Plumbers. They’re the unsung everyday heroes we all need in our lives. After all, they’re the reason why we have running water and working toilets, effectively keeping us safe from disease.
So, move over Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman and every superhero ever, and make room for two certain moustached Italians!
If you really are considering a career in plumbing, let me start by saying you’re onto something good. For one, there’s currently an estimated employee shortage of 30,000 and, two, it’s a profession that’s always – always – in demand.
If that’s enough to convince you to pursue this particular career path, then read on to find out how to become a plumber, plus get insight into what a typical day looks like and how much money you can potentially earn!
1. Research the profession
The first step you need to take if you’re considering becoming a plumber is to gain a clear and thorough understanding of what exactly the profession’s all about. Here’s a complete overview of the role.
Plumbers are responsible for much more than simply fixing leaky pipes. Their day-to-day duties generally include:
- Installing and maintaining water, drainage and heating systems
- Fitting domestic appliances like showers and washing machines
- Installing air conditioning units
- Fitting bathrooms
- Dealing with emergency call-outs, like boiler breakdowns or blocked drains
- Measuring and planning to give time and cost estimates
Essential skills and qualities
Plumbing is a highly skilled profession. You’ll typically need to:
- Be able to follow technical drawings and plans
- Have number skills
- Be great at problem-solving
- Have steady hands
- Have confidence in your ability
- Be practical and dexterous
- Be able to work under pressure and to strict deadlines
- Have customer care skills
- Be friendly and approachable
Working hours and conditions
Plumbing isn’t your typical 9-to-5 job. You could work evenings, weekends and even public holidays (especially if your employer offers emergency call-out services). Generally speaking, you’ll work between 37 and 40 hours a week, but can expect to work longer hours if you’re self-employed.
It can be a physically demanding job. You’ll work in all weathers and in confined spaces. You’ll also work on scaffolding or from ladders for guttering and leadwork repairs.
Although you’ll typically work locally, you may be expected to travel far away from home on some contracts.
The starting salary for qualified plumbers ranges between £15,000 and £20,000 per year, and this could rise to £28,000 after five or more years. A highly experienced tradesman, or master plumber, can earn as much as £40,000 or more. The rates of pay are typically higher in London and will depend on the employer.
Self-employed plumbers set their own rates, with many charging up to £90 an hour and, therefore, potentially earning £1,000 a week.
Generally speaking, plumbers are among the most in-demand and highest-paid tradespeople in the UK.
2. Get the qualifications
The next step to becoming a plumber is gaining the appropriate training and qualifications.
To become a plumber in the UK, you’ll generally need good GCSE grades – at least four at grades A*–C in English, maths and science – or their equivalent such as the Welsh Baccalaureate or WJEC Construction and the Built Environment L1 or L2 Awards. This will, essentially, make it easier for you to start your professional education in your chosen trade.
You could start with a Basic Plumbing Level 2 Certificate, where you’ll learn how to deal with leaky pipes, water systems and drainage. This is an excellent course to introduce you to the trade, before progressing onto an NVQ.
An NVQ Level 2 or 3 in Plumbing and Domestic Heating will provide you with the essential knowledge required to pursue a successful career in the trade. Areas of study include:
- Domestic hot and cold water systems
- Gas safety
- Environmental technologies
- Sanitation engines
- Central heating systems
Alternatively, you may choose to enter the profession through an apprenticeship, which offers you the opportunity to learn while you earn. If you’re interested in taking this route, follow the links below for more information on apprenticeships in:
3. Land your first j
Now that you’re a qualified plumber, finding a job should be the next thing on your agenda.
Where to look
You should begin your job search by exploring vacancies on major job boards like Indeed, Monster and Totaljobs, as well as our very own CareerAddict Jobs, for opportunities throughout the UK and beyond.
You should also directly check employers’ websites for jobs, as well as specialised websites like:
Demand for plumbers is high, and the competition is incredibly fierce. This means that vacancies are filled quickly and you’ll need to be just as quick and submit your application as soon as a new vacancy is posted.
Having some work experience under your belt will certainly improve a job application and boost your chances of landing a job. However, due to the competition and the fact that one-man band plumbers cannot afford to take on trainees, finding a work placement can be difficult.
Having said that, though, you may be able to approach a small or medium-sized company who will be willing to take you on and show you the ropes of the business. This will, essentially, provide you with the opportunity to determine whether a career in plumbing really is right for you.
But, the best way to gain work experience though is through an apprenticeship.
4. Develop your career
You’ll start your career as a plumber’s mate and work your way to becoming a master plumber, who is a highly experienced and qualified craftsperson. From here, you can progress your career on the following pathway:
- Plumbing Technician (EngTech), the equivalent of a HNC/HND Level 4 qualification
- Trainee Plumbing (Engineer Grad Member), the equivalent of a BEng (Hons) or MEng degree
- Incorporated Plumbing Engineer (IEng), the equivalent of a foundation or honours degree
- Chartered Plumbing Engineer (CEng), the equivalent of an MSc, MEng or Bachelor’s degree
This will provide you with further career options, most notably in building services engineering, estimating and contract management.
Taking further training in areas such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and renewable energy technologies can also be beneficial while getting certified with the Gas Safe Register or Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTO) qualifies you for work on gas and oil-fired appliances.
Additionally, you could even start your own business. However, note that this route will require a huge financial and time investment on your part to get things going.
Are you considering becoming a plumber? Perhaps you’ve already entered the profession and have some tips and tricks you’d like to share with future plumbers? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
The salary information contained in this article is based on data compiled and published by the National Careers Service, and retrieved on 17 August 2017.
This article was originally published in July 2014.