Updated June, 2021.
Electricians and plumbers have more in common than you might think.
They’re both respected tradespeople. They both provide an essential service that will always be in demand. They’re both well paid and if they want, can go into business for themselves.
So which trade should you choose? Should you become a plumber or an electrician?
There’s always been debate over which of these trades is “better”. The truth is, there is no right answer. But, there are a few things you can think about, to help figure out which path fits you best.
Here are 7 key points to consider when making your decision.
1. Plumber VS Electrician career options
What exactly can you do as a plumber versus electrician? What different career options will you have, depending on which path you choose?
Probably more than you realize. Electricians and plumbers do a lot more than routine residential construction and maintenance.
You’ll start out doing this kind of work—and can definitely stick with it, if you want. But with additional experience or training, there are many other career paths to choose from.
Plumber Career Options
- specialize in fire suppression sprinkler systems
- sales specialists
- medical gas installation (for hospitals and clinics)
Electrician Career Options
- power line worker
- network cabling/CATV specialist
- security and fire alarm system installation
The tasks you’ll do on a daily basis will vary quite a bit, depending on which career path you choose.
Think about your future plans, and where you'd like to work, when making your decision between plumber and electrician.
2. How long does training take?
It's a tie. It takes the same amount of time to become a plumber or an electrician. Both are regulated by the Ontario College of Trades, and required a fixed number of in-class training hours, and on-the-job instruction (apprenticeship).
In total, you’re looking at 5 years (around 9,000 hours) of education to become a journeyperson in either trade. Luckily, much of that is paid training, while you work as an apprentice!
See the official training requirements for Electricians: Ontario College of Trades—Electrician (Construction and Maintenance)
See the official training requirements for Plumbers: Ontario College of Trades—Plumber
3. Who makes more money?
This is another tie. The Government of Canada data on salaries shows plumbers and electricians make pretty much the same amount in Ontario.
If you want to be really picky, the median salary for electricians is a little bit higher...but it’s probably not enough to sway you, one way or another.
Median Electrician salary in Ontario: $30/hour (about $62,000/year)
Median Plumber salary in Ontario: $28/hour (about $58,000/year)
If you’re torn between these two trades, it will come down to something more than just money.
4. What natural skills do you need to succeed?
Let’s start with math. Everyone knows that becoming an electrician means brushing off your math skills from high school.
It’s not that plumbers never use math—but electrician students need to dive deeper into arithmetic, algebra and geometry. They need it for important tasks like:
- routine measurements (room dimensions, wiring lengths, conversions from watts to kilowatts, etc.)
- calculating voltage, current, and resistance
- calculating angles (for bending pipe and conduit around obstacles, for example)
But plumbing students have technical material to learn, too. Choose this trade, and you’ll be studying:
- Fluid dynamics
- Calculating water pressure
- Gravity, friction and kinetic energy
Both trades involve theoretical concepts, mathematical equations, and a certain amount of memorization.
You can’t say one is more “difficult” than the other. It will depend on your natural interests and skills in these areas.
To make matters more confusing, plumbers and electricians need similar “soft” skills to succeed at work. These include:
- Excellent communication skills
- Strong interpersonal/teamwork skills
- Blueprint reading
- Good customer service skills
- Excellent attention to details
- Respect for safety procedures and regulations
- Independent problem-solving skills
- Grace under pressure
Strong in all these areas? You'd do well in both trades!
5. How dirty will you get?
When people think plumber, they often think “dirty!” On the other hand, electrician is usually considered a “clean” trade. The truth is, neither assumption is totally accurate.
We already pointed out that plumbers have a lot more career options then unclogging toilets and drains. You can specialize in medical gas, for example, which involves installing gas lines for hospitals and clinics (no toilets or drains involved).
Or, you could specialize in drinking water systems, or work in new construction (installing brand new fixtures, rather than repairing old, dirty ones). The point is, you don’t need to be knee-deep in sewage all day.
On the electrician side, there’s a lot more dirt than most people realize. Electricians see their fair share of grime and gross stuff, crawling around old basements and up into attics. It all depends on where you choose to specialize.
Bottom line? If you want to work in the construction trades, you should be ready to get your hands dirty. Our own plumbing instructor, Steve Dramnitzke says it best:
“Some days, you’re super clean at the end of the day – and others, you might have to change 4 times, depending on what you’ve gotten into! You have to be open minded and ready for anything.”
6. Which trade is more in demand in Ontario?
It’s another tie between plumber and electrician. Both get the same rating for career outlook in Ontario from the Government of Canada Job Bank. That’s 2 out of 3 stars for demand—which means the job outlook is fairly stable, and expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
You can expect some competition for good apprenticeships in both trades, but there are plenty of opportunities out there. This is where a good apprenticeship program can help.
Quality training gives you a competitive edge when applying for apprenticeships—because you already have basic plumber or electrician skills under your belt. You’re not a total newbie, fresh off the street.
Wayne Rowley teaches the electrician program at Herzing, and says his top goal is producing graduates who are ready for ajob site:
“By the time they graduate, our students can do electrical and cabling tasks independently, their very first day on the job. This is the way the program was designed – to make the student valuable to the employer. Companies hire our grads because they can actually do the work.”
7. Which trade are you truly interested in?
This is what it really comes down to. When you look ahead a few years, where do you want to be?
What kind of work do you want to be doing? Can you see yourself wiring buildings, installing electrical fixtures, or maybe working for a power company or factory?
Or do you see yourself designing water systems and laying pipes? Maybe you’re working on new homes, installing custom bathrooms and kitchens? Perhaps you have your own plumbing repair business?
There’s a lot of interesting technology in both fields. Both trades offer opportunities to continue learning, challenge yourself, and keep things interesting.
When it comes right down to it, which trade are you truly interested in?
Learn more about Plumber or Electrician training
Need more info to make a decision? Reach out to an Advisor to get more details about Plumber programs and Electrician training.
An Advisor can help you figure out which trade is your best fit, given your natural talents and future goals.
They can also answer questions about tuition costs, financial aid options, class schedules, and how to apply.
Click below to explore either program and chat live with an Advisor today. We're here to help.