National outlet highlights successful San Antonio plumber

CNBC went Working with a San Antonio plumber who says he makes six figures a year.

The national outlets Working series highlights people with creative or non-traditional career paths. Richard Armendariz tells CNBC that trading jobs were part of the push for Churchill High School graduates. The 30-year-old dropped out and earned his GED, then began working toward his associate’s degree at a community college in San Antonio. He says he was three credits short of completing his degree, but a psychology book got in the way.

“I was 19 at the time and I just couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford to get it,” Armendariz said in the CNBC interview. “I was very disappointed because I really, really wanted to get my associate degree. I think I was maybe three credits away from it and it crushed me. I did. I didn’t know what else to do and my girlfriend at that moment, who is now my wife, she had just found out she was pregnant. So I really had to push to get something done. I didn’t want to have a stable future.”

He says he felt judged by his peers for not taking a more traditional route.

Armendariz started working for a pool company, but had no fixed salary. Although he was nervous, he decided to change his path and turned to his father, whom he had not spoken to in years. The two met at a restaurant so that the elder Armendariz could meet his grandson and give fatherly advice. He referred his son to plumbing training.

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Ten years later, Armendariz says he expects $105,000 this year. He says he started in the industry and made $12 an hour, but earned pay raises quickly, especially after becoming a journeyman. He is currently in the process of earning his master plumbing license, which could put him in the position of earning $86 an hour for Bluefrog, a local plumbing company.

“With a trade permit you can work in a residential area [buildings], where a journeyman allows you to do both residential and commercial and run your job boards,” he tells CNBC. “The master’s license here in Texas is more for when you’re going to own your own business.”

Armendariz says the money helps his family. His wife has an expensive operation on the way that she can pay almost in full without insurance. Still, the days can be grueling.

His normal schedule is Monday through Friday, but on weekend call-offs, he has no time for anything else. He says he knows when he’ll start the day even on his regular schedule, but the time he gets home can be a toss-up. Some days he doesn’t come home until 9pm or 10pm, sometimes without eating.

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He tells CNBC that most of his daily routine consists of comforting the customer.

“A large part of our work consists of comforting the customer. I’d say this probably accounts for 60 to 70 percent of our work,” he told CNBC. “It’s very important that we have some kind of empathy for them because for us plumbers we see it every day. I’m leaving a house and it’s flooded. I’m going to another house and it’s flooded. So for me my work environment doesn’t change. But for them this is the end of the world as they know it.”

That skill was most important in February, during the winter storm. Armendariz says he received up to 500 calls a day while his family was without water for seven days in a row.

“I am very happy that I have kept up this career because it has paid off,” he says. ‘Sanitary, yes, there’s money in it. But it’s fun, I enjoy it. It’s nice to help someone. It feels good. It feels good to help someone who happens to be making money from it.”

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