Plumbing is a great career path for those who are hands on and practically minded. Once mastered through training and experience it is not un heard of for plumbers working for a company to earn over one hundred thousand dollars a year. Plumbers with confidence, experience and business acumen often end up going self employed and eventually forming their own company.
GreatBathAndShowers is run by a plumber based in the United Kingdom, after searching Google for information on getting into the trade it appears that there is no proper guide. We hope this will be the only stop you need to take before getting your career moving. This page will be relevant for those leaving school, or looking for a career path change.
Please note that some of the information on this guide you will need to adjust to your own personal cirucmstances but we aim to cater to everyone.
What we will cover?
- What does plumbing involve?
- What is the earning potential?
- How long to learn plumbing?
- Will it be for me?
- How to gain plumbing work experience?
- How to secure a plumbing apprenticeship?
- What should I buy for my training?
- What courses are available?
- Fast track or time served?
How To Become A Plumber?
What does plumbing involve?
Plumbers carry out installation, repairs and servicing of systems involving water, natural gas, LPG and oil.
Water systems – Plumbers are expected to have an in-depth knowledge of the different hot, cold and heating systems of a house. While this seems pretty straightforward at first it can get extremely complicated when one starts learning about pressurised, gravity fed systems, Y Plans etc.
Being a plumber, you are expected to be able to install, fault find and fix various and sometimes complex components.
When starting out one of the first thing you will learn is how to isolate water and repair leaks. Most customers only like to replace components of their water systems as a very last resort usually due to the high cost price of plumbing materials.
Gas, LPG and Oil – Once a plumber learns about water systems, they then usually tend to steer towards the engineering route of plumbing which includes the installation of heating.
Depending on the part of the country you will be working in, you will have to have certificates to work on gas, LPG and oil.
Once you have these certificates you will be able to call yourself a heating engineer.
Working conditions – The working conditions of the trade does tend to differ. Some companies specialise in domestic work, and others in commercial. It is not uncommon either for plumbing businesses to focus entirely on new builds either.
Domestic work can mean working in the warm or cold fifty percent of the time, while commercial work usually means cold conditions in factories or warehouses.
Unfortunately, most plumbers are busiest during the winer when systems more commonly go wrong so expect to spend the majority of your time outside.
What is the earning potential?
Despite once being a low paid job, due to the skills shortage now for construction workers, qualified plumbers are in extremely high demand which once qualified will give you a good salary.
Apprentice (First two – three years) – Plumbing apprentices are notorious for being the lowest paid of the trades. When starting out you will more than likely be making mistakes and costing the company you are working for more money than you are making them. Your wages will compensate for this.
If you are a school leaver, expect to be making around the minimum wage for your area for the first two years of your plumbing apprenticeship. The turnover of staff is very high. Company need to see progress and proof off commitment to your training before giving you a wage increase.
If you are a career changer, expect your wages to be slightly higher than a school leaver depending on your previous experience.
A bricklayer with five years experience (who can change taps, fit radiators etc) changing career is going to be of more use to a plumbing company than a investment banker who has never used a tape measure in his life. The wages will compensate your experience and knowledge.
Apprentices with no experience past the school leaving age can sometimes work for free to gain the experience before being officially employed by a company.
Newly Qualified (Three to six years) – Once you have passed your apprenticeship and gained your certificates you should be on a significantly higher salary than before.
Expect anywhere from $25,000 to $32,000.
At this level you will be working mostly independently and will be much more of an asset to your company and will be making them money so your salary will reflect this.
Experienced (Six years plus) – After gaining this level of experience you will be very well regarded by your company (especially if you completed your apprenticeship with them)
Dependant on where you work in the country you can expect from $32,000 to $100,000 per year.
Plumbers working in the city tend have much higher salarys. In London, a company called Pimlico Plumbers pay their engineers sometimes over $110,000 per year.
Rural areas will vary.
How long to learn plumbing?
Plumbing is a career that takes a huge amount of hardwork and dedication to learn.
Many highly experienced plumbers state that they are “always learning”.
After a few months of training you will be able to complete basic jobs such as tap washer repairs, fixing small leaks, and fitting basic sanitay items such as showers.
You will be gaining an understanding of how systems work in the first year but it is not uncommon for entrants to totally underestimate the physical and mental demands of plumbing and quit.
Usually once you have managed the first year of learning you will stick it out and it tends to get easier after the second.
Reading books on plumbing and purchasing your own tools will help speed up the process but we will discuss that later in the article.
Will it be for me?
Before you actually start plumbing, it is difficult to determine “if it is for you?”
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, or enjoy being outdoors you will find it easier.
Furthermore, those who are more practically minded and enjoy building things or seeing how things work many take to the the learning process a lot easier.
If your are looking for a career change, or perhaps a career path then you may find it beneficial to visit your local college on an opening day, or contact our local plumber asking for a couple of days work experience.
Reading a plumbing book or two to see how interested you are in the topic may also be worthwhile.
How to gain plumbing work experience?
Plumbing work experience makes actually gaining an apprenticeship a lot easier. Once a company has seen you in action and determined if you have “got it” they will be more willing to assess if they can take you on full time.
Also, once you have some work experience it will give you something to add to your CV.
Companies, or sole traders are very hesitant to commit to hiring someone they deem to be too “green” or “inexperienced”. It also shows willing and some determination, especially if you have worked for free.
Gaining plumbing work experience can be a simple process if you are willing to work for nothing.
Plumbing businesses are notorious for being lax when it comes to letters, returning phone calls or publishing vacancies, it can sometimes be a first come, first served process when it comes to hiring.
Therefore, while it is great to post a few resumes showing your intent to gain experience, the best thing to do is to call up your local plumber and ask.
Better still, if they have a yard or office pop in and ask to speak to the boss.
It is so uncommon (especially for youngsters) to pop in asking for a job that many times the owners are extremely impressed.
How to secure a plumbing apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship in the U.K means you will be enrolled on a college course so having a guaranteed work scheme is needed .
If you have gained some work experience, maybe one or two months you should ask your boss for an apprenticeship usually if they have enough work, and you have turned in on time and not let them down they will say yes.
Sometimes, however they will say no.
Don’t be dissuaded by this. Some plumbing businesses don’t take on apprentices.
If this is the case the next best thing to do is repeat the steps you took when trying to gain work experience, if apprenticeships are hard to find keep motivated and keep pestering the bosses. If you keep doing this long enough one is bound to say yet eventually.
Update your resume aswell and make sure it is highlighted that you have had work experience and provide a contact number for a reference!
Sometimes vacancies can be found by checking your local job websites so don’t neglect them!
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What should I buy for my training?
This is a suprisingly tough question. Many trainees wanting to become a plumber make the mistake of feeling that they need to buy a van worth of tools just to start out.
This is usually never the case, no employer will expect you to have everything.
However, employers will expect you to have the basics and it will help you during the hiring process as it shows you are keen to learn.
We have listed below the basic tools you might need including workwear to help you start out. All of this can be bought from your local plumbers merchants or Amazon.com (Just click the link)
Basics – These are the very essentials you will be expected to have for both college and going to work with.
Work trousers – These can be as expensive or as cheap as you like them to be. We love the snickers workwear trousers as they have multiple pockets and a pocket to put your removable knee protectors. They are extremely long lasting. Usually one pair will last around six months.
Work boots – Although some domestic plumbers opt to work in trainers, on building sites with will be frowned on and will even get you kicked off. Work boots mean steel toe capped boots. These can be bought for under fifty bucks. Better to be safe than sorry.
Jumpers – Be sure to have plenty of old or designated jumpers and tees for work, some companies will provide you with these but many will not so have plenty. They will probably end up covered in muck, plumbers mate and flux so have atleast one for every working day. Make sure they will actually keep you warm!!
Intermediate – After a couple of weeks or months of using your colleagues tools, you will be expected to start buying your own. No one will expect power tools as these are usually company supplied but hand tools usually are expected!
Tape measure – These are usually pretty cheap, always have a couple on hand as they tend to go missing quite a lot!
Pipe Slices – A set of good quality 15 and 22mm pipe slices will make your life so much easier for cutting copper tube. The Bahco ones are absolutely great. A little pricey but great quality and long lasting!
Solder/ Welding Set – A good soldering set consists of a blow torch, lead free solder and a good quality flux. The flux will end up getting everywhere so if the set comes with a bag then it’s a must have.
Hand tools – A quality set of Stanley screwdrivers, adjustable spanner, set of grips and a hammer will be a lifesaver and if you look after them will last a career. Always opt for a quality set but don’t go overboard!
What plumbing courses to enrol on? Warning about fast track!
Check your area for good quality plumbing courses they will be available at most colleges and often will come very highly advised by the other plumbers you are working with.
In the U.K there are level 2, and level 3 plumbing courses, to call yourself a qualified plumber you must hold a level 2 NVQ.
City and Guilds is the most sought after course and usually provides a great quality level of training.
Please note that it is expected to take a couple of years of portfolio work and practical work to complete these courses. Companies expect this and understand that completing will take time as the sign off and completion requires a lot of paperwork.
This has led to a rise of fast track courses. Avoid these like the plague.
Anything that sounds too good to be true in the world of plumbing usually is. The businesses that offer these fast track courses promise the world and charge the earth.
One search of Google will direct you to articles of many plumbing hopefuls who have fallen victim to “become a plumber quick” schemes trying to capitalise on the skills shortage and high salaries of the trade.
We really hope you have found this article as interesting as we did writing it, we hope we have not missed anything.
Any questions feel more than free to add to the comments and we will get back to you!