Electrician vs Plumber - Which Trade Is Best For You?

United Kingdom United States Electrical Plumbing & Gas New Zealand Australia Apprentice/Student Tools & Guides

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It’s a question that’s fuelled debate on worksites for decades: which is the best trade? It’s a controversial topic – but of all the trades, electricians and plumbers most often come head-to-head.

Both trades contribute important work to our society. Electricians affect the health of our world — reliable electricity allows modern technology and life-saving equipment to function. But so do plumbers — delivering clean water and diverting the waste we produce.

Once you’ve compared electricians vs electrical engineers, take a look at your other options as well:

If you’re fresh into the trades and wondering which one suits you, let us put the ongoing debate of which trade is best, to rest.

Short on time? Jump ahead:

electrical wire running through a pipe

1. The day job - tasks and duties

A day in the life of an electrician

As an electrician, you’ll install, maintain, repair and replace electrical wiring, parts and equipment, as well as lighting equipment.

This may include tasks like:

  • Reading and interpreting blueprints, technical diagrams and electrical information on diagrams and plans.
  • Identifying electrical plan errors.
  • Safety-testing all work and troubleshooting any issues – including reporting and recording any problems found.
  • Performing general electrical maintenance including preventative maintenance.

Learn how to be a good electrician

A day in the life of a plumber

As a plumber, you’ll install and repair water systems in both residential and commercial properties, such as hot water tanks, gas heaters, heat pumps and central heating.

This may include tasks like:

  • Studying, analysing and interpreting blueprints and building plans to identify the layout of plumbing and water systems.
  • Installing hot and cold-water systems and other required equipment – without damaging existing infrastructure.
  • Installing fixtures such as toilets, basins, air conditioning systems, gas stoves and septic tanks.
  • Installing and repairing roofing pipes and spouting.
  • Identifying and resolving plumbing emergencies.
  • Inspecting plumbing and drainage systems and repairing or replacing damaged sewer pipes.

Learn how to be a good plumber.

2. Earning potential - average rates and salaries for electricians vs plumbers

Job satisfaction is important – but so is being paid a fair wage for your labour. Here’s what you can expect to be paid in each country when you’re just starting out and when you’re an experienced veteran in your chosen trade.

Salary figures are based on rates pulled from various employment websites. Your individual rate or salary will be dependant on factors such as local demand, role, experience, specialisations etc. Your earning potential can increase exponentially if you decide to run your own business.

For advice on starting a business, check out these articles:

Salary for electricians in the UK

Electrician salaries vary hugely across the UK – the average apprentice salary is £15,000, but if you’re in Birmingham, you could be earning £29,000 as an apprentice. The average qualified salary across the UK is £33,000, with experienced electricians based in Reading, London or Cambridge earning much more – upwards of £42,000 per year.

Salary for plumbers in the UK

Entry-level plumbing positions usually pay around £13,000 per year, although the average salary for an apprentice plumber is around £15,000. An experienced plumber in the UK earns an average of £32,000 annually, but can earn more. If you’re based in a city, particularly in Oxford, Watford or London, you can demand a higher wage for your services.

Salary for electricians in Australia

Apprentice electricians in Australia will start on an entry-level salary of about $18 per hour, but this quickly escalates once you are qualified. As your career progresses, your salary opportunities depend on where you live – in Western Australia, you could earn $130,000 a year. The average annual salary for electricians is $85,000 in New South Wales and Northern Territories, and $70,000 in all other states.

Salary for plumbers in Australia

Apprentice plumbers with less than four years’ experience have an average hourly rate of $17 in Australia. Once you’re qualified and have some experience, you’ll quickly earn more. Some plumbers reportedly earn more than $110,000 per annum but the average annual salary for an experienced plumber is $70,000.

The average pay for plumbers in Australia varies wildly depending on your state:

  • $60,000 in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia
  • $65,000 in Northern Territories
  • $70,000 in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania
  • $80,000 in Australian Capital Territory

Salary for electricians in New Zealand

Electricians doing an apprenticeship or still in training usually start on minimum wage, and this will go up to between $24 - $33 an hour once qualified. If you have plenty of experience or manage a team, you may earn $34-45 an hour.

Salary for plumbers in New Zealand

Apprentice and trainee plumbers usually start on the adult minimum wage ($20/hr at the time of writing). Your pay will increase as your skills progress. Newly qualified plumbers can expect to earn $25 an hour, and with experience, work their way up to $41 per hour. If you own a plumbing business, there’s potential to earn much more.

Salary for electricians in the USA

Electricians in the USA earn an average of $24 during their first year of work. This can increase $30 and beyond, with experience, perhaps more depending on your state.

Salary for plumbers in the USA

Plumbers in the USA earn an average of $21 during their first year of work. This can increase past $30 with experience, and even more, depending on your state. 

For those looking to run their own trade business, you get to decide your own rate. But of course, you still have to be realistic about it. For guidance on calculating your charge-out rate, use our calculator.

Calculate Your Charge-Out Rate

3. Getting qualified as an electrician or plumber - study and training required

To qualify as an electrician or plumber, you’ll need some serious training and on-the-job experience. We've outlined the requirements for different regions below.

dan from dss electrical laughing with his apprentice

Becoming a qualified electrician in the UK

  • Take a college course, such as a Level 2 Diploma in Access to Building Services Engineering (Electrical), Level 2 and Level 3 Diploma in Electrical Installation, or T level for Installation and Maintenance Electricians.
  • Do an advanced installation and maintenance electrician apprenticeship.
  • Apply directly – if you’ve got experience in a related trade, relevant qualifications and a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, you could apply for a job directly.

To qualify as either a plumber or electrician in the UK, you’ll need some GSCEs behind you. More information can be found on the National Careers Service website.

Becoming a qualified plumber in the UK

  • Take a college course, such as a Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Plumbing and Domestic Heating, or T level for Plumbing and Domestic Heating Technicians.
  • Do an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship in plumbing and domestic heating – this will take up to four years.
  • Work in the job – in the UK it’s possible to train on the job and work as a plumber’s assistant to become qualified.
  • Apply directly – if you’ve got experience in a related trade, relevant qualifications and a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, you can apply for a job directly.

Becoming a qualified electrician in Australia

You need to complete a traineeship (Certificate II in Electrotechnology) or a four-year apprenticeship. Once you’ve got that, you need to apply for an Electrician’s Licence. Requirements vary depending on your area – follow the licencing body guidelines for your state:

Becoming a qualified plumber in Australia

You’ll need to do four years of training while employed as an apprentice. This will accredit you with a Certificate III in Plumbing. To find an apprenticeship near you, reach out to Australian Apprenticeships or the Group Training Organisation.

Becoming a qualified electrician in New Zealand

It’ll take you between three and four years to become a qualified electrician. You need to do an apprenticeship through The Skills Organisation and complete a New Zealand Certificate in Electrical Engineering Theory (Level 3). You also need to register with the Electrical Workers Registration Board.

Becoming a qualified plumber in New Zealand

Between two to four years of training are required to become a qualified plumber. You’ll need to complete an apprenticeship for a New Zealand Certificate (Level 4) in Plumbing. Once you’ve got this, you also need to register with the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board.

Becoming a qualified electrician in the USA

Requirements vary by state, but the general process is outlined below. Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics guide to becoming an electrician for more information.

  1. Get your high school diploma or GED.
  2. Complete an apprenticeship or training at your local trade school.
  3. Research and apply for an electrical license if your state requires it.

Becoming a qualified plumber in the USA

Requirements vary by state, but the general process is outlined below. Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics guide to becoming a plumber for more information.

  1. Get your high school diploma or GED.
  2. Complete an apprenticeship or training at your local trade school.
  3. Research and apply for a plumber's license if your state requires it.

4. Working conditions for plumbers vs electricians

An electrician's work environment

Wherever there’s electricity, there’s a need for an electrician. No two days are the same and there’s no limit to where you could work.

Electricians can work in places like:

  • Residential homes
  • Office buildings
  • Commercial and industrial sites
  • Boats & ships
  • Retail stores
  • Construction sites
  • Power generation stations and substations

Working around electrics has obvious risks, but you should also be comfortable with other hazards like heights.

A plumber's work environment

There’s a need for plumbers almost everywhere as well, which is what keeps the job so exciting.

Plumbers travel to various sites for work, including:

  • Residential homes
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Offices
  • Commercial and industrial buildings
  • Farms
  • All kinds of building sites

Life as a plumber will get you outdoors and away from a stuffy office building, but you should also be ready to work in all weather conditions.

pipefix plumbing sitting next to a toilet fitting parts

5. Work/life balance – hours on the job

Work/life balance as an electrician

Electricians average between 30-40 hours per week, but it’s not a job you can guarantee will be 9 am - 5 pm, Monday to Friday. Expect to work overtime, on weekends and during holidays to fix electrical emergencies.

Work/life balance as a plumber

Typically plumbers work 37 to 40 hours per week – but they aren’t always capped at that. Given the nature of the job, you’re likely to work overtime and weekends, as you may be on call for plumbing emergencies. Plumbers often work late nights and shift work.

For those running their own business, your hours are up to you. But to be successful, you'll be working a lot harder than most. Find out what it's like to run a trade business by listening to real tradespeople in our 'Behind the Tools' podcast.

Watch the videos on YouTube or listen to our podcast on your favourite platform:



6. Career growth – job progression opportunities

Career progression for electricians

Electricians have ample growth opportunities in their careers. With hard work, an electrician could move into a role such as:

  • Site supervisor
  • Project manager
  • Electrical engineer
  • Foreman
  • Consultant for a building or engineering company

In the UK, completing an Electrotechnical NVQs Levels 2-3 (2356) assessment will see you become a fully qualified electrician. Back that up with your experience, and you could move into a role as Master Electrician – a big career progression that could come with a decent pay bump. Many experienced electricians also decide to take the leap and start their own businesses.

fitting a white pipe under the sinkCareer progression for plumbers

There’s plenty of opportunity for career growth as a plumber as well. In the UK, you can progress your career by attaining an ACS gas qualification that certifies you to work on domestic gas appliances or be certified to install oil-fired appliances with the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC).

In Australia, Seek offers great resources to upskill your plumbing knowledge via short online courses. If you think you’d like to run your own business one day – you’re in luck. The vast majority of plumbers are self-employed or work for small companies. There’s also the opportunity to further your study and open career doors as an engineer.

7. Transferable skills to take you anywhere

If you’re already a tradesperson, or you’re looking to become one, you'll need a few essential traits to succeed in the trades. You'll need to be hardworking, motivated and a strategic thinker. These attributes will help you learn a trade and become adept faster.

But what other transferable skills come with a qualification?

Transferable skills for electricians

  • Ability to install electrical wiring and fixtures.
  • Skill in drawing wiring diagrams and floor plans.
  • A basic understanding of physics and maths.
  • Knowledge of electrical theory and laws.
  • Knowledge of codes and standards of practice.
  • A solid understanding of health and safety in the workplace.

Transferable skills for plumbers

  • Ability to interpret plans, instructions and designs.
  • An understanding of plumbing and draining methods and materials.
  • Skills in soldering and welding.
  • Basic electrical systems knowledge.
  • A solid understanding of health and safety in the workplace.

8. Job security – work opportunities as an electrician vs plumber

A big factor in deciding what career to pursue is job security. There’s no point spending years in training – only to find you can’t get a job. Fortunately, trades are almost always in high demand.

wiring a fuse switchboard

Job security for electricians in the UK

In a UK study from 2020, electricians were considered the second ‘most in-demand tradespeople’ (you'll never guess number one!). Perhaps due to the fact many people were making repairs and renovations to their homes while in lockdown. Aside from that, fewer people are pursuing careers as electricians in the UK. It’s expected that by 2023, the UK could be short 10,000 electricians. Knowing this, it makes a lot of sense to train as an electrician now – and work your way up that ladder while demand continues to increase.

Job security for plumbers in the UK

Where there’s a pipe, there’s a need for a plumber. Plumbers are always going to be in demand – but in the UK, that demand is increasing. The same study mentioned previously found that plumbers were indeed named the ‘most in-demand tradespeople’. Again, this could be because of the pandemic – many UK householders decided to put their holiday money towards house repairs instead. Although the pandemic work won’t hang around forever, it’s safe to say the demand for plumbers most likely will.

Job security for electricians in Australia

According to Seek, electricians will see a 4.9% increase in job opportunities over five years. This isn’t as large an increase as the predicted growth for plumbers, but job opportunities for electricians are still very high in Australia. There are currently more than 8000 electrician jobs advertised on Seek, compared to just over 3000 for plumbers.

Job security for plumbers in Australia

Many industries require the services of a plumber, so it’s no surprise that the demand for skilled plumbers is increasing. According to Seek, there’s a predicted five-year job growth of 9.5% across Australia. Training as a plumber now will mean many work opportunities in the coming years.

Job security for electricians in NZ

The chance of getting a job as an electrician in New Zealand is very high for several reasons. Along with the government’s housing schemes, there’s a huge increase in new residential and commercial building around the country. Plus, many electricians are nearing retirement age, more than the number of people entering the workforce. The rate of school leavers studying to become electricians is so low that the government is encouraging electricians from abroad to come and work in New Zealand. If you train as an electrician, you’ll be in high demand.

Job security for plumbers in NZ

Job opportunities for plumbers are currently high in New Zealand. There’s predicted growth in the construction industry, in part due to the government’s KiwiBuild scheme over the next decade. There’s also more work to strengthen earthquake-prone homes and upgrade leaky buildings. Along with an increase in work, there are currently fewer people training to become plumbers. For job security, a career as a plumber is looking pretty promising.

Job security for electricians in the USA

The electrical trade is growing much faster than average in America, predicted to be about 8% over the next 10 years. One source even claims a figure as high as 14% by 2024! Environmentally-friendly energy sources, such as wind and solar power, are projected to become increasingly popular in the coming years. That puts electricians in a pretty stable position as far as job security goes.

Job security for plumbers in the USA

The plumbing trade is growing at an average rate in America, predicted to be about 4% over the next 10 years. Although one source claims a rate of 12% by 2024. Plumbers will always be in demand, they won't be automated by machines any time soon, and they can't be outsourced overseas. Plumbing is a solid career with good job security in America.

9. Electrician or plumber? You decide!

Both trades are sure to provide great job security and growth opportunities, but deciding what trade best suits you is ultimately a personal thing. If you love a technical challenge, are comfortable with heights and around electrics, a career as an electrician may be for you. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, as a plumber you’ll be part of a workforce that helps create cosy, safe and healthy homes.

Whichever you choose, if you’re motivated and keen to get stuck in – a career as either an electrician or a plumber will prove to be a rewarding one.

Keen to start your own trade business?

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