How to Become a Plumber

It can take years of training to become a properly qualified plumber or heating engineer. A career in plumbing calls for a dedication to lifelong learning, as the technology advances rapidly.

The plumbing industry holds diverse career paths, good wages and the opportunity for individuals to run their own business.

Many plumbers progress to design, consultancy, teaching and management, making the plumbing and heating industry a career with a long-term future.

However, an understanding of maths and science is vital and those on the tools need a head for heights, the ability to work in cramped conditions and the stamina to complete physically hard work day after day.  

WaterSafe is made up of seven Approved Contractor Schemes, which all offer information and advice for people thinking of joining the industry.

The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering  (CIPHE) has published fact sheets to support anyone thinking about joining the trade and you may also find the information below from CIPHE useful. 

We would suggest you select your training provider very carefully. Here are some trainers who offer  water regulations training and other qualifications.

If you train with an independent trainer it's important to ask if the qualifications you obtain at the end of the programme would allow you to become a WaterSafe approved plumber, as these set a high standard for the industry. At a minimum you would require NVQ Level 2 in England and Wales, and SVQ Level 3 in Scotland (not just the technical certificate). Find out more about these with our  full list of accepted qualifications.

You can find out more about the requirements to qualify for WaterSafe in our  membership section. If your training doesn't meet these requirements then your qualifications may not be recognised by the industry once you start work.

Training providers who tell you that you will be able to register but do not provide the correct qualifications may well be in breach of consumer legislation and could be subject to investigation by Trading Standards.

FAQs

Read our answers to frequently asked questions on joining the industry. 

I’ve been told that I have to pass a test to get onto a plumbing course, will this be difficult?

This is usually a general test to gauge your ability in maths and problem-solving. The reason this is set is because some people enrolled on plumbing courses find it difficult to get to grips with the calculations in the course work. Plumbing courses have a high drop out rate because people underestimate how difficult the course is and colleges want to ensure potential students have the ability to succeed.

How can I arrange my own work placement?

You will need to create a CV detailing your educational background and qualifications, along with any work experience. Information is available at your local library or online to show you how to create a professional CV. Send your CV with a short covering letter to the local plumbing businesses in your area, along with a stamped addressed envelope.

Where can I get information on Modern Apprenticeships?

For more information on Modern Apprenticeships you can try contacting  JTL, the Building Engineering Services Association or in Scotland contact SNIPEF.

What are the job prospects for qualified plumbers?

Good, especially if you get the right training to begin with. There is always a skills shortage of well-qualified and experienced plumbers and good plumbers are always in demand. It is a job with a future and can lead to you eventually running your own business or branching out into consulting or even teaching.

Are female plumbers in demand?

In domestic plumbing, female plumbers are often preferred by households. WaterSafe has launched a 'Get Girls Plumbing' campaign to highlight plumbing as a viable and attractive prospect for women and to encourage more females into the industry. 

What is the earning potential of the average plumber?

On qualifying with a full NVQ Level 3 qualification and in full time employment you can expect to be earning around £18,000 a year and this could rise up to around £25,000 after five or more years. 

An experienced self-employed tradesperson can earn between £30,000 - £40,000 a year BUT out of this will come tax, insurance, parking, petrol, tools and membership of professional organisations.

You may need to pay for annual memberships, for example, to the Approved Contractors’ Schemes which are members of WaterSafe, for Gas Safe registration if you work with gas and OFTEC registration if you work with oil.

If working in London the rates of pay will be higher but the overheads are likely to be more expensive, such as congestion charge and parking.

Please note: Plumbers work hard for the money they earn. The hours can be long, call outs can mean you work at unsociable hours and it’s not unusual to find yourself working more than five days a week (especially if self-employed).

I’ve seen an advert which offers distance learning courses in plumbing. Will I be able to qualify as a plumber if I do this?

To be a fully qualified plumber you need an adequate amount of practical study to accompany the theoretical side. The S/NVQ Level 2 plumbing courses taught at technical colleges include mandatory work experience. You cannot be adequately trained on a theory-only course.

Can you recommend an intensive plumbing course that I can do within a couple of months?

We don’t recommend this type of course, as we believe learning has to be re-enforced over a period of time, especially the practical work. Some intensive plumbing courses claim to train plumbers in a matter of weeks or months, when in reality it takes years of learning to become a skilled plumber. Other short courses offer certificates which are not recognised by the industry. A couple of days in a workshop does not provide you with sufficient experience to work on plumbing systems. We advise training with a recognised training provider (e.g. a college) on an accredited course (e.g. NVQ Level 2).

How long will it take to qualify?

It can take around three years to reach S/NVQ Level 3, but it can be achieved quicker than this, or it can take longer, it depends on the individual.

How do I become a plumber?

You will need to complete a plumbing course aimed at S/NVQ Level 2/3 qualification, or similar. These courses are usually run by training providers, often called technical colleges.

How can I become a plumber in Scotland?

Trainee plumbers in Scotland can take the four-year Modern Apprenticeship in Domestic Plumbing & Heating Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) Level 3.

This is an employer-led scheme and managed by SNIPEF (The Scottish & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation). To get onto the course you must be in employment and your employer must agree to recruit you as an ‘employee status plumbing apprentice’. They will then guide you through the four-year apprenticeship programme.

You are expected to have a minimum of 4 National 4 Qualifications at general level and must be able to demonstrate a number of attributes such as:

  • Have good practical, problem solving and communication skills.
  • Be smart, reliable, polite, punctual and able to listen
  • Have a proven ability to achieve
  • Be willing to learn
  • Have good positive attitude.

You must also pass the industry approved BPEC Aptitude & Selection Test, which will be carried out by your employer.

SNIPEF Training Services Ltd is the Industry training provider for plumbing apprenticeships in Scotland and receives government funding from Skills Development Scotland (SDS) for the programme.

On the scheme, you will have a dedicated regional advisor to monitor your progress who will meet regularly with you, your employer, and college or training centre.

For more information look at the SNIPEF website at becomeaplumber.com or call 0131 524 1245.

Do you recommend trainee plumbers to aim for a particular NVQ level?

Yes. WaterSafe will accept NVQ Level 2 as a minimum, accompanied by a Water Regulations Certificate, but recommends S/NVQ Level 3, to be fully competent.

Take a look at the  48 list of accepted qualifications and reference entry routes - when your work will be assessed for competency. 

Experienced plumbers can also opt to take the  BPEC Experienced Worker qualification which is suitable for plumbers with at least five years' experience in the trade. You'll first need download and complete the initial assessment form to ensure you are eligible for the qualification.

Is it difficult to get work experience?

It can be difficult to get work experience as the majority of one-man band plumbers cannot afford to take on a trainee. A few technical colleges will try to arrange this with local plumbing employers, however, it is helpful if you arrange your own work placement. It is vital to have a comprehensive understanding of the regulations, such as Water Regulations and Building Regulations, before carrying out practical plumbing work.

What qualities do you need to be a good plumber?

You need to be a practical person who gains satisfaction from doing a job to the best of your ability. Maths, engineering and science are important skills for plumbing work, so it would be beneficial to have an A-C GCSE pass in these subjects. You will also need to be trustworthy, with good communication skills to deal with customers. 

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