Would you consider a career in plumbing?

New York's mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, caused raised eyebrows in some circles when he recommended that new high school graduates bypass expensive college degrees to take on a career like plumbing. While it is true that some trade schools are less costly than some colleges and that plumbing can be lucrative, no one should jump into the field without knowing what it is all about. 

The skilled professionals who maintain Manhattan water main and sewer systems are experts in specialized fields that require good people skills and an understanding of technology as well as the ability to work under unpleasant conditions. The task list for plumbers goes far beyond new construction and clogged toilets. Whenever a need arises to dig where lines are present, excavators have to know exactly where they are to avoid hitting them. Line detection involves high tech electronic equipment. So does inspecting the inside of pipes with a video camera to find obstructions. Leak detection requires a knowledge of the structure and function of the plumbing system itself. The truck-mounted equipment used in clearing lines by water jetting can be hazardous if improperly operated, so technicians must by highly trained and must comply with detailed safety regulations. Even the replacement of sewer lines must be done right to conform to building codes. 

Mr. Bloomberg is right in suggesting that plumbing is a viable alternative to positions that require more education. Even prospective plumbers, though, should think carefully about whether the field is right for them.