and personal preferences. Do you enjoy learning new things and are you interested in technology? Then you should consider becoming an electrician.

Are you more inclined towards doing manual labour? Then you might want to become a plumber. But regardless of which job you will end up choosing, you will earn more than other tradies and even other professions. So, plumber or electrician, you can choose whichever job is a better fit for you.

After you have completed your course of study and apprenticeship, you can be your own boss. Then it is just a matter of how ambitious you are. If you are conscientious and know how to present yourself to clients, you can be at the top of your trade.


Information provided in the text above is general in nature and does not consider your specific professional career choices, needs and requirements. The information is not professional advice and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information in the text above as an alternative to professional advice. If you have specific questions relating to this subject, we strongly recommend that you seek independent professional career advice.