Considering The Trades
Trades are an important part of any society; they’re what builds it and keeps it running. Here in Australia, the trades are a popular choice of career and part of our culture. Stability, good pay, and opportunities for growth; what’s not to like?
With the variety of trades, people can find one that fits their talents and skills.
Plumbers and electricians are popular choices of trade, some of the most popular in the country. They’re both well-known for good pay, high demand and the ability to transition easily to an electrical business owner at will. Lots of potential tradies consider plumber or sparky as their top options, but it can be hard to make the choice between them.
Plumbers and electricians share many similarities in training, apprenticeships and work-life balance, but it is the details that matter when you’re considering what could be a lifelong career or the foundation for a business.
We’ll go through some of the similarities and differences between plumbing and electrical, as well as what else to consider if you’re still not sure which pathway you prefer.
Certification and Training
Both plumbers and electricians require vocational training at TAFE or another applicable trade school before they can get an apprenticeship. Anyone wanting to work as a plumber or electrician first needs to earn a Cert II in their chosen field before they can apply for apprenticeships.
Electricians have to complete at least a Cert III at a trade school and complete a four-year apprenticeship under a licenced electrician. There may need to be additional studies if an apprentice wants to work in a particular field, such as communications or security.
To become licensed as a plumber, apprentices must complete a Cert IV and four years of an apprenticeship. To have your apprenticeship count, it needs to be under the supervision of a fully licenced plumber; that way, your work will be legally recognised. The paperwork is worth it!
The foundation of this training/apprenticeship can lead to all sorts of roles within each trade sector. Technology is evolving and some tradies choose to focus on new tech to make their niche. Electricians need to be switched onto where the technology is going: the work doesn’t stop at wiring!
Further training depends on where a tradie is in their career, their current goals and what interests them. You’ll gain experience as you work, and you never know what kind of niche you might want to fill. That’s a great thing about trades, you’re always able to grow in your field.
Workplaces and Workstyle
This can be the tricky part before you decide on something like a trade. You could pick a path and find out it’s not the right fit when the practical training begins or need a few tries until you find the right trade for you. That’s perfectly normal, plenty of us change jobs and train/retrain until we find where we fit.
But with a major draw of the trades being the stability of the industry, it’d be nice to get it right on the first go.
With each trade comes a different working environment. No matter where you work or what trade you choose, there will be a variety of work environments and jobs to tackle. Plumbers and electricians especially will have a wide range of different worksites, depending on their area of expertise: residential, commercial, construction etc. You could even work on the same site in a different capacity from other electricians and plumbers. Someone has to wire and plumb the office space that’s being built alongside a big production factory project, for example.
Contractors have a broad scope of work and are responsible for managing the entire project. Contractor Casey would be responsible for coordinating the various subcontractors to make sure they can all get their job done when they need to, such as making sure the kitchen is plumbed properly before the cabinetmakers build the cabinetry over it. Contractor Casey would ensure the project stays on schedule and oversee the quality of work. Subcontractors, however, have a narrower scope of work. They focus purely on their own trade and work to complete their tasks on schedule so Homeowner Hwang can move in on time.
We’ll start with the obvious: you’ll be doing a lot of manual labour. Plumbers are hands-on and hands-in (pipes, walls, mud, you name it) and should expect lots of physical work.
Plumbers will need to be able to tolerate noisy and messy work environments and work in unusual spaces (such as under houses or in ditches.) There’s a lot of variation for plumbers, and its unlikely tradies will find it boring or samey from day to day.
Some of the jobs plumbers undertake are:
● Install and maintain hot water systems
● Install and maintain gas systems such as fittings and flues
● Emergency callouts for leaks and blockages
● Designing and assessing plumbing system layouts, such as water, sewerage and drainage
Plumbing risks can involve mould and chemical exposure, working in confined spaces, slippery surfaces and contaminated water.
Being an electrician also requires physical labour such as lifting, carrying equipment and using tools. Electricians will require higher manual dexterity, which means a high level of fine motor control and hand-eye coordination. Electricians will typically be working with a lot more parts and need high attention to detail.
Some sparkies can find their role gets monotonous task-wise, but there can be lots of variation in worksites and job requirements.
Some of the jobs electricians undertake are:
● Fixing and fitting light fixtures/systems
● Designing and installing smart home systems
● Installation of solar batteries and solar panels
● Maintaining and repairing electrical systems and components
There is a higher element of danger to being an electrician. There are plenty of procedures and safety precautions, but working with electricity will always pose a high risk to sparkies. There are also risks due to working in confined spaces, at heights, and the ever-present respiratory hazards that come with working in and around construction.
No matter what anyone says, pay is an important factor. You’ll take pride in your work and your skills and, of course, be paid what you’re worth for them! But let’s be real. Pay can be the ultimate decider for some people, and that’s completely fine.
So, let's look at the differences between plumbers and electricians: what the average wage for a plumber/electrician is, the average yearly earnings and the ranges of pay.
Keep in mind that these are averages. Pay can change depending on location and demand; some places will have higher-paid plumbers on average, others higher-paid electricians. It depends on the market and businesses in the area and the kinds of projects available.
The average wage for an electrician in 2023 is $48, while the average wage for a plumber is $43.50.
The wages demonstrated above showcase each trade’s current earning potential. These will always shift, but each average gives a good idea of what you can expect.
Interested in how we calculated these averages? Here are the wage ranges we used:
The wage range for a journeyman electrician is $40 to $61 an hour.
The wage range for a journeyman plumber is $33 to $54 an hour.
Average yearly earnings
Sometimes it’s nice to have a solid yearly number to work with. Hourly rates don’t always give a good scale on what you can earn. We’re using the Indeed average salary for journeyman tradies.
The average salary of a journeyman electrician is $83,300 per year.
The average salary of a journeyman plumber is $75,000 per year. In our Plumbing Hourly Rates article, we cover more in-depth numbers for the plumbing trade.
When considering pay, your level of training and specialisation are both very important. Both plumbers and electricians can study further and specialise in particular areas.
Plumbers, for example, can specialise in gas fitting, fire prevention, HVAC and others to expand their skills and get higher-paid work.
On the other hand, electricians can choose to specialise in communications, security, renewable energy and more.
Apprentices can get an introduction to all sorts of specialisations as they complete their studies. The businesses that take on apprentices will all have their own areas of expertise, and that kind of on-the-job training and experience is invaluable. Apprentices from the same group of students can have vastly different experiences and pathways, depending on where they apply.
Licensed plumbers and electricians have invaluable insight; you might find the right fit thanks to your supervisor!
There is also the level of experience and training to consider. Apprentices make a percentage of the average wage, while journeyman plumbers and electricians will likely make the average in pay, give or take a little.
From there, experienced journeymen can earn more by becoming master plumbers or master electricians.
Master plumbers and electricians are tradies that are recognised in their field as highly-trained, experienced and trustworthy. Each industry has a Master’s association: Master Plumbers and Master Electricians.
These associations are run by experienced tradies for tradies. They provide the certification and training needed to become a recognised master plumber or electrician, with the expectation that as a representative of the association, you will adhere to high standards and excellent work. They provide industry news and updates, info about new technology and practical support for their members.
Note: Master Plumbers have an Association for each state and territory in Australia, while Master Electricians cover Australia-wide membership.
A very important factor to consider before you jump into training. No one wants to get to the end of a degree or earn a licence just to find it impossible to land a job in their chosen field!
The great news is that plumbers and electricians don’t have that problem. Both trades are in high demand across the country, and realistically we’ll never stop needing plumbers and electricians. Even if some areas suffer, essential trades like plumbing and electrical will always be in demand.
Electricians do currently have an edge over plumbers due to the nature of technology and the demand for updates. As new stuff is released and people want their homes to be energy-efficient, secure and/or smart, more electricians are needed to set up and maintain those systems.
That’s not to say there isn’t demand for plumbers: water system efficiency, refrigeration, and agricultural demands keep growing and changing.
It’s impossible to tell how market and demand will develop and what the future holds, but there is stability in plumbing and electrical that is hard to match.
Your Own Business
The best part about considering plumbing or electrical is the prospect of growth. Plumbers and electricians have plenty of opportunities to start their own businesses and take control of their work. Both trades have a large rep in the small business market, and any plumber or electrician with the drive can start their own business!
Whatever field you land on, be it plumber, electrician or another trade, you’ll need to start thinking about the needs of your business. Even if you’re just starting your tradie journey or still undecided, you’ll need the right tools in the future!
Our guide on how to start a trade business can give you some inspiration and confidence that the trades are the right pick for you. Plumber or electrician, you have the capacity to grow and establish a lasting career, given hard work and smart work!