Shortages of trained trades people has been a common theme in recent years. Baby Boomers are retiring and leaving gaps in the labour market and young people are not considering trades when planning their careers. Because of this, both Provincial and Federal governments are promoting training in these areas. The Provincial government is promoting education starting at the high school level to get students interested in trades careers that they may not have considered as a viable option.
In decades past, a teen could leave school and get hired by a plumbing company who would teach them the needed skills allow the to work as an apprentice. Easy, right? In the pre-technology era, this worked. Now, however, the complex furnaces and boiler systems, on demand water heaters, and efficiency technologies in homes mean that trades people must have in depth training and certification. If you are interested in pursuing a trade in this area, such as becoming a plumber or HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) specialist, where do you start? What is the difference between a plumber and an HVAC specialist?
"Plumbers plan, install and service plumbing systems, fixtures, piping equipment and controls. These piping systems may be used to transport water, waste, gases or hot liquids." - from Alberta Apprenticeship & Industry Training.
On a typical construction job, plumbers do the roughing in after the frame and roof of a new building are in place. In other words, they:
- study the building plans and specifications to determine the layout for the plumbing and other materials,
- locate and mark the positions for connections and fixtures,
- cut holes through walls and floors to accommodate pipes,
- select the type and size of pipe required and measure, cut, thread, bend, clamp, solvent cement, or solder pipe,
- assemble and install valves and fittings,
- join pipe sections and secure them in position,
- test pipe systems for leaks, and
- install underground storm sanitary and water piping systems.
Plumbers return to the construction site after the plasterers or drywallers, tilesetters and floor covering installers have completed their work to do the finishing work such as installing sinks, tubs and toilets.
Plumbers may specialize in the types of work they do:
- installing water conditioners,
- installing plumbing in houses under construction,
- installing plumbing in commercial, institutional, industrial or public buildings,
- renovating, maintaining and repairing existing plumbing, and
- installing hydronic heating & chilled water systems.
"Refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics install, maintain, repair and overhaul industrial, commercial and residential refrigeration (heating) and air conditioning systems and their component parts." - from Alberta Apprenticeship & Industry Training.
- Depending on their particular focus, HVAC technicians might:
- Install furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, walk-in coolers, humidification units, or air filtration systems
- Follow blueprints for installing pumps, vents, and air ducts
- Connect heating and cooling systems to water and fuel supply lines
- Install electrical controls
- Test systems to see if they are functioning properly and performing at peak efficiency
- Inspect systems to check for leaks or other maintenance issues
- Repair or replace components as necessary
- Follow government regulations for the handling and disposal of refrigerants
The training and experience required for trades people varies by province. If you are considering moving provinces make sure you check each province’s requirements. There are some basic steps (see Trade School websites) such as:
- Finding an employer who will sponsor you as an HVAC/plumber apprentice.
- Registering as an apprentice in your province or territory. (High school students can do this while in their last year)
- Enrolling in an approved heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or refrigeration training program at a vocational school. (Alberta has both NAIT and SAIT offering certification and diplomas)
- Log a designated number of work hours for your employer and complete a prescribed amount of in-school training.
- Pass all mandatory exams.
- Receive your Certificate of
- Qualification or similar credential and become a fully qualified journeyman in your province or territory.
As the trades are provincially regulated, in Alberta you will want to check out the provincial website to ensure you know the requirements. For apprenticeship programs, the first step is to find an employer in your field. That employer must be a journeyperson or the immediate responsible leader must be a journeyperson with no more than two apprentices. Not only will you be learning your trade while getting paid but the employer will be providing the necessary hours of on the job training required (about 1560 hours, see Plumber Trade Regulation). An apprenticeship can take up to four years to complete. All hours and exams must be completed before Journeyperson Certification is received
The Alberta Provincial Government has considerable information regarding trades training and regulation. It is worth checking out. Not only are the training requirements, certifications, duties, working conditions, etc, stated, but links to wages and financial assistance are noted.
Two top trade and technical colleges in Alberta (there are others) also have valuable information.
The learning doesn't stop. As with all careers, plumbers and HVAC specialists will learn throughout their career to update skills on new methods and technology. A certification to look out for is the Red Seal Certificate. Red Seal is proof that a tradesperson has been certified to work between the provinces of Canada - they have knowledge of the standards of each province.
Working in a trade is exciting, respected, challenging, and rewarding. Everyone appreciates their plumber and HVAC specialist, where would we be without them in times of need?
Alpha Plumbing is proud to display red seal certification. We are fully licensed, insured and certified to be your full service professional plumber. Contact Alpha Plumbing today to inquire about boiler services, furnace maintenance, appliance installations, leak repairs, gas hookups and more, we would be happy to help.