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A pipelayer is a plumbing and construction expert who specializes in preparing and installing pipelines. Professionals carefully excavate ground, lay down sections of pipe, and secure joints by welding or cementing them together. A pipelayer might work for a municipal government organization to work on city sewer and gas lines, or find employment at a private contracting company to install pipes at homes and businesses. Most people who decide to become pipelayers spend several years in apprenticeship programs before working independently.
When a large sewer or water line needs to be installed, a team of pipelayers are brought in to do the job. To begin a project, they follow blueprints and instructions from supervisors to dig trenches to appropriate depths. Professionals take frequent measurements of the slope of the ground to ensure trenches are kept level during the digging process. A major sewer project may require pipelayers to utilize heavy equipment and vehicles, including dump trucks and backhoes. For a relatively minor job, a pipelayer usually works with hand tools, such as shovels and pickaxes.
Once a trench is dug, a pipelayer cuts and places sections of pipe in the appropriate orientation. Cement, metal, or plastic pipes may be used in a project, and workers know how to cut and mold each type to fit blueprint specifications. Pipelayers cement or weld sections together at joints to ensure airtight, strong seals. Workers inspect finished jobs to ensure pipes are secured before they are covered with dirt or concrete.
Many pipelayers specialize in performing repairs on existing plumbing structures. If a pipe leaks or bursts, a skilled pipelayer can identify the source of the problem and remedy it by sealing a crack or replacing a section. A professional may be asked to work on a variety of pipes and systems, including gas lines, water mains, and storm drains.
There are no set educational and training requirements to become a pipelayer, though most workers hold high school diplomas and participate in apprenticeships to learn the fundamentals of the trade. Some people pursue certificates from accredited technical schools to improve their credentials and better prepare for the job. Apprentices master their trade by working alongside experienced professionals for up to five years. New workers who successfully complete their apprenticeships can apply for journey worker certification.
A pipelayer usually enjoys advancement opportunities with several years of experience and proven skills. Many pipelayers become construction supervisors within municipal organizations and private companies, where they schedule and oversee work activities. With continuing education and success on a licensing exam, a professional can also become a master plumber.