Pipe fitters typically work on large-scale projects, which means most of their employment comes from manufacturing, industry and heavy construction. In the May 2011 figures, steel manufacturing enterprises were the highest-paying employer, at an average of $66,710. Electrical utilities paid an average of $66,580 to their pipe fitters, and foundries were close behind at $66,370. Building contractors were the largest single employer, paying an average of $52,390. Large-scale non-residential construction employed the second highest number of pipefitters, paying $55,770. The building of utilities infrastructure also accounted for a large number of pipe fitting jobs, and paid an average of 47,910.
Geography also plays a role in a pipe fitter’s income. States and regions with a thriving manufacturing or resource-extraction sector have a continuous demand for pipe fitters. On the other hand, fitters who work in large-scale construction often lead a nomadic existence, moving from state to state as projects are completed and new ones begin. Alaska, with its remoteness and resource-sector emphasis, paid the highest average wages at $72,050. Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and New Jersey also ranked among the highest-paying states. Mississippi’s pipe fitters earned the nation’s lowest average wages at $37,370. The South in general offered lower wages, with the exception of Georgia.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for pipe fitters, plumbers, steam fitters and related trades to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, much higher than the average for all occupations. Employment in this trade is largely driven by manufacturing, construction and resource extraction, so if jobs are scarce in one area a fitter can usually find employment in a state with a stronger economy. Some states, such as Alaska, have a chronic shortage of skilled tradespeople and will pay a premium to recruit them.