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Plumber

Source of Information: Next Step / DirectGov / Careers Advice Service

Plumber

The Work

As a plumber you would install, service and repair plumbing systems in homes and businesses. For example, you might be responsible for making sure a public building gets clean drinking water, or you may be called out to fix a central heating boiler in someone's home.

Depending on whether you work in domestic, industrial or commercial premises, your duties could include:

  • installing and repairing water supplies, heating systems and drainage
  • servicing gas- and oil-fired central heating systems, boilers and radiators
  • installing and fixing domestic appliances like showers and washing machines
  • servicing air-conditioning and ventilation units
  • fitting weather-proof materials, joints and flashings to roofs, chimneys and walls.

On all jobs, you would use hand and power tools, which could include welding equipment.

As an experienced plumber, you might specialise in sheet metal work on industrial, commercial or historical buildings.

Hours and Environment

You would work around 40 hours a week, with the possibility of overtime. Some employers offer a 24-hour call-out service, which would involve working unsocial hours. As a self-employed plumber you would set your own hours.

You could work indoors, often in confined spaces, or outdoors in all weather conditions. Some work may be at heights on the outside of buildings or on rooftops.

Skills and Interests


  • the ability to follow technical drawings and plans
  • good practical skills
  • good problem-solving skills
  • a careful and methodical approach to work
  • a reasonable level of fitness
  • an awareness of safety issues and legal regulations
  • the ability to work as part of a team and alone
  • good customer care skills.

Entry

To become a qualified plumber at present, you will need the full NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Mechanical Engineering Services Plumbing (Domestic). If you already work in plumbing but do not have the NVQ, please refer straight to the training and development section below.

If you are not working in plumbing, you will need to gain the following qualifications:

  • City & Guilds (6129) Technical Certificates Level 2 Basic Plumbing Studies and Level 3 Plumbing Studies
  • NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Mechanical Engineering Services Plumbing (Domestic).

Only the NVQ qualification at level 3 will fully qualify you as a plumber. However, the Technical Certificate covers the theory and some of the practical skills you will need before you can move on to the NVQ. The NVQs are awarded by City & Guilds (Certificate 6089) or EAL.

From September 2010, the 6089 and 6129 qualifications will be replaced by the Diploma in Plumbing and Domestic Heating (working title), course code 6189. For more information, see the City & Guilds website.

There is strong competition for places on plumbing, and college entry requirements will often include an aptitude test. Due to health and safety regulations, you may not be able to complete a training course if you are colour-blind. Check with your chosen college about restrictions and whether they can offer you a colour vision assessment test.

Industry bodies strongly recommend that you gain a work placement or employment with a plumbing firm soon after starting the technical certificates. This would allow you to start the work-based NVQ qualification. Your college may help you to find a placement but you could also contact plumbing firms directly.

The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (IPHE) has useful information for anyone looking to train as a plumber, and its Women in Plumbing Group also actively encourages women to think about plumbing as a career.

See the SummitSkills website for further information on entry routes into plumbing, training providers and qualifications.

Entry into plumbing in Northern Ireland follows a similar pattern to training in England and Wales. For more details contact ConstructionSkills (NI)

Apprenticeships
You may be able to become a qualified plumber through an Apprenticeship scheme. To get on to a scheme you will normally need four GCSEs (grades A-C). The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find out more about plumbing Apprenticeships, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

Short courses
A number of organisations offer short intensive training courses, some with home-study options. To make sure that these are industry-recognised and accredited, you should contact your regional City &nGuilds office with the course provider's details. You should also find out from the provider what would happen if you fell behind or dropped out of an intensive course.

Overseas qualifications
If you qualified from outside the UK, you should contact the Joint Industry Board for Plumbing for details about how to register as a qualified plumber. You will need to tell them your qualification details from your home country.

Training

If you are already working in the industry, you could fully qualify as a plumber by taking NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Mechanical Engineering Services Plumbing.

The NVQs are normally available on a part-time or day-release basis through colleges and training centres. They are awarded by City & Guilds (Certificate 6089) or EAL.

The Level 3 NVQ contains three extra assessments for:
  • Water Regulations
  • Unvented Hot Water Systems
  • ACS gas safety for Gas Safe Register approval.

The ACS assessments for domestic and commercial gas plumbing are different, so if you want to move from one area to the other, you would have to take the relevant assessment. For more details about ACS and Gas Safe Register assessments, see the job profile for Gas Service Technician, contact Energy & Utility Skills, or visit the Gas Safe Register website.

If you work with oil-fired appliances and heating systems, you could register with the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) and take their training and accreditation scheme.

The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (IPHE) has a range of membership options if you are training or working in the industry, which could help with your professional development. The British Plumbing Employers' Council (BPEC) Services also offers various training packs, including ACS assessment preparation and practical business guides.

If you fit new boilers, you must have the City & Guilds Certificate in Energy Efficiency for Domestic Heating (6084), which is required by Part L of the Building Regulations. Contact the Energy Efficiency helpline or visit the Skills4business website for more details.

Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme
The Traditional Building Skills Bursary scheme aims to address skills shortages within the traditional crafts and built heritage sector, by offering bursaries and organising work-based training placements for eligible applicants. To find out more about the scheme, eligibility and what placements are available, visit the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme website.

Environmental Technologies
The government has recently set targets for greater energy efficiency in a bid to combat climate change. With further training, you may be able to install and maintain renewable energy technologies like solar powered heating systems. To find out more about this growing area of work, see the Environmental Technologies section of the SummitSkills website.

Opportunities

As a qualified plumber you can work in a number of different areas, including heating and ventilation, refrigeration and air-conditioning, gas servicing, and kitchen and bathroom fitting.

Your promotion options would depend on your employer, but could include moves into estimating or contract management. Self-employment is also a common option.

You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading: (links open in new window)

bConstructive (list of building firms)
Construction Jobs Network 
Directgov (Jobseekers page) 
Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association  - Interesting article on 'What happened to the HVCA.org.uk'

We do not accept responsibility for the content of external sites.

Annual Income


  • Starting salaries for newly qualified plumbers can be between 16,500 and 21,000 a year.
  • Experienced plumbers can earn between 21,000 and 35,000.

Rates vary regionally, with the highest average salaries in London and the south-east. Self-employed plumbers set their own rates.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Further information

If you would like to discuss your career options with a learning advisor at the Careers Advice Service advice line, call 0800 100 900 or use our online enquiry form.
 

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