Updated November 2016
Have you ever considered becoming a plumber in the UK but didn’t know where to start or what to expect from such a career? There is no better time to become a plumber in England than now.
‘Britain hit by worst skills shortage for 30 years’, stated a February 2015 headline by the Daily Mail of UK.
Among these much-needed skills in short supply is plumbing. But how exactly do you become a plumber in England and what rewards can you reap from joining this skilful field?
First of all, it starts with your personality. Are you the kind of person that enjoys working with your hands skilfully and doesn’t mind getting soaked occasionally while on the job? If yes then plumbing is for you.
What Qualities Are Needed in a Plumber?
Certain characteristics and skills are necessary for you to succeed as a plumber in England, or anywhere else for that matter.
– Ability to interpret technical drawings and building plans
You will be working with drawings of water systems and building layouts a lot of the time. You have to be able to read and interpret these.
– Ability to work with your hands skilfully
Plumbing is a practical job and so you have to be able to handle different tools with your hands.
– A keen eye for problem-spotting and solving
Clients will call you without a whole clue as to what the problems is. You have to be good at diagnosing problems and solving them.
– A careful and orderly work culture
The plumbing field demands that you are orderly in your approach to work. The ability to understand and adhere to safety and legal regulations will ensure your own and your client’s safety, as well as the successful completion of jobs.
– Ability to handle different types of people.
Most of the times, you will be dealing with different types of people. Some will be good and others not so. You won’t have a problem if you are able to accommodate all sorts of people.
– Teamwork as well as the ability to work alone
On Big projects, you will have to work with a team. You, therefore, have to be a good team player but should be equally good at handling solo jobs.
– Reasonable level of fitness
To be a successful plumber, you have to be physically fit. Your work is mostly physical and demands that you be capable of quite strenuous activities.
Education Requirements for Becoming a Plumber in UK
There are two different routes you can choose to become a plumber in England: through a recognised apprenticeship, and by taking part or full-time plumbing courses
Plumbing Apprenticeships in the UK
By joining an apprenticeship, you may acquire a full qualification after two or three years. With this route, you will get a chance to secure some practical experience as you study at a college. There are different recognised plumbing apprenticeships in England depending on the type of work demanded in the area. All you have to do is join one that suits your desired type of plumbing work.
Full or Part-Time Plumbing Courses
The other path to becoming a plumber in England is by enrolling at a college or training center full or part-time. These colleges will equip you with some practical plumbing skills, industry safety and health, and general plumbing knowledge. The main courses involved are:
Level 1 Certificate Introduction to Plumbing
This course introduces you to the basics of plumbing. It covers:
- Basic plumbing systems
- Bending processes
- Above ground drainage
- Health and safety
Entry requirements for Level 1 Certificate Introduction to Plumbing vary from college to college, but, as an example, South and City College Birmingham requires you to have literacy and numeracy at entry level 3 or above. The course takes a year.
Level 1/2 Diploma in Plumbing Foundation
The Level 1/2 Diploma in Plumbing Foundation is a more specialised course which will advance your understanding of the effects of gravity on water, and cold/heat and pressure. The course is not just for plumbing entrants but is also suitable for those with industry experience as well. Apart from further developing your Health and Safety skills, you will tackle Cold, Hot and Central Heating systems. From there, you can advance into Gas or Renewable pathways at a higher level.
Level 2 Diploma in Access to Building Services Engineering
This course is an intermediate qualification for people looking to become plumbers in England. It will give you a practical glimpse into plumbing for a duration of 1 year. By the time you are successfully through, you will understand and be able to demonstrate the fundamentals of plumbing operations. The course will also enable you to understand the following:
- Carry out safe Building Service Engineering (BSE) working practices
- Apply environmental protection measures within BSE
- Roles, responsibilities and procedures in BSE
- Apply scientific principles within mechanical services engineering.
Once you complete Level 2 Diploma in Access to BSE you can progress to Level 2 Diploma in plumbing Studies.
Level 2 Diploma in Plumbing Studies
The Level 2 Diploma in Plumbing Studies prepares you for entry into the industry. You should, therefore, expect practical real-world learning in a realistic working environment. The learning mode is mostly through practical workshops, but there is also classroom theory work involved. The duration varies from college to college, but you can expect anything from 18 to 24 months. City College Coventry, for example, requires 2 years of study. The areas covered in this course are:
- Health & Safety
- Electrical Principles
- Scientific Principles
- Common Plumbing Processes
- Cold Water Systems
- Hot Water Systems
- Central Heating Systems
- Drainage Systems
What about Short Courses?
There are fast-track plumbing courses promising quick results. While all should be considered on a case by case basis, it is generally risky to dish out money in pursuit of a quick plumbing qualification.
Plumbing is more than mere pipe unblocking. It is a technical field requiring a good time of study and actual practice. Most but not all qualifications obtained from these fast-track private colleges are not recognised by City and Guilds or other qualification awarding bodies.
The best way to approach these fast-track plumbing colleges is to ask how much time is given to each area of study, then check if the college is industry-recognised.
Once you have completed these courses, you now have a chance to proceed to an apprenticeship for industry experience. After sufficient apprenticeship, you will be up for qualification as a full-time industry-recognised plumber in England. The qualifications are awarded by EAL, City & Guilds and BPEC. Theses awarded qualifications are:
- Level 2 (NVQ) Diploma in Installing and Maintaining Domestic Heating Systems.
To attain this qualification, you must demonstrate adequate mastery of the following:
Mechanical engineering services
- Safety & Health at work
- Interpreting drawings, specifications, data.
- Proper use of tools and implementation of work processes
- Calculation and quantification of materials from technical drawings and building plans.
- Materials and Building construction methods used in the MES sector
- Identify, plan and prepare domestic installations
- Installation of system components and pipework
- Test, pre-commission and decommission systems
Maintenance of system components
Identify and establish customer requirements and prepare the work location for routine maintenance.
Correctly de-activate and re-activate and test systems and test outcomes..
Diagnose fault and routinely maintain system components
- Level 2/3 (NVQ) Diploma in Domestic Plumbing and Heating
The Level 2/3 Diploma is an industry recognised advanced qualification suitable for those trying to move forward in their career as an Advanced Plumber or Heating Engineer.
To be eligible for this qualification, you have to be employed and working within the Plumbing and Heating sector as an apprentice, mate or trainee, and should have acquired a Plumbing NVQ L.2 qualification. This qualification is only attained through gaining relevant ‘on-site’ experience within the plumbing industry.
The NVQ L.3 Diploma qualification can have different durations depending on the college, and how frequent the attendance is set. Since the NVQ L.3 Diploma qualification is tailored for those who are already working, 1 day of learning per week is not uncommon and this means the course will take 24 months for most colleges. The learning sessions are a mixture of tutor-led practical training activities, structured knowledge-based classroom learning and referenced assignment work.
To be eligible for this qualification, you must:
- Hold the NVQ Level 2 in Plumbing
- Be working within the Plumbing and Heating sector
- Be fully supported by an employer throughout the progression of the course
Once you successfully complete these, you can now get certification from City and Guild, BBEC, and EAL to become a fully qualified plumber in England.
What about Foreign Qualifications?
If you have a plumbing qualifications from another country but would like to work in England, you will have to be tested in certain components of plumbing before you can be awarded certification by City and Guilds or the other certifying bodies.
It is not easy to be a qualified plumber in England. But, once you become one, you will have access to different rewarding opportunities. The UK is currently nursing a shortage of experts in the building services field.
“In London, we have seen the extraordinary statistic that one in three of the largest construction companies is having to turn down bidding opportunities due to a shortage of skilled labour”, says Mark Cahill, managing director of Manpower Group UK.
What this means for the aspiring plumber is that if you can prove yourself worthy to fill the shortage you will have no shortage of jobs. You can work in heating and ventilation, gas servicing, kitchen and bathroom fitting, and refrigeration and air conditioning. As in every field, your chances for promotion depend on how well you perform and your company’s promotion policies. Working as a self-employed plumber is also common, and, with the right approach, is equally rewarding.
How Much do Plumbers in the UK Make?
As a newly qualified plumber, you can expect to earn between £18,000 and £22,000 a year. As you advance to become an experienced plumber, you can make anything between £22,000 and £35,000 a year. The amount you make depends on your employing company and how much market is in the region. Some areas have different plumbing demands. One area, for example, may have a high market for heating and ventilation while another may be rewarding for installation of sinks, toilets, showers and water systems.
Plumbing Labour Unions in the UK
It is in the best interest of any profession in any country to have in place a labour union. This will ensure that professionals are provided with satisfying working conditions, sustainable pay and reasonable working environments. In England the unions set up for plumbers are:
-Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union
-Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC)
-Unite the Union (Unite)
These will stand for you in times of any kind of unfair treatment at any level, local or national, if you are a member.
Working Hours and Conditions
As a plumber in the UK, you can expect to work 40 hours a week. This can shoot up to 50 considering the possibility of overtime. Other than that, your employer may require you to be on call, meaning you should be ready to work in any place at any time including weekends and public holidays. There can also be emergencies in the night.
Being a plumber is a physically demanding path. You will sometimes have to work in tight spaces, outdoors in unpleasant weather conditions, and you will sometimes have to deal with sewer. It is also common to have to work from dangerous heights, but following safety measures should keep you safe.
You will be dealing with people the time and good people skills are necessary. Some may sue you for jobs done poorly but labour unions should be handy in cases of unfair lawsuits.
How Many Plumbers are in the UK?
The exact number of plumbers in the UK is not known. However, as early as 2002, The Institute of Plumbing predicted that 29,000 plumbers had to be recruited in Britain to meet demand. That was more than ten years ago and while the number have most likely shifted, it was recently reported that the gap still remains unfilled.
If you love working with your hands, are mechanically inclined and have great customer relation skills then you might just be the right person to fill the current plumbing gap in the UK.